Only a few days into March, 2023 is already proving to be a big year for WeCode KC, noted co-founder and CEO Tammy Buckner.
The organization — which operates with a mission is to give youth, especially those in the urban core, the opportunity to learn technology concepts and leadership skills and create a pipeline of future-ready professionals through project-based learning and innovative programs — recently announced that Black Girls CODE founder Kimberly Bryant is joining the board as interim chair.
Additionally, Bucker was named one of 10 women across Missouri honored with the Lieutenant Governor’s Women of Achievement Award, all while programming is ramping up for the year.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “Because the momentum has just been phenomenal.”
As the WeCode interim board chair, Buckner shared, Bryant will provide support and collaboration in assisting the technology nonprofit as it prepares to scale in a space she has a lot of experience in.
“I think her exposure and expertise can definitely help us scale,” she added. “She’s executed a nationally recognized organization that’s served over 30,000 Black girls in technology. I feel her experience brings a strong value add to our organization.”
Bryant left Black Girls CODE in 2021 and continues her mission by helping marginalized founders build pathways to ownership via her new project Ascend Ventures, according to WeCode.
“I’m proud to assume this position as the interim board chair at WeCode KC,” Bryant said in a news release. “WeCode KC is playing an extremely important role in serving the urban core of Kansas City, exposing youth to various computer science concepts.”
Buckner and Bryant — both Memphis, Tennessee, natives — first met at a Google event for women in tech about five years ago, Buckner recalled. But even before she started WeCode, she’d always admired Bryant and her work at Black Girls CODE.
“She had come to a TED Talk in 2013 and I watched her and thought, ‘That’s exactly what I would love to do, start a tech company for youth in our community,’” she explained. “Since meeting her, I’ve claimed her as my mentor from afar, because we lived in different cities. But I’ve been inspired by her work in growing Black Girls CODE, which encouraged my journey not to give up and keep going.”
The admiration is mutual, Bryant said.
“I have watched Tammy build WeCode from a small grassroots edtech organization into a successful and thriving integrator of STEM,“ Bryant added in the release. “The results Tammy and her team have achieved are extremely impressive. Her ascension as a thought leader, a role model, and a trailblazer is what truly inspired me to invest my time and resources into this organization. I want to help ensure she meets and exceeds the long-term vision of making WeCode a leader in changing the face of technology for communities of color.”
Buckner said she is thrilled to have the opportunity to closely collaborate with her now.
“We vibe together,” she added. “It’s just great to have that type of mentorship.”
Bryant joins five other new members on WeCode’s board: Brandon Calloway, CEO at Generating Income for Tomorrow (G.I.F.T.); David Mitchell, chief technology officer at VMLY&R; Dr. Angelique Nedved, chief program officer at SchoolSmart KC; April Boyd-Noronha, global security awareness manager; and Rochelle Walker, senior partner at Hughes Walker Group, LLC. Current board members are Robert Rogers, president of MidState Aerospace, and Ryan Reed, senior application developer at U.S. Engineering.
“We were very strategic about appointing new board members to assist with our growth,” Buckner said.
On top of the support from the board, Buckner continued, support from organizations like the Ewing Marion Kauffman, George K. Baum, and Hall Family foundations has allowed the organization to scale and bring on strong experts from the technology industry. This has allowed her to switch her focus from programming to fundraising and building partnerships like one currently executed with T-Mobile.
“It allows me the opportunity to go advocate for our goals,” she explained. “Visiting the state capital, advocating for funding for youth and youth resources. It’s required. Policymakers and legislators must hear from grassroots organizations such as WeCode to know what’s happening in the communities.”
Now in its second year — and in conjunction with Women’s History Month — Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe announced the recipients of the Women of Achievement Award, which was established to celebrate the diverse accomplishments of the women across the state.
Learning she is one of the 10 recipients, Buckner shared, has left her speechless.
“When Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe called me, I’m was very surprised, ‘Wait, this is who and why are you calling me? And how did you find out about me?’” she recalled. “So that was such a surprise. It’s an honor to be recognized and it just goes to show that grassroots organizations truly build up this city and the state. It takes grassroots organizations, such as WeCode, to make a difference and make a change.”
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It’s not about recognition and exposure for her, she continued, but for the organization and the work being done in the community and the support that’s needed.
“We cannot allow this program to fail because our kids need the skills,” she added. “If we want Kansas City to be the tech hub that we have claimed, we’re asking for the investment. We’re asking for the support. We’re asking for corporate responsibility to help build Kansas City tech talent.”
Building out, building up
WeCode is also seeing momentum going to its programming for this year, Buckner said.
“Strategically, our goals are to implement WeCode programming in schools for the 23-24 school year — as an after-school workforce development program — bringing on some amazing team members that increase our reach, and to create a makerspace,” she said.
The organization has an office and hosts programming at the former Blue Hills Community Services building/now the G.I.F.T. business center at 5008 Prospect Avenue. WeCode typically turns the community room in the G.I.F.T. space or the open area in the lower level — where its office is located — into a makerspace. But Buckner hopes the organization eventually can find a space of its own.
“Although our location is critical,” Buckner added, “our primary focus is quality programming.”
Bucker shared that WeCode aims to provide services every Saturday this year instead of just on the first and third Saturdays.
“That’s an increase in volunteers, so we’re always promoting the push for volunteers,’” she noted.
Starting this month, for the first time, the organization is offering their first robotics program in partnership with the Urban League of Kansas City.
“Basically kids are learning robotics — such as industrial robotics — and utilizing those skills to enter the workforce,” she explained. “So we have been graciously working with them to build several different teams.”
Also happening in March: the Spring into Code event, Bucker shared. It’s a free, week-long event (March 20-24 in the evenings) where kids will get the chance to make a retro video game. Students ages 7-11 will use Roblox Studio to build a 3D city for gaming; and students ages 12-17 will build tabletop arcade consoles and program them with a Raspberry Pi-based programming language. Buckner hopes to make the finished Picades available for sponsorships from organizations — for a donation to WeCode, a customized Picade will be available.
“The kids are learning, manufacturing, coding, and constructing,” she said. “That’s what Spring into Code is all about. It’s education, technology, and fun all merged and coming together as one.”