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Trailblazing a Tech Learning Culture for the Black Community with Kalvin Jones

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About the Episode

Leaving a successful career to launch a nonprofit would scare most people, but not Kalvin Jones. When he realized the lack of opportunity in tech for people of color, he knew he had to do something. So he founded the nonprofit Code Black Indy, which focuses on bringing diversity to the tech industry by preparing the next generation for technical jobs. Listen now to learn how he is connecting and engaging with black and brown students through a learning culture focused on technology.

Episode Highlights

Meet Our Guest

Kalvin Jones has a passion for helping black and brown children learn about tech. After a successful stint at Salesforce and working as a tech consultant at Appirio, Kalvin felt compelled to teach the next generation of minority tech workers. This passion led him to launch Code Black Indy, which fosters the success of young people of color in the tech ecosystem. His energy, passion, and perseverance are reflected in his students, who have gone on to become innovators, tech workers, and leaders.

Episode Transcript

Chris Byers: We aim to create a powerful pipeline that incubates and fosters the success of black and brown young people from underserved communities into the tech ecosystem in Indy.

I'm Chris Byers of Formstack and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the impact decisions create. The mission statement I just read from is from Code Black Indy, a social enterprise founded by Kalvin Jones. As you can imagine with a statement like that one, the impact seems inherent to the cause. Yet there's always more to the story.

Welcome to the show, Kalvin. Would love to hear more about Code Black Indy so our audience can learn just a little bit more about what you've been working on. What is Code Black Indy and  what prompted you to get it going?

Kalvin Jones: So let me take you back. Back probably five years ago, I was working at Salesforce. I came in at Tier II support and within that time I was actually working with BOLDforce as a community service liaison. So I was really doing a lot of classes, doing a lot of community outreach already. However, I left Salesforce after close to four years, well, close to working four years there. And then I started doing consulting and kind of Code Black Indy sprouted through that point of the consulting, seeing that it was really a need in the community as far as technical education and coding classes. So I kind of took the initiative by myself and started that. A lot of it kind of just started with just going in classes and just doing simple workshops. However, over time, more people started asking for it. So I knew I had to scale, so I hired a student from IUPUI and I put them in class and I gave him a tier to teach and that went very well. So then I started adding more people and we're working towards basic scaling them so that every school has a coding class and every school has an opportunity to produce technical students.

Chris Byers: Well, you seem like someone who could have kind of continued to climb the corporate ladder with your experience, but you went and said, no, I actually need to go launch this nonprofit. Talk to us more about that part of the story.

Kalvin Jones: Yeah, I am crazy, crazy to do that. I can say honestly, it was really in my heart. This has been with me a long time and I feel like this is an opportunity for me to take that leap of faith and really do something. And it's worked out so far. I do miss a paycheck. Don't get me wrong. However, what I'm doing is really unsurmountable to everybody and everything I touch and everything that Code Black produces is really helping the community, whether it's from our adult programing, our community based programing, or whether it's through our K through 12 program.

Chris Byers: What can you share some a story or a handful of stories about the impact that you have had already?

Kalvin Jones: We've been doing this for a while and it's kind of crazy because we do a lot of classes and we move very fast. So I can give you a couple of instances where we help people out, especially with our first Salesforce series. My VP, Sam, kind of brought it out of me to do Salesforce classes just because I am Salesforce certified. So we had a pilot program for six weeks. It was held up by the university. So we were in a class where every Saturday for six weeks teaching people the details of Salesforce and helping them get certified. Well, that went very well. We have over 40 people signed up from all over the country as we move forward. We had more people buy into the Code Black vision. As far as Raesha Jackson, she was part of our first Salesforce cohort and she did awesome. She was also in the A+ cohort for Ivy Tech our first time around. So we were actually promoting with them and got her in that cohort and she became A+ certified and she actually taught in three of our courses over the last year. And with those courses, we probably had two people to get certified. We also had another successful class, Renee Davis. She's actually working with us to start up this Salesforce cohort. And she actually just got a job being a consultant, an Associate Consultant for Horizonal. So that's a consulting Salesforce partner. And that's one of our success stories, is just getting her out there and getting her basically giving her a community so she can keep learning.

