Oscar Menjivar uses himself as an example of how a young man can be inspired to reach for a better life. If a caring mentor and an introduction to computers worked for him, why not offer that to other boys growing up poor in South Los Angeles?
That is the concept behind Teens Exploring Technology (TXT), the mentorship and leadership program founded by the Watts native that teaches young boys and men of color to code. Begun in 2008, Menjivar’s project, which has been fiscally sponsored by Community Partners since 2010, has proven to be a winning approach: all participating students graduate from high school, and 95 percent go on to attend a four-year college, according to the organization.
And Menjivar himself has just recently been honored as one of six recipients of the James Irvine Foundation’s Leadership Awards, which each year recognizes and supports individuals who are advancing innovative and effective solutions to significant state issues.
In the case of TXT and Menjivar, that issue is the opportunity gap facing students in Watts and South LA, where “less than one percent of schools in South Los Angeles offer computer science classes, and 80 percent of families in the area do not own a home computer,” according to this Irvine profile.
TXT offers after-school programs, a summer coding academy and now even has its own ‘hackerspace’ called the Cube where students come to develop skills in computer programming, user design, web development, robotics, and entrepreneurship.
After one of the project’s Demo Day events, teens presented an array of innovative apps and solutions relevant to their lives. There was a cell phone app to help lower-income families find free events they could attend together, a program that would reserve and pay for washing machines and dryers in advance so people could avoid spending hours waiting at laundromats, and another app to alert young transit riders to wake up if they fall asleep on long bus rides so they don’t miss their stops.
As Menjivar said to Irvine: “We’re creating a family, a culture of excellence, and brotherhood where young men of color gain the skills and networks to give back to their communities and help other young people like them, ultimately creating a circle of reciprocity.”