TECH SUMMER CAMP
Tamar Huggins wants to make Durham the Black Silicon Valley
Tamar Huggins wants to build a Black Silicon Valley in Durham. The region is ripe for it. As the tech entrepreneur notes, it’s home to two tech-focused universities and has a high-number of educated Black professionals compared to other regions in the GTA. The province is also more than ready, perhaps overdue, to have one: a recent Ontario Incubator Diversity Report found that our innovation hubs are unfairly leaving racialized communities behind.
Huggins’ large-scale vision proposes to reverse that trend, and to realize it she’s currently focused on building the foundation. Her organization, Tech Spark, has partnered with the Durham District School Board to educate and empower the next generation of young, Black tech professionals with a 10-week program that will serve students in five Ajax schools over the next three years.
An Innovation Day event on May 1 previewed the program’s five streams for participating students: robotics, UX design, coding, gaming and virtual reality. It also engaged students in a design-thinking competition, challenging them to imagine how a $14,000 service robot could benefit their school community. The robot will be donated to the winning team’s school.
Huggins spoke to NOW about why there can’t be a Black future in tech without the talent, stemming Durham’s brain drain and a new crowdfunding
campaign that aims to send 100 underserved kids to tech camp this summer.
“When it comes to creating diversity in technology, it’s something that needs to be adopted over time. The answer isn’t necessarily to always focus on diversifying the work field. That’s important for those in the workforce but if we’re not focusing our attention on children and teenagers, then in a few years, companies aren’t even going to have a pool of talent to choose from.
We’re seeing Black children at the high school level dropping out of STEM-related courses at an alarming rate. Our goal is to create a pipeline that moves students from being interested in technology to engaging with it to eventually pursuing higher education and becoming active members in the tech community as entrepreneurs and corporate professionals. We want students to really start thinking about how technology can be used and how they can use their own imaginations to shape the world they want.
Our programs are also focused on building key social and emotional skills, such as problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration, that students need, especially children of colour. It’s not enough to just have the tech background. If you don’t know how to collaborate or communicate properly or solve problems, you won’t be successful in a career that requires those skill sets.
We often see large tech organizations like Google and Facebook supporting initiatives focused on people of color in the United States, but that doesn’t really happen here. Our campaign is asking for $50,000 to send 100 underserved students in Durham to summer camp for 6 weeks. They’ll learn how to build and fly their own drones, create mobile apps and multipage websites and build movable contraptions through VR. It’s disheartening not to have the same support from the tech communities here in the GTA. Canada is a very diverse country and it’s organizations should reflect and support that diversity.
At the end of the day, as an organization, we want to be able to create an incubator or a hub in Durham region that is going to be able to support these students once they graduate – so they don’t have to leave and go to Silicon Valley or anywhere in the States. But we cannot be successful if the government is not supporting us. It’s about improving the socio-economic status of this country, and in order to do that we need support from the provincial government to expand initiatives like the Youth Opportunities Fund, which provides grant dollars to the Black community and the Black Youth Action Plan. By providing those resources to the Black community, we can then build and grow.”