That's the biggest thing about Code Black is community. It's giving us a space to learn and giving us the tools to learn. And as we learn, we keep giving them opportunities, whether it's to improve their resumé or whether it's really to give them a job.

Chris Byers: Tell us a little bit about the model itself and how does Code Black Indy work financially? Do you fund it all yourself? Do you raise money? Do you charge for classes? How does that work?

Kalvin Jones: Yeah, I wish I had all the money. We have a model that we push and we call educational services. So we have three areas of programing, which is adult programing, community based programing, and K-12 programming. But for our K-12 programing, we run it as an educational service. So if you do not have a computer science program, you don't have a curriculum or computer science teacher, we actually bring that into your school so you can have your hands off the curriculum and we will monitor that. We'll worry about aligning with state standards. We'll worry about hiring qualified teachers. We'll worry about aligning with post-secondary institutions so that credits transfer and people get into these colleges and really the school can really be more focused on kids. For our community based programing, we really do a lot of community help, our tech lounge actually falls in a community based program. We also have another one, Belmont Beach.

So Belmont Beach is actually on the White River. It's a great story, actually. So Belmont Beach came about around the forties around segregation and basically black people can't swim in the swimming pools, so the city pushed everybody to the White River for all the black people, so they had a beach called Belmont Beach. So they're kind of reinventing that beach now and they called us in and do a Wi-Fi solution in addition to a landing page. So those are all good projects to kind of get us scene so we can get those K-12 schools and we can really outreach to more kids, because a lot of programing comes about from those community opportunities.

And then also for our adult programing, we really just run certification classes where, like Salesforce, A+, to really mold the workforce that's going to be obsolete in a couple of years. Because let's get it all straight that black people really have service level jobs, a lot of Black people have service level jobs as far as call centers, as far as working in warehouses, as far as being servers. So those are kind of our target demographics. So that's why we have A+, CTA and Salesforce so that we can easily transition those people in the next three or five years.

Chris Byers: It sounds like what you are doing really addresses a big topic that I think came up last year. And at least in my own discovery, in our own company's discovery, was this idea that degree requirements, for instance, in job applications are a big barrier for the Black community. And one of the things I've been thinking about to is the degree is one thing. But even if you take that requirement away, there's probably like some training, some skill set that is still missing and needs to be enabled. How do you think you guys are helping solve that very real problem of getting Black community closer to or that much more accessible to getting more jobs?

Kalvin Jones: We really give a lot of resources. For instance, we help them with their resume. We give them mock interviews with some of our partners, like Comcast, to give them their real world experience and see those questions that they're going to ask them. And it's kind of a hard question for me because I have a degree from Butler University. So it really wasn't that hard for me to get a job.

However, these people that I'm helping come from a totally different situation that I did. So for them, they don't have the opportunity to do that. However, I learned being in corporate, really degree really doesn't matter a lot as far as the technical realm. I wouldn't say anywhere else. But as far as technical realm, it really doesn't hold that much weight. A lot of the smartest people I ever met in technology do not have a degree. And that says a lot as far as people that's really making these products. A lot of them don't have degrees. A lot of them just started just making stuff out their basement and they just learn stuff. A lot of stuff that you learn in technology is experiences, playing with stuff, breaking stuff, making sure that what you build is going to work. That entire process is going to make you a better programmer versus a degree.

Chris Byers: We work very much in the no-code space, and I think I love this idea of equipping people really with some basic understanding of some of the products that are out there and how do they work and how do they work in the real world. And as you can connect people who probably really have the right mindset for building, they just don't have those technical skills. You mentioned something about how you got to school, maybe taking us back a little bit of time. Do you have a memory or a story of someone who impacted your life and got you to where you are today?

Kalvin Jones: Honestly, I would say I really haven't met anybody that kind of gave me that spark, it kind of came internally. I've always been a kid that's always trying to get his hands dirty, figure out stuff, how it works. Even when I was younger, I was taking apart computers and my mom was getting mad because there's computer pieces everywhere and I didn't put it back together. So I've kind of always had that itch for technology. I was a kid actually reading documentation, old Windows documentation, to see how things work.

Chris Byers: Walk us through a little bit of what was the moment that you had that said, all right, I've got to do this full time and then help us also understand what is it that got you to kind of overcome that fear of failure? Because even people who are listening, who are interested in Code Black Indy, they may have a fear of failure, like, OK, I could go take those classes, but I'm not sure I'll have success on the other side. So I think that journey would be a great inspiration for people.

Kalvin Jones: Yeah. And I think in my position, I've been in the the corporate world for a while now and I've been in many positions. I became a consultant. That was one of my dreams. And really just because I kind of looked at myself one day, I said, I'm 30, I can always go back to be a consultant. I have plenty of certifications. I have great experience. I can always do that. However, how many times can I say I started a whole nonprofit by myself? I can never say that again.

So I want to put all what I have in this and maybe it doesn't work. Maybe it does. At least I can say I tried that and I won't have any regrets and I won't have any thoughts of, I wish I would have done that, probably could have made some money or I probably could have helped out a lot of people or I probably could have put our community in a better position.

A lot of times I would think that a lot that I was trying to achieve was unachievable. And I think a lot of people have those thoughts. However, you have to believe in yourself at the end of the day. At the end of the day, I know what I am, I know that with a corporate job or not, I'm going to find some way to make it work. So just having that confidence in yourself. At the end of the day, you have you and if you thought of this this much, I'm pretty sure you'll be OK.

Chris Byers: Let's step forward five years, 10 years. What does success look like. What do you want to see, what are the outcomes you want to see over the next couple of years?

Kalvin Jones: I really want to see a lot of people just transitioning, really getting into that learning culture. And that's what I'm trying to do. I would say over the next five years we plan to build another tech lounge on the Eastside, Far Eastside, just because that's where a lot of trouble is right now. That's where the biggest need is really for any programing as far as technically because the Eastside is kind of weird, it's different from the Westside. Just because the Westside is close, Eastside is kind of spread out. So we definitely need to think about how we can help out the Eastside and even the Southside. So those type of places, those type of places we want to outreach, and really put our foot in the door. We came into this space to kind of be that computer science program, to help you think about what you're going to teach your kids. Even if you use us for a couple of years, it's going to help your thought process out, see how we should attack technical training at this specific school.

Chris Byers: Talk just a little bit about the kids that you want to impact. What do you hope happens in their lives?

Kalvin Jones: One thing that kind of motivated me to do all this is a lot of the time, especially Black kids, really trying to find that person or wait for the person who is going to save them. And in reality, I was looking for that person, I was looking for the person who is going to save me. I didn't think they were going to, like, give me money or anything or give me a place or give me education. Just that person is going to say, "Everything's going to be OK and you're doing the right thing." Honestly, a lot of times that person doesn't come. So I need to be that person myself. So for me to go in these classrooms and say, hey, I understand why your grades are low, this is boring. It's school, it has concrete walls and concrete floors, it's horrible for learning. So really kind of pushing those kids who a lot of people kind of feel are lost, because I was one of those kids. I was one of those kids who I was a class clown. I was always doing something, always in trouble. So I understand where that comes from. So just stepping in there and just saying it's going to be OK, make sure you get your skills first, because once you have skills, you're undeniable. You have something that you have a bidding, you have a proposition now, you have something to bid with. You can create iOS applications from scratch, that's very powerful to go with versus not having skills and being out here.

Chris Byers: Imagine for a minute someone is listening and saying, I want to introduce a kid I know to Code Black Indy or they're listening right now. What are the skill sets that you would say they're going to leave after they've gotten a chance to interact with you?

Kalvin Jones: I would say being more confident and actually really speaking the truth, really going with your passion and really to stop second thinking yourself. That's a lot of problems with kids these days. They second think their self and they don't have confidence. So my job is really to kind of inflict that confidence in them and make sure they know it's OK to mess up. It's OK to say you don't know. That's totally fine. Let's find out why don't you know, just really kind of having that soft place to land for them so that it's really not hard for them to understand and it's not embarrassing for them to ask those questions.

Chris Byers: So tell us how you recruit kids into the program and then how do you keep then engaged because they're still kids that, yes, they want to learn, but that's still a tough business.

Kalvin Jones: Yes, that is the hardest part about this is keeping them engaged throughout the entire process just because a lot of life happens in between. And that recruitment really depends on the program. The key to keeping them engaged is you have to bring energy. One thing that this whole entire process has taught me, that the entire class is dependent on the teacher or the instructor. So you can come in there moping and not wanting to do this or you can come in having energy and really inflect your voice and walk around, make jokes, and then the class is going to be better for them and they're going to want to take that class. Right now we have a class and in a virtual world the attendance is kind of shaky.

However, a lot of kids say, I love come to your class. I crack jokes with them, ask them how their day is going, I know the problems they're having. I make sure everything's OK. Really, knowing the person that you're teaching is going to help you really help them understand the content that you're learning. For them to relate to you, to understand, hey, I know that Mr. Jones isn't going to get mad I tell him this. It is really having that field of understanding and really emotional intelligence to see where that kid is at. Because a lot of these kids come from crazy backgrounds and you don't want to add to that. They really need that place, that safe place to kind of relax and be free and make jokes and not thinking about the bad things that are happening in the world. And that's what space I try to create for them.

Chris Byers: One of the most difficult jobs must be teaching. And you talked about the idea of infusing fun, getting fun in the content and engaging kids, how do you think about doing that? What are the ways, the strategies that you think about using?

Kalvin Jones: You have to be very creative. You have to be very creative on the fly and you have to feel the room a lot of the times. A lot of stuff that you might think about may be fun, may be boring to them, so you have feel a room, feel that energy to make a transition. A lot of things that I do is project based. So helping them build towards a project kind of helps them open up their thought patterns to see the bigger picture, not to see a little part that we're building versus we're going to build a game program. However, we need to build these blocks because he's going to jump on these blocks. So helping them understand the whole thought process as far as programing, really unlocks their potential and also using applications like Kahoot and fun quizzes really makes it interactive. Kahoot is one of my favorites, just because you kind of commentating in the background, motivate them to get the right question, drop hints, so you really can make it interactive. And we actually had to go through the slides and see what questions we got wrong. And you understand why we got those questions wrong. Those type of things can change the energy in class, gets them up and gets them understanding this concept as a hands on concept now vs. a thought process.

Chris Byers: It sounds like what you've done really exceptionally is become really a partner to schools. I think you used the term vendor. How can companies or how do you think about coming alongside and partnering with schools to make them more successful?

Kalvin Jones: So one thing that we do as far as in our onboarding process is really get to know the school, what kind of things they are teaching in middle school, what are they teaching before they get to high school, so that we continue on that knowledge they've built. So maybe they have a robotics program. We can build off that. Let's build off the robotics programs so they learn how to build this at the end of the day. So we're really not trying to fit a square peg in a circle whole, really trying to work with the school, seeing what their problems are emphasizing with those problems in designing the solution, education solution that's going to benefit the school as far as whether they're getting dual credits or maybe they're getting certifications or maybe they're building a portfolio or maybe they're building, they're working on the school website, maybe that's intriguing to them. We really work with them to kind of see their needs.

Chris Byers: We are in early 2021 as you and I talk right now, so just kind of leaving 2020 but still in the middle of what started with Covid. How did that impact how you operate and what you had to change.

Kalvin Jones: This is actually a funny story. Once Covid started, I wouldn't say we slowed down, we kind of kept trying. We actually transitioned, we did virtual events and then after that a lot of educational opportunities for virtual came about. So we had to redefine our virtual learning and make sure that we're on top of that just because that's going to be the future. So even in a tech lounge, we're going to have hybrid classes where every single class is going to be either livestreamed or recorded onto a Zoom session. So whether at home or you want to come to the tech lounge, you have that option.

Chris Byers: Well, you've talked a little bit about the rise of the new economy and the speed of innovation and how that's going to impact the workforce. Talk to us a little bit more about that and what you're seeing.

Kalvin Jones: I'm really seeing the world change right before our eyes. You have automation taking over everything. Now you have warehouses that pretty much run themselves. You don't need pickers to go out there and pick items where you have robots. So one person can push a button and get the bin they need, get the item, and put that bucket back with another push of a button. Those type of things are going to take a lot of jobs. And I wouldn't say, and actually one of our partners, SMC, kind of explained this to me. It's really not taking our jobs, it is really reinventing those jobs. So they don't have the skills to land these or understand these really reinvented jobs. They're going to be jobless. So that new economy is going to look like a lot of technical people. Whether you like it or not, you're going to have to know some form of technology, unfortunately, whether it's web development, understanding that process, really not even understanding the technical details, it is really understanding web development, what you need to do, what a tag is, why can't I do this on this website? You have to understand those things working in the future. Just because those will be innate to a lot of kids that we have. I mean, these kids are growing up now are going to be more technically inclined. We have to get this generation up there where my two year old is right now.

Chris Byers: Each conversation we have on the show ends with us highlighting innovative ideas, fresh perspectives. And Kalvin is helping us imagine a future of more inclusion and opportunity for underserved communities. If you could give some advice to our listeners, what would you say is the first step to unlocking their genius and to solve problems in their organizations or communities? How can companies think about doing that better?

Kalvin Jones: I feel like you have to try. Even the kids in my class, I tell them it takes a little bit of effort to go from good to great. And a lot of people are stuck at just being good. In reality, we need a lot of great people in this lifetime. So really, just really going above and beyond. Code Black, this is our protest, this is how I protest. I wasn't out there in the streets, wasn't out there holding signs. This is my protest: to get more Black people, Black and Brown people into tech because at the end of the day, you guys need to survive in this new economy and it's coming fast. Automation is coming super fast. Before you know it, 10 years down the line, we will be in trouble because we are the people that's in the service industry and we are the people that's in manufacturing jobs. We are the people that's in call centers. So we're the most vulnerable people in this new economy.

Chris Byers: Well, I love that idea that you bring up that this is the form of your protest, because I do think there are so many ways people can contribute. So I love you really just enlightening people to think about your own skill set and how you might be able to contribute. Well, what do you want people to take away from this conversation? What do you want people to hear about Code Black Indy?

Kalvin Jones: If you go to our website, we really don't talk about a lot of what we're doing and just because we're busy doing it. So we need help. We need volunteers, we need more astute facilitators. We need more opportunities to teach kids tech. We need more opportunities for our school facilitators to go out there and connect with these kids. So really, I would say engage with us, follow us, please, if you have any community projects, or any kids who need to learn how to code, please hit us up.

Chris Byers: If somebody is listening right now and saying this sounds like a great organization and maybe they literally want to put some dollars in it, or want to partner, what are the ways that people should be thinking about coming alongside?

Kalvin Jones: You should definitely go to our website, go ahead and submit a form and then one of our team members will contact you and it would start the process, whether it's with a partnership or whether it's with a donation. So please go to the website and we would definitely be in touch.

Chris Byers: All right. And last question. What are the future ideas that you have that you've not yet been able to put into the world? What what are you hoping to do heading forward?

Kalvin Jones: Really, the sky's the limit. I really didn't think Code Black would work at first, so I'm kind of surprised this worked. So I would say this wouldn't be the last thing I did. This is kind of the first of many things I want to do in the future as far as having more affordable technology. One of my, one of my biggest goals and dreams is actually to start a hip hop brewery. So that's like 10 or 20 years down the line when I could retire and work in a brewery all day and drink beer.

Chris Byers: I love it. Well, to learn more about how people are reimagining their world of work, head over to Thanks for joining us today on this episode of Ripple Effect.

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Practically Genius is a show built for innovators championing digitization within their organization.

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