Daughter Of The First African-American To Build A Billion-Dollar Company Exposes Boys Of Color To STEM Opportunities
Christina Lewis Halpern is the mastermind behind All Star Code.
“We all want and need a seat at the table, and then we want to run the table and then we want to have our own table. Coding is the ticket to that,” says Christina Lewis Halpern, the founder of All Star Code, a six-week initiative for high school boys of color to discover innovative career opportunities through a computer science based curriculum.
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According to Atlanta Black Star, the New York activist is the daughter of the late Reginald F. Lewis, a Wall Street attorney who became the first African-American to build a billion-dollar company.
Her father, a Harvard graduate before dying of brain cancer in 1993, operated TLC Beatrice International, a grocery, beverage and household products distributor.
The month before he passed, Lewis named Halpern, who was only 12-years-old at the time, to the board of his foundation.
“My family foundation is committed to social justice and believes in the power of entrepreneurship and investing in our community," Halpern said.
Two decades into the future and Halpern, a professional business journalist, created the All Star Code program "to help the next generation of youth catch the next wave of opportunity" according to Halpern on the website.
So how did she do it?
“We seeded this initiative and provided an anchor grant. About 20 percent of the money invested in All Star Code last year was from the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation, or Lewis family personal funds," Halpern explained.
Other donors included Bond Collective, Cisco, Comcast, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Chase, MLB Advanced Media and Yahoo!. These corporations in addition to operational support gave $350,000 in funding.
Cisco Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer Hilton Romanski gave a statement praising All Star Code saying, “It’s an honor for Cisco to support All Star Code and their mission of fostering diversity and entrepreneurial success across young men, who we believe will be best positioned to address the complexities of an ever-changing business and technology landscape."
Because of the lack of opportunities in STEM for men and women of color, Halpern's All Star Code is designed to change that.
"Playing field isn’t level. America was built on a legal structure where African-Americans were excluded from money, power and fame. But we’ve made progress!" said Halpern.
The nonprofit raised more than $740,000 in 2016 at the annual All Star Code fundraiser in the Hamptons. Due to the generous contributions of the donors, the organization, which started in New York City and has stretched to Pittsburgh, has expanded and continues to grow rapidly. The number of boys that participated in the Summer initiative skyrocketed from only 20 in 2014 to 160 this year. Halpern says that their goal is to have at least 1,000 high schoolers in 2020.
It is mainly Halpern's mission to introduce the world of STEM to more black and Latino scientists and mathematicians and to provide jobs to them. She explained her reason for focusing her initiative on men of color as opposed to females.
“All Star Code invests in Black and Latino high school male students because while STEM organizations for girls continue to grow, there are currently no national organizations fostering, exposing or educating young men of color for careers in the tech industry,” she says.
Halpern says that the goal is to connect individuals with careers that best compliment their skills, not to simply just find jobs.
“The problem we are ultimately solving is the wealth gap in the United States,” Halpern says. “The solution is to create the opportunity for people to earn money in ways that are commensurate with their talents and abilities.”
With 95 percent of All Star Code's students attending a four-year college, and 85 percent of them majoring in computer science or a related field, the All Star Code grads leave the program with networking contacts, mentors and web development and software coding skills.