How Prince Used Coding to Help Uplift African-American Boys

By Liana Loewus — April 25, 2016 1 min read
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In the wake of musical icon Prince’s untimely death last week, the world is hearing reminders of the artist’s inestimable contributions to the music industry—and also learning about some of his quieter contributions outside of it.

As Van Jones, the CNN commentator and friend and lawyer to Prince, explained at the 20th Anniversary Essence Festival in 2014, Prince was the driving force behind an initiative called #YesWeCode.

“After the Trayvon Martin verdict, I was talking to Prince and he said, ‘You know, every time people see a young black man wearing a hoodie, they think, he’s a thug. But if they see a young white guy wearing a hoodie they think, oh, that might be Mark Zuckerberg. That might be a dot-com billionaire,’” Jones said. “I said, ‘Well, yeah, Prince, that’s true but that’s because of racism.’ And he said, ‘No, it’s because we have not produced enough black Mark Zuckerbergs. That’s on us. That’s on us to deal with what we’re not doing to get our young people prepared to be a part of this new information economy.’”

#YesWeCode was born two years ago with a mission of helping 100,000 urban youth work toward high-paying careers in the technology sector. The Oakland, Calif.-based organization connects people with local opportunities to learn coding, gathers coding practitioners, and hosts hackathons for young African-American men and boys.

Prince helped launch and fund the initiative, said a grieving Jones last week on the “Dr. Drew Show,” but he never sought credit for such efforts.

The #YesWeCode website offers this tribute to the late singer, songwriter, and entertainer: "#YesWeCode would like to honor Prince and thank him for his inspired vision for #YesWeCode. Prince’s commitment to ensuring young people of color have a voice in the tech sector continues to impact the lives of future visionaries creating the tech of tomorrow.”

Image: Prince performs at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., in 1985. —Liu Heung Shing/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.