Team CYC Trailblazers (PHOTO CREDIT: Johnathon Henninger)

November 14-16, 2014, I had the honor of mentoring a team of young men and women as part of the My Brother’s Keeper Hackathon Weekend (#MBKHack), organized by #YesWeCode and Qeyno Labs. If you want to just skip to the goodness, check out this Facebook photo album.

Salesforce participated in the previous Qeyno Labs hackathons: Startup Weekend Oakland: Black Male Achievement and #YesWeCodeHack at EssenceFest (recapped in this Dreamforce 2014 session), but this was my first time on the ground as a mentor. I was joined by two familiar faces: Jayvin Arora, leader of the Philadelphia User Group and newly minted Salesforce MVP, and Jose Arechavala, graduate of the Hopeworks Salesforce Developer training program in Camden, NJ. Arora taught HTML and CSS to the Trailblazers on the winning team, CYC, and Arechavala was on my team and coded for hours on end to build the Recupery app, which won the “Most Social Impact” award.

Life-Changing Weekend

We were promised a life-changing weekend, and the hackathon delivered. One part inspiration and one part perspiration, the event challenged the teenagers (referred to as “Trailblazers” – an intentionally empowering term) and their mentors to design, prototype, and define a business plan for a social good application, in less than 48 hours.

Trailblazers lined up to deliver their idea pitches

The Trailblazers arrived ready. One at a time, they took the stage to deliver one-minute pitches for their app ideas. A total of 40 ideas were pitched, and then everyone voted. My favorite idea was an app that turned your mobile phone in to a smoke detector, to reduce the deaths from fires in an apartment or home that either doesn’t have a smoke detector or has one that is out of batteries. This idea did not make it to the final stages, but I thought it was brilliant. It was this kind of thinking – thinking that comes from really living with a problem, not just reading about it – that made all of the app ideas so innovative.

Teams formed around the top 10 ideas, with both Trailblazers and mentors gravitating to the idea that spoke to them the most. I liked this organizational aspect (rather than being assigned to a team). It resulted in teams of various sizes, but meant that all team members were invested in the final product. And, in the case of our team, everyone had a personal connection to the problem we were trying to solve: restoring brain health when a teenager is feeling “not in their right mind” – this covered a wide range of mental health challenges, including depression and gang recruitment pressure. That made the functional design challenging, but at the end of the day, the goal was to connect the student with a counselor who could help.


The long hours of perspiration were injected with inspiration, both from the mentors sharing their personal stories, and from Kalimah Priforce and Van Jones waking us up on Sunday morning with a history lesson and a call to action.

Kalimah Priforce (PHOTO CREDIT: Johnathon Henninger)

Priforce spoke to the importance of inclusion, and how even though this hackathon is in support of the White House’s My Brothers Keeper initiative (which addresses persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential), he invited girls and trans youth to participate, because we all need to work together to solve the problems in our communities. He also spoke about the historical importance of literacy, calling programming the “literacy of the 21st century.”

Jones continued the history lesson, and I think it’s very likely that his talk was the first time the Trailblazers had heard about the lunch counter sit in in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1960.

“Everyone thinks Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a speech and that was the end of it…that’s not how it was,” Jones said. “Those four students, young people, people who wanted to change the way things had been for 100 years, they sat down and ordered coffee – now, you’re thinking ‘I go to Starbucks and order coffee all the time’ – well back then, it wasn’t allowed.”

Van Jones (PHOTO CREDIT: Johnathon Henninger)

The call to action was a call for a radical change in the opportunities that young Black and Latino men and women see as viable.

“The media tells you you can be a basketball player, a rapper, or on the corner…’doing math’…what if there was another option? What if technology was a viable path?” – Van Jones

This one weekend opened new possibilities for these Trailblazers, and will have a ripple effect in their families, friends, and community.

Winning Ideas

The final pitches were delivered by the Trailblazers and were incredibly professional and deeply passionate. The winning app ideas were:

  • Change Your Community (CYC) – An app that allows community members to take pictures of abandoned buildings in their neighborhood and use the app to connect real estate developers, designers and government agencies to partner in renovating the buildings in a manner that will benefit the community.
  • Game School – Sports app that allows gamers to not only play games but to also see the coding behind the scenes and provide tutorials to assist with learning coding.
  • Kiduply – An Uber-like Carpool app for kids and parents in extracurricular activities. The app will connect parents with kids attending similar activities and coordinate car pooling.

Team CYC wins 1st place (PHOTO CREDIT: Johnathon Henninger)

Looking for More?

MSNBC was onsite the entire weekend. Some of that coverage: 

Qeyno Labs has eight Trailblazer hackathons planned for 2015. Fill out this form to be notified about upcoming hackathons, and I hope to see you at one!

Looking for me on Twitter? I’m @rockchick322004, and I tweet about the Salesforce1 Platform and Diversity in Tech.

Get the latest Salesforce Developer blog posts and podcast episodes via Slack or RSS.

Add to Slack Subscribe to RSS