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Jul 30, 2018 3:33 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

All Star Code Holds Fifth Annual Benefit At East Hampton Estate

From left, Van Jones, Reshma Saujani and Soledad O'Brien speak as part of a fireside chat at All Star Code's 5th annual benefit on Saturday.           COURTESY OF BFA FOR ALL STAR CODE
Jul 31, 2018 1:32 PM

On Saturday, at the home of Loida Lewis in East Hampton, All Star Code held its fifth annual benefit to raise funds for its programs, which aim to empower young men of color through instruction in computer coding. The benefit consisted of cocktails, dinner and a fireside chat honoring Van Jones, CNN political commentator, Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code, and Soledad O’Brien, a journalist and executive producer.

Ms. Lewis—the widow of Reginald Lewis, the first African-American to build a billion-dollar business—opened her home to family, friends and strangers, in the hope of raising donations for the nonprofit organization, founded and operated by her daughter, Christina Halpern Lewis.

Since 1994, the Lewis family has owned an expansive property on Lily Pond Lane in the Georgica neighborhood of East Hampton.

“I’ve been coming to East Hampton all my life,” said Ms. Halpern Lewis. She added that to host the fundraiser at her mother’s home was important: “It’s a celebration of what success can look like,” she said.

All Star Code, founded by Ms. Halpern Lewis more than five years ago, aims to diversify the fields of technology and finance through educating young men of color. As a journalist working for The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Halpern Lewis said she saw firsthand how “people with assets already are the ones that continue to benefit.” Though organizations to empower young girls existed—like Girls Who Code—she saw a lack of efforts to pipeline boys of color into tech and positions of power and created All Star Code to help amend the problem.

“This is part of a broader movement,” said Ms. Halpern Lewis of her organization, “it’s about economic justice.”

All Star Code operates in “cohorts”—groups of students who take coding classes together and designed with a specific angle. Cohorts are often based in company-specific training. They have been hosted by Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, among other businesses over the course of All Star Code’s six-year history.

Each cohort participates in an intensive six-week program, culminating in a student project and presentation. So far, the program has reached more than 150 students in the New York City metropolitan area, and the organization plans to expand to Pittsburgh in the near future.

All Star Code alumni showed off their achievements at Saturday night’s benefit, displaying apps, games and websites, all created with the help of the education provided by the nonprofit organization. One alumnus, Cole Mattox, who also spoke at the event, even created his own hedge fund, North Tabor Capital, of which he is the current CEO at age 17.

Javaun Salmon, who was in the program’s second cohort, created Detached, a game available on the app store. Boabacar Diallo, who was in the third cohort, at Google, and Abdul Diaz, in the fourth cohort at Facebook, together created Linodo, an app that assists students in the college application process by managing checklists and keeping track of deadlines.

Both Van Jones and Reshma Saujani spoke at the benefit about the importance of diversity in positions of power. “It used to be the case that the future was written in law, in D.C.,” said Mr. Jones. “Now, it is the case that the future is written in code, in Silicon Valley.” He went on to say that the issue of underrepresentation of men of color in the field of technology is “not just a jobs issue, but a justice issue.”

Ms. Saujani, who does not write code herself but whose organization, Girls Who Code, has reached 90,000 girls, said that “you never know where failure will leave you,” and encouraged All Star Code Students to embrace mistakes.

In a speech at the event, Loida Lewis highlighted three “secrets of success” that she encouraged All Star Code students to utilize. The first mantra of All Star Code is to “dare greatly.” “I translate that to goal-setting,” said Ms. Lewis. The second, to “tell your story,” Ms. Lewis translated to “obedience.” The third mantra of All Star Code, she said, is to “celebrate failure.” Ms. Lewis analyzed this slogan as “determination.”

As of Monday, the benefit had raised more than $900,000 for All Star Code programs. The organization is still accepting donations.

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