Black Girls CODE NY’s #LoveIsRespectBK Hackathon Helps Young Women Understand Healthy Relationships

June 9, 2014  |  

Teaching adolescents and teens about how to develop healthy relationships has long-lasting, positive effects. With roughly 1 in 10 American teenagers experiencing physical violence at the hands of a significant other, and many others facing sexual and emotional abuse, awareness is key to breaking the cycle of abuse. By meeting the next generation where they are—on their smartphones, tablets and the web—the messaging is all the more effective.

The New York City chapter of Black Girls CODE merged technology and awareness this past weekend, gathering nearly 60 girls between the ages of 10 and 17 at NYU Polytechnic University School of Engineering to create innovations that will familiarize their peers with both healthy and unhealthy relationships. Titled “loveisrespect,” the two-day hackathon powered by BGC, Verizon Wireless and Break the Cycle focused on empowering the young hackers through consciousness and technology.

“The goal is just for the girls to leave with a better understanding of, one, themselves because I think ‘loveisrespect’, which is the theme of the hackathon,” said Donna Knutt, BGC NY lead and CEO at Luxie Lab. “It’s about relationships, but the most important relationship is relationship with self. That relationship effects every other relationship you have.”

The young inventors jumped right into the swing of things on Saturday morning. After attending a workshop led by Darlene Kiyan, executive director at Break the Cycle, which pinpointed the characteristics of healthy relationships, as well as possible red flags, the teams were established and the girls quickly began discussing ideas and, ultimately, got right to work. To see the transformation of their initial thoughts to their finished product through teamwork, patience, diligence and all-around ingenuity sparked rounds of applause during Sunday afternoon’s demo of their websites and apps.

A panel of technologists, which included Cameka Crawford, manager of multicultural communications and community relations at Verizon Wireless; Janine Hausif, founder at Around the Way App; Malcolm Jones, development and operations engineer at Behance; Kiyan; Merline Saintil, head of global engineering operations, mobile and emerging products at Yahoo!; Lyndsey Scott, actress, model and mobile app developer; and Reddit founder and investor Alexis Ohanian, reviewed the girls’ products.

Ohanian, a huge fan of Black Girls CODE, launched a successful crowdfunding campaign via Crowdtilt, which raised over $12,000 to bring “loveisrespect” to his hometown of Brooklyn. “I want as many people in my community to have access to the skills and all the connections possible to take advantage of this amazing time in history when technology, programming can literally change the world,” said the Fort Greene bred tech entrepreneur.

The 17 teams each came up with snazzy names such as C^3 (Crazy Caring Coders), REALastionships, Me.You.Us. and Palindrome, which represented the three 11-year-old team members. Their products offered surveys, videos, Twitter feeds and a live-chat feature with appointed experts within their age range, among other impressive features.

The first place prize of a $1500 scholarship (per participant), $2500 donation to a charity of their choice and the opportunity to compete against the winners of the New Orleans and Oakland hackathons for the chance to develop their app for use with Break the Cycle went to Step One. The second prize win of Samsung Galaxy tablets went to Team Turtle; and Hckr Girlz received iTunes gift cards for their third place win. But the big takeaway for all hackers was the opportunity to learn a skill that will grant them access to a high-growth industry.

“They leave with this excitement and this newfound skill,” said Knutt.

Based in New York City, Janel Martinez is a multimedia journalist who covers technology and entrepreneurship. She is the founder of “Ain’t I Latina?” an online destination geared toward Afro-Latinas. You can follow her up-to-the-minute musings on Twitter @janelmwrites.

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