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Black Woman-Owned Bronx Tech School Is Working To Close The Gap In Education To Employment Divide

Black Woman-Owned Bronx Tech School Is Working To Close The Gap In Education To Employment Divide

It's the only Black woman-led tech training nonprofit in New York!

A Black woman-owned Bronx tech school is working to close the gap in the education to employment divide, Ebony reports. 

Jerelyn Rodriguez is the founder and CEO of The Knowledge House (TKH), a technical institution she started more than seven years ago with the sole goal of closing the employment gap for low-income learners, specifically Black women. Currently, the organization is 90 percent staffed by people of color, an accurate representation of the communities they serve.

"I started it because I was frustrated that in the education field advocates were pushing low-income kids to only go to college," said Rodriguez.

A former educator and active community organizer, Rodriguez recognized the fallacy in the limited option narrative educators were pushing onto those looking to get out of poverty. A Bronx native and Columbia University grad, Rodriguez knew that the traditional path of higher academia wasn't going to work for everyone and began looking at alternative education methods for those who needed it the most. 

"I kind of shifted away from K through 12 education and really started focusing on alternative pathways, understanding that, especially low-income kids, need multiple options, and no one has linear pathways when it comes to the populations that we serve," Rodriguez explained. 

At her former job, she met her TKH co-founder, Joe Carrano, a digital marketer by trade who taught himself to code as a way to move up the career ladder financially. His story served as the inspiration for the two's partnership to produce similar outcomes for others. In 2013, they launched their first pilot program with a cohort of 10 young adults, using her experience and network working with Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, to build out her curriculum. 

"Seeing her inspired me. She was an entrepreneur herself, advocating for girls in tech," said Rodriguez.

Now, almost a decade later, TKH has grown, welcoming three cohorts with 60 adult learners as well as a youth educational arm educating another 60 students. The two programs, one youth and one adult-centered, last about 12 months. The youth undergo daily summer instruction that transitions to monthly workshops that teach college and career planning. While the adults partake in more rigorous programming, training for about 16 hours weekly for nine months. The training is run entirely on fundraising, and the program is free for attendees and provides stipends for participants throughout the process. The price for each student currently is about $5,000, but Rodriguez says it's well worth it to see participants transform their lives financially. 

"The average incoming salary for adult applicants is around $14K. When they land their first tech job, we're seeing a $75K minimum average salary," she said. 

Currently, TKH has online donations set up where anybody can contribute and support their efforts. Still, they recently began a Fellowship Campaign and Speaker Series, which is geared towards corporate sponsorships. Rodriguez says it's an excellent opportunity for companies looking to hire diverse talent and connect their employees to volunteer opportunities in underserved communities. The goal for next year is to raise $1.2 million to cover the cost for 200 students, funds going towards "supply[ing] fellows with a year of study and mentoring access to high-level technology professionals."

Rodriguez has already received support from several partners to reach her goal, including Goldman Sachs, Robin Hood Foundation, and The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America. The Campaign and Speaker Series is a multi-week event that began on October 21st, taking place every Thursday through November 4th. Corporate leaders and philanthropists will share their expertise to build a movement from the Bronx. 

The goal is to continue expanding TKH's services and creating pathways for Black women in tech. 

"I have designed the program for the most marginalized groups, Black females. And so that takes care of a lot of the other populations that have needs. That makes us unique and more effective than other organizations. That is important," said Rodriguez.

Click the link here to learn more about The Knowledge House and participate in their 2021 Fellowship Campaign Event Series. 

Congratulations Jerelyn! Because of you, we can!

Photo Courtesy of Allison Michael Orenstein/Columbia Magazine