Emile Cambry talks Blue1647, Blacks and the digital divide

Emile Cambry talks Blue1647, Blacks and the digital divide
Emile Cambry, founder and CEO of Blue1647 (Photo credit: Rena Naltsas)

Words like “coding” and acronyms like STEM may not be the sexiest uses of language being thrown around the internet, but without them, there is no internet. Corporations and small businesses find themselves in the throes of a technological revolution that will essentially change the economic base of this world. The digital space is growing consistently. According to the Department of Education, “To meet the nation’s evolving workforce needs, America will need to add 1M more STEM professionals by 2022.” This is where BLUE1647, a nonprofit entrepreneurship and technology innovation center that fosters economic development in technology, adds value to the discussion. We spoke with Emile Cambry about Blue1647, the importance of technology and how it can level the economic playing field.

Tell people who you are and what motivated you to create Blue1647.
I was a college professor and most of my students needed jobs and opportunities, and just couldn’t find them in traditional jobs. The entry-level jobs were going to more experienced folks, but there still was a gap in jobs that required digital skills, especially in technology. And rather than complain about the problem, I wanted to do something about it, because I saw other folks in my network start some of the largest companies in Chicago using their technology skills. I wanted to create the AAU of tech, a generation of folks who had access to the latest and greatest tools, resources, and platforms, but more importantly, a culture where they know they can make the world a better place using their technology skills.

What is the general misconception about what you do?
I think at times, some folks think we only work with kids when most of our programs and offerings are geared toward adults. It was important to work with both groups because they inspire each other, and in order to have a true ecosystem, you have to prepare our communities today, and tomorrow. The most challenging part of what I do is figuring out the most accessibly priced way to get a large volume of folks to participate and thrive. It’s much more difficult than it seems because there aren’t a ton of resources to get people started. Technology is expensive, technology instructors aren’t easy to find, and we have to continually fill the bench with great practitioners who can inspire, teach, and provide practical applications.

Talk about the importance of technology and why Black people should insert themselves into this digital space.
Black people should be concerned about this space because a recent Reuters study concluded that 90 percent of new jobs require some sort of digital or tech skill. So these aren’t just the jobs of the future, these are the jobs of today. By the year 2020, 1.4 million new jobs in technology will be created that don’t exist today. Artificial intelligence will replace and change the nature of most jobs. This is an economic justice issue, something we should all take seriously.

Your company was listed in the first Chicago Technology Plan. What does this mean for the city and for Blue1647?
It’s always important to be included in any and all plans the city compiles to list resources and opportunities for people. We were able to leverage that report in the early days for credibility, and since then we have been included in dozens of research studies about how effective our programs are for the city and people of color.

Talk about how more information and education with regards to our ever-evolving technology can help change the economic landscape.
For every high tech job that is created, it creates an additional 2.6 jobs. So there’s a multiplier effect. The more we get trained in these skills, the more jobs that will be created, and if those folks being trained are socially minded, they’ll also inspire and reach back to their communities to ensure they are a part of the prosperity. The State of Illinois, along with a tremendous number of municipalities have offered billions in incentives to recruit Amazon to have their second headquarters in Chicago. They’re looking at 50,000 jobs for folks, which are majority six-figure jobs. At the current rate, black people wouldn’t benefit as much as they could with an Amazon, if we don’t have folks trained for these opportunities. This is why we start training them as young as 3 with our Paige and Paxton program, all the way to adults with our Blue Studios offering.

There are schools that are STEM-focused and children have a natural proclivity towards newer technology. With that being said, how does the 40-something adult with limited knowledge get more involved?
A big misconception is that only youth should focus on these areas when it’s everyone’s responsibility to get up to speed. Every adult that learns this skill set will inspire a young person, be able to encourage that young person, and ultimately use these skills to aid in our communities. I encourage everyone over 40 to get up to speed with tech, and we conduct a bevy of parent workshops for folks to learn what they need to know everything about coding and technology.

What has been the most challenging aspect of this journey, thus far?
The most challenging aspect of this is making everything you do scaleable and accessible. We have to teach and expose at all levels and create an ecosystem that mimics recreational sports in the sense where we have competitions, we reward positive outcomes, and provide financial support for those who want to take their talents to the next level.

What are some of the projects you have going on now and what do you have coming up in the future?
We are developing the BLUE BUS, which is a mobile tech bus to go to every community of Chicago and the Chicagoland area. The bus will allow us to pop up workshops in any community and have all of the magic of BLUE1647 wherever we go. We are also doing the same thing for upcycled Shipping Containers, to create more mobile technology labs.

What words of encouragement do you have for those looking to get into this field?
Just keep learning. It’s hard for everyone to get started! It’s not something where you’ll learn in 12 weeks or a year. It’s a commitment to a lifelong of learning and we’ll do everything we can to support your journey.

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