How do we make sure that low-income youth of color in communities like Oakland, California learn the skills that will help them get good jobs in the Bay area’s innovation economy? How do we close the gap for small, family-owned businesses that don’t have access or funding to create mobile-friendly web sites and mobile directory listings that will get them more customers?

Back in 2012, some of us at The Center for Media Change were asking those questions and it led us to start Hack the Hood, a summer boot camp program that trains Oakland youth in web development and search and directory tools. It also sends them out into neighborhoods to get local businesses online, and then gets them mentors and visits to tech companies, so they can learn about jobs, and have role models that make succeeding in life and getting the training and skills to have a good career seem truly possible.

Funded by The Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, and the Thomas J. Long Foundation, Hack the Hood launched its first full summer program in Oakland in 2013. 18 youth took part, ages 16-20. In 6 weeks, they learned basic web development skills, created 60 websites for local small businesses, and visited tech companies including Pandora, Facebook, and, to learn about tech careers. Of the 18 youth, 16 completed the whole program — a 92% completion rate — and graduated with online portfolios, hands-on experience with local employers, news skills, and, for many, a deepened interested in tech and marketing careers.

As we dove deep into planning our summer 2014 season in Oakland — once again, on site with our partner United Roots — we learned that Hack the Hood has been selected as one of 10 non-profits in Google’s Bay Area Impact Challenge!


The support we will receive from Google will allow us to create a year-round program in Oakland, including further training in coding and a youth tech shop with paid internships for HTH program graduates. Their support will also fund our dream of expanding our work to other cities in the Bay Area that could benefit from our model. But we need to be one of the four organizations that get the greatest number of votes from the public to secure additional funding to support a regional expansion.


We’re asking you to help us by voting NOW for Hack the Hood in the Google Bay Area Impact Challenge. Voting is open now until June 2 and we need your votes (link: to win.


We’re working to solve a critical problem in the Bay Area: how to ensure good jobs for local youth and people of color. People aren’t numbers, but numbers can tell stories about people. For example:

  •  Less than 10% of Silicon Valley’s technical staff are African American or Latino.
  •  Almost HALF of Latinos and African Americans in Oakland USD drop out.
  •  58% of small businesses aren’t online, and minority-owned businesses are least likely to have a website.
  •  Only about 34% of the revenue from national chains is reinvested into the community, compared to the 65% return from local businesses.

Hack the Hood was created to bring these groups together to help solve all four problems. We engage Bay Area tech professionals to mentor low-income youth of color in web development skills so they start a career by building sites for small local businesses, helping customers find and buy local, and keeping money circulating in the local economy to support more jobs for everyone.


All the best,

Susan Mernit and Zakiya Harris, and the Hack the Hood team

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About The Author

Susan Mernit is editor & publisher of Oakland Local ( a news & community hub for Oakland, CA. A former VP at AOL & Netscape, & former! Yahoo Senior Director, Mernit was consulting program manager for The Knight News Challenge, 2008-09; was a 2012 Stanford Carlos McClatchy Fellow; and is a board adviser to The Center for Health Reporting at USC, Annenberg School of Journalism. She has consulted with many non-profit organizations on strategy, product development and social media/engagement, including, TechSoup Global, Public Radio International and the Institute for Policy Studies/Economic Hardship Reporting Project, led by Barbara Ehrenreich.

One Response

  1. rayon

    I just watch a graduation ceremony for a Master’s in Computer Sciences (MCS), and noticed quite a number of African American MCS grads coming across the stage. This suggests that their representation in tech jobs will be increasing.


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