Coding for all: Mom’s All Star coding class opens doors in tech for young men of color

Manhattan mom Christina Lewis is the founder and chief executive officer of All Star Code, a New York City-based nonprofit organization with a mission to educate, prepare, and place black and Latino young men in the tech industry.

This impetus behind starting All Star Code was Lewis’s late father, Reginald F. Lewis (1942–1993). She had learned that when he was a young man, he had participated in a summer program that led to him attending Harvard Law School. Through work with her family foundation, the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation (which supports schools, programs, and groups that promote economic and social justice), and individual work in philanthropy, she had seen a number of organizations that promoted girls being exposed to coding and technology. However, no organization had surfaced that catered to these young men. There was nothing like All Star Code.

After much time in conversation with individuals in education, the non-profit sector, and technology, Lewis decided to establish All Star Code, in honor of her father.

“My dad, Reginald F. Lewis, was an iconic figure in the history of black business and one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time. When he died in 1993, my dad was the owner and CEO of TLC Beatrice International, the largest black-owned business in the U.S. and one of Forbes Magazine’s top 400 list of richest people in America,” said Lewis. In February, PBS premiered the documentary “Pioneers: Reginald F. Lewis and the Making of a Billion Dollar Empire.”

“I channeled his legacy to start All Star Code, a New York-based nonprofit that aims to give the next generation of diverse leaders the tools they need to succeed in the technology industry,” said Lewis. “As a business journalist, I had a front-row seat to observing the growth in income inequality. In honor of my father’s legacy — and all who have fought for equal rights — I created this program to help the next generation of youth catch the next wave of opportunity.”

Lewis and her team have raised more than $1 million for the growth and development of the All Star Code’s six-week summer intensive program.

“We are constantly tweaking and improving our curriculum based on our current and past year’s feedback, which comes from both internal and external evaluations. We seek to provide both a mix of coding education and the soft skills necessary to succeed in the business world,” explained Lewis.

The “All Stars” also establish an invaluable network of mentors and like-minded peers. With locations now in New York City and Pittsburgh, this free program has been deluged with applicants — nearly 1,000 applications were submitted for the 160 available spots.

“The idea is that we are one All Star Code, so while there may be some regional differences, we strive to learn from our expansion sites and offer consistent programming across all our regions,” said Lewis.

“Five years ago, we didn’t even have a desk or a team. Now, All Star Code currently employs 20 people. Every year, we’ve doubled the number of students we serve, and now we’re proud to host eight cohorts of students across two cities — New York City and Pittsburgh, which were selected out of over a thousand applications,” said Lewis. “This year’s six New York cohorts are being hosted by Goldman Sachs, Medidata, Cisco, Major League Baseball, JP Morgan Chase, and Oath. And in Pittsburgh, All Star Code’s first expansion city, two cohorts are being hosted by Chatham University and the University of Pittsburgh.

“We also have to thank the Reginald F. Lewis Foundation and AT&T, which continue to provide essential financial support for our organization,” said Lewis.

Since 2013, All Star Code has had about 300 participants in programs hosted by corporate partners. The program’s curriculum focuses on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and teaches students web development. The program includes guest speakers and mentoring. On average, an astounding 95 percent of All-Star-Code graduates go on to four-year colleges with the majority either majoring or minoring in computer science.

For many years, Lewis has been recognized for her entrepreneurship as well as her individual philanthropy. She remains focused on growing All Star Code and continuing to motivate young men of color toward success. She explained, “We announced a plan to serve 1,000 students annually by 2020, and we are on track for that. We are also always looking to expand to new cities, as well as support our alumni in both their coding and business ventures.”

For more information, visit AllStarCode.org.

Shnieka Johnson is an education consultant and freelance writer. She is based in Manhattan where she resides with her husband and son. Contact her via her website: www.shniekajohnson.com.

All Star Code founder Christina Lewis.
BFA.com / Samantha Nandez

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