South O’ the Highway

All Star Code Summer Benefit Supports Coding Camp for Young Men of Color

“I am Zavier Jenkins and I am a hacker.”

As Zavier, a 17-year-old from Harlem, spoke to the crowd at a private East Hampton estate, he explained that being a hacker isn’t necessarily what’s seen in movies and television shows. “Being a hacker also means to be an explorer, inventor and innovator.” Monday, Zavier starts an internship with Microsoft and it’s due in part to what he has learned this summer at coding camp.

Zavier Jenkins
Zavier Jenkins
Photo credit: Jessica Opatich

All Star Code, the nonprofit created to bridge the gap between young men of color and the tech industry, held its second annual summer benefit Saturday, July 25, and raised more than $600,000.

WCBS-TV New York news anchor Maurice Dubois was the night’s emcee as more than 300 guests including Gayle King of CBS This Morning, Miss USA Olivia Jordan, model and Real Housewives of New York City cast member Kristen Taekman, model Chris Collins, music manager Troy Carter and Valentino D. Carlotti of Goldman Sachs, celebrated and raised money for the young men of color, like Zavier, who attended this summer’s session of All Star Code in Manhattan.

Miss USA 2015, Olivia Jordan
Miss USA 2015 Olivia Jordan
Photo credit: Jessica Opatich
Model Chris Collins
Model Chris Collins
Photo credit: Jessica Opatich
Kirby Bumpus, Gayle King and Nina Cooper
Kirby Bumpus, Gayle King and Nina Cooper.
Photo credit: Jessica Opatich
Former Mayor of New York City David Dinkins and Robert Bonner, managing director of All Star Code
Former Mayor of New York City David Dinkins and Robert Bonner, managing director of All Star Code.
Photo credit: Jessica Opatich

As he introduced the night’s honorees, Dubois listed statistics that illustrated the paucity of minorities in the tech industry and noted that All Star Code is all about thinking outside the box and dreaming big like All Star Code founder Christina Lewis Halpern‘s late father, Reginald Lewis, a billion dollar financier and the inspiration behind the nonprofit.

The evening honored giants of the industry whose charity has played an integral role in the growing success of All Star Code. One of the night’s honorees, Frank A. Baker of Siris Capital Group said, “It’s a bunch of little programs like this that make a difference in our community.”

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Goldman Sachs Gives was also honored for its support. Accepting on its behalf was Carlotti, head of the Securities Division Institutional Client Group and a senior partner at Goldman, Sachs & Co.

Carlotti delivered a passionate speech, at moments speaking directly to the young men of All Star Code standing behind him. All Star Code isn’t just about coding, Carlotti said. “It’s about a mindset, an ethic, an approach—a standard of excellence.” He told this summer’s coders that if they apply the lessons of All Star Code they will be great at whatever it is they choose to do. “We don’t come from under-privilege,” said Carlotti, arguing that it was a privilege to not just find opportunities but to make opportunities. In that regard, the young men of All Star Code were, according to Carlotti, of too much privilege.

Marcus Mitchell, an honoree and a senior engineering director in Google’s New York engineering center in Manhattan, also spoke of the “paltry” number of men of color in tech. “There should be dozens, hundreds, thousands of people like me at Google” and other tech companies, he said.

All Star Code is hoping to change those statistics. “It’s about providing them with a toolbox,” said Victoria Cacicedo, 25, and an engineer at Goldman Sachs who lives in Manhattan. Cacicedo and her colleague Lilian Sotolongo, 27, are both Hispanic and acknowledge the difficulty minorities have forging connections and trying to break into an industry such as tech or finance.

Sotolongo said, “All Star Code is providing students with connections and networking opportunities.”

“It’s a gateway,” Cacicedo added.

For Halpern, tech is the new Wall Street. It’s where her father would be if he were a young man today. It’s an engine of job and wealth growth where “too few black and brown people participate,” she said. It can also be an agent of social progress to correct the “indignities, injustices and inequalities that people still endure.” And, as Halpern spoke to bankers, entrepreneurs, celebrities and young men from Harlem and the Bronx on her family’s sprawling estate, she was pleased to see that her father’s memory “still has power.”

“The Lewis family tradition and legacy speaks for itself,” Carlotti said. “It’s an inspiration for all of us and being here with other colleagues and friends, I find myself incredibly proud.”

“I hope [my father] would be proud,” Halpern said. “He was a titan of industry, but I know in his heart he always cared about community, philanthropy and social justice issues.”

At the end of the evening, Zavier soaked it all in. “I’ve never really expected to do anything this big.” The tent glowed and revelers danced into the night. “It’s definitely something to go home and talk about.”

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