By GWEN OREL
Coping with racial injustice in society is hard.
Children deal with it, too.
Ten-year-old Ife (pronounced Ee-fay) Joseph thinks about Breonna Taylor, the young Black woman shot and killed in her own home in Louisville in March by police officers who were investigating drug dealers 10 miles away.
She thinks about Black Lives Matter marches. She thinks about what happened to George Floyd, the Black man killed in Minneapolis in June by a policeman kneeling on his neck.
Ife, a rising fifth-grader at Hillside School, has created an app to help kids cope.
She has participated in Black Girls CODE, an organization, founded in 2011, based in California, since she was in first grade.
The organization is dedicated to promoting classes and programs that, as it says on its website, “grow the number of women of color working in technology and give underprivileged girls a chance to become the masters of their technological worlds.” The organization’s goal is to train 1 million girls by 2040; it holds community-outreach and after-school programs.
A recent class Ife took partnered with MIT, and on the very last day, she learned about the Inventor Hackathon.
The Inventor Hackathon is a contest that challenges coders to create an app, with a two-minute video explaining how it works. Inventors had to create their apps from July 12-18, based on one of the following themes:
- Better Resource Allocation (e.g., water scarcity, natural disaster response)
- Climate Change
- Ending Poverty
- Health Care (e.g., COVID-19, mental health)
- Learning and Working Remotely
- Living Together
- Social and Racial Justice
- Social Impacts of Artificial Intelligence (e.g., biases, opportunities, equitability)
The apps will be judged in two rounds, and there will also be a People’s Choice Award. Ife chose to develop an app on social and racial justice. (The cut-off date to vote for Ife’s App for the People’s Choice Awards is July 28; link below.)
According to MIT, more than 1,100 people from 71 countries registered, but only 310 delivered an app on time. Participants ranged in age from 7 to 69, with the average age 19.
The winner will receive an MIT App Inventor certificate, as well as international recognition, promoted on MIT App Inventor Hackathon’s social media sites.
If Ife wins, she will have help bringing the app to market.
She describes her app, “Mental Health for Social Justice,” as a digital journal. “I was hoping to make it easier for young kids to cope with racial injustice in society,” she said. Her app “helps you write out your feelings, and plus it’s right there for you.” The app includes prompts and emojis, and provides positive affirmations.
The app asks users to record whether they witnessed any racism that day, and to pick an emoji that represents how they feel.
“Stress and anxiety can lead to horrible things,” Ife says in the video that accompanies the app. The app “helps you mentally, makes you feel like there’s someone out there for you, because there is.
“So you must remember you are worthy, you are gifted, you are valuable.”
She had seen other diary apps, but not one specifically aimed at young Black children to cope with stress about racial issues.
Ife has experienced prejudice herself. “This kid once told me that he didn’t like me just because I was Black,” she said. Racism is “so inhumane. It’s basically treating people like they are not even human. I’ve been reading this book called ‘March’ [a three-volume graphic novel about John Lewis], and I’m comparing what was happening in the book and what’s happening now. We’ve basically just gone backwards.”
But she does believe things can change. “We’ve just got to try better,” she said.
Ife learned how to make apps during the week of July 13, and created her app in three days.
She loves coding. “I really enjoy the possibilities of what you can do,” she said. “You could program a robot, or make an app, or even build a simple game.”
She wants to do something related to aeronautics and outer space eventually.
Her mother, Tinu Joseph, said with a laugh, “I tried to put in my input, but she refused to listen to anything. She was like, ‘No, Mommy, I’ve got it.’ I said, ‘Do you think you can pull this off?’ She said, ‘Mommy, I know I can.’ She stayed up the last day until 2:30 in the morning, coding.”
Tinu Joseph is not a coder: “It’s really foreign to me,” she said. Ife has been learning how to code since she was small.
“I built this app to help social justice,” Ife said. “I would like to make this app available to the public so the goal of the app can be fulfilled. And I just want everyone to know that everything will be all right.”
To view Ife Joseph’s app, visit appserver.appinventor.mit.edu/view/330.