Raeshon Williams didn’t think of himself as a techie or an entrepreneur, but this summer he became both.

The 19-year-old from East Oakland, who is now enrolled in community college and taking business courses, was a trainee in the Hack the Hood program.

“I learned professionalism, Web design, networking, how to be confident but aware,” Raeshon said in an interview one afternoon as his Hack the Hood peers were finishing off their projects.

For eight weeks, Raeshon and 15 other Hack the Hood fellows received training in website design, business presentation skills and coding from area professionals.

They learned how to build simple websites using Weebly, an online drag-and-drop site building platform. With those skills in hand, the fellows visited small businesses in the neighborhood and offered to build websites for them and enhance their online presence. And through those conversations, the fellows also learned how to negotiate with businesses and win their trust. Raeshon and others built business listings for their clients and set them up in online directories.

The Perma Cuts web site for the barber shop on 17th Street downtown is one of Raeshon’s creations.

VIDEO: Hack the Hood for one youth

“This is a whole new skill added. I never had tech skills — I knew how to type and go on Google but I never knew how to put a business on Google, I never knew how to make a Web site.” he said, excitedly showing the Perma Cut website he created. “The skills I’m learning here are like a whole new thing I can put on my resume.”

Indeed, according to Hack the Hood trainers Max Gibson and Juan Gomez, knowing some coding and web design will put the youth in Hack the Hood at a clear advantage in the job market — and the college market.

“The Internet has leveled the playing field so incredibly,” said Gibson, the producer of the Wine and Bowties site who taught himself website design and coding, and now runs this active site.

“It allows them to harness their own powers and their own passions and get their skills out there,” he continued. “It is a language, essentially, and if you can speak this language, if you can code and you know HTML and know some web design skills, then you have access to this new global platform,” Gibson said. “If you don’t, you’ll have to find someone to help you.”

Growing up in East Oakland or West Oakland, as many of the Hack the Hood fellows have, does not set one up easily for a technology career. Some kids in these parts of Oakland don’t have daily access to computers. Most just don’t get exposure to technology professionals.


Deja Armstrong and Nile Williams, both 17, are close friends who met up on the basketball court as they frequently played against each other for opposing high school teams.

Until this summer, when they started designing web sites together and presenting business plans to local businesses through Hack the Hood, they used to talk about boys, basketball, high school drama and family troubles. One comes from a family of 12 brothers and sisters and said she hasn’t gotten a lot of guidance about her future; the other lives with her grandmother and aunt now, since her mother is no longer in her life.

But those issues were on the sidelines as they hunkered down building web sites for nearly a dozen businesses.

“We are the best ones here, because we get all the big clients: Oakland in the Black, Kingston” Nile said, referring to the Oakland in the Black nonprofit cooperative to bring retail back to downtown and the Kingston 11 Jamaican restaurant. While her peers in Hack the Hood might not agree that they are the undisputed best at web design, it is clear the two young women have work to be proud of. Together they have created about eight websites.

“I think I am going to do this on the side,” said Nile about her plans for life. Her immediate next step is to enroll in community college.

Some 60 businesses around Oakland were offered a web presence through the website-building services of the Hack the Hood youth. The businesses included small restaurants, hair salons, shoe stores, barber shops and small nonprofit organizations. Among them are Permacuts, Sole Space, Seafood & Chicken, and Oakland in the Black.

Organized by The Center for Media Change, Oakland Local and United Roots, the program was about connecting youth Internet skills to businesses needing Internet help. The seventeen youth enrolled also went on field trips to Facebook, Ask.com, and Pandora to learn about how the hottest tech companies operate, and to the studios of Favianna Rodriguez to learn something about the intricacies of design.

Participants were recruited by Youth Uprising and the Oakland Mayor’s Summer Jobs for Youth Program. Funding came from the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth and the Thomas J. Long Foundation.

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