At this year’s Essence Festival, New Orleans youth will join technologists, developers, designers and community leaders in a hackathon to build their own solutions for problems affecting their neighborhoods. Oakland-based nonprofits Hack the Hood, Black Girls Code, Hidden Genius Project, and Level Playing Field Institute will be present at the music festival, thanks to sponsorship from the Kapor Center for Social Impact and an invitation from Qeyno Labs and Rebuild the Dream, organizers of the #YesWeCode hackathon.

2014 is a momentous year that marks both the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the 20th anniversary of the Essence Festival, the largest event dedicated to African-American culture and music in the United States. #YesWeCode’s hackathon is seizing the opportunity to further the inclusion of underrepresented populations in tech, a field with a rapidly growing workforce that so far does not reflect the country’s gender and racial diversity.

“Technology hasn’t had this level of cultural influence since the printing press,” said Damon Packwood, Program Manager at Hack the Hood, who is attending the event. “Ubiquitous computing, network interconnectivity; these are not just new toys, these are bona fide changes to society. If new tech is truly a reconceptualization of culture, it has to be represented by the melting pot that we are so proud of.”

July 3 through July 6 at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, an anticipated 250 youth and technologists will build apps centered around education, environmental sustainability, restorative justice, music/entertainment and health/wellness. Numerous organizations will be offering free tech programming in the #YesWeCode village. Hack the Hood graduates will lead a free web design workshop, while Packwood and Co-Director Zakiya Harris will present information about the program’s impact.

“We are very excited that Hack the Hood has been selected by #Yeswecode as model organization working at the intersection of workforce development, youth empowerment and technology,” said Harris. “We are also excited that three of our young people have the opportunity to engage in this event by teaching others the tech skills they have acquired. They will also have the opportunity to connect with other like-minded young people across the country participating in the #YesWeCode village.”

Register here for the #YesWeCode hackathon. Participants are invited to attend even if they do not know how to code. Everyone will come to the table with ideas and knowledge that shape the apps, and walk away with a sense of accomplishment that they contributed to both an important app and a growing movement for inclusiveness in tech.

If you are interested in being a technical mentor, please apply here. To contribute to the event as a partner or sponsor, email See the Qeyno press release about the hackathon here.

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