Phyllis Wheatley Center expands its digital skills training

The Phyllis Wheatley Community Center (PWCC) in North Minneapolis was recently named as one of 50 recipients to participate in Microsoft Corp.’s competitive community skills grant program to support professional skills development programs for Black folks. The grant will be used to support the Digital Tech Works Academy.

Digital Tech Works Academy is PWCC’s new STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Art and Math) initiative which is still in its planning stage.

PWCC Executive Director Suzanne Burks said that the Center wanted to focus on needs in the community other than their programs focused on domestic violence helping those caught in the judicial system. “We saw a need to focus on digital literacy, millions of jobs that are open in the field that if people are qualified, they can get,” said Burks.

One of the programs from the Digital Tech Works Academy is their newly launched ManCode Mentoring program, which was an initiative of Microsoft. It was introduced initially in Seattle as a one-day conference, and it has been expanded in Minneapolis to a 12-week program.

The ManCode Menoring initiative is a free, virtual, 12-week program for 12- to 17-year-old Black/African American boys. ManCode Mentoring is a collaboration of PWCC, Microsoft, the newly chartered 100 Black Men of Twin Cities, Comcast LiftