In a speech Monday marked by long call-and-responses with a crowd of middle- and high-school students, the Rev. Jesse Jackson echoed the themes of his Sunday talk at Seattle’s Mount Zion Baptist Church.
Education, he said, is a way to end racial disparities in high-paying technology jobs around the nation, and the lack of minorities on boards of major technology companies needs to change.
“That does not reflect our talent,” he said. “That reflects patterns of racial and gender bias.”
In the audience were 700 students at Technology Access Foundation Academy and Totem Middle School, two schools in the Federal Way School District that share the same campus. Totem Middle is one of the district’s regular middle schools. The smaller TAF Academy is co-run by a nonprofit and the school district, and focuses on preparing middle- and high-school students to pursue careers in math and the sciences.
Jackson applauded the TAF Academy’s diversity. Of the school’s roughly 250 students, just about one-third are white. He also commended the students for studying science, technology, engineering and math — fields collectively referred to as STEM.
Executives at top technology companies in Silicon Valley have reported being unable to find minority students who are qualified to fill open jobs, Jackson said.
The lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the technology sector drove Trish Millines Dziko, now the executive director at the Technology Access Foundation (TAF), a Seattle-based STEM education nonprofit, to leave the industry after 15 years. The TAF Academy is one of the foundation’s projects.
“Regardless of where I worked, I found myself the only person of color,” said Dziko, who holds a degree in computer science and was once a diversity administrator for Microsoft. She spent years trying to change the system from within, she said, before leaving to start TAF in the late 1990s.
Jackson spoke for about 40 minutes, repeatedly asking the students to repeat phrases after him: “Our mind is like a pearl, we can learn anything in the world,” and “I am somebody.”
“Everybody on your feet, on your feet, all of you,” Jackson said, rousing the crowd to stand on the gymnasium bleachers where they had gathered. “Say, ‘I am – somebody. I am – somebody. Red or yellow, brown, black or white. … Everybody is somebody.’ ”
He asked the students to raise both their hands in a twist on the “hands up” gesture that now symbolizes resistance to last week’s decision by a grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., which did not indict a police officer for fatally shooting 18-year-old Michael Brown in August.
But while Jackson mentioned the Ferguson ruling and the need for nonviolent protests, he started and ended his remarks by encouraging the students to keep learning.
Studying STEM from a young age can help change the face of the technology industry, Jackson said.
“The success of TAF Academy will be infectious,” he said. “You are onto something great here.”
Jackson spoke Sunday night at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle.
Coming Tuesday: Video chat on diversity in STEM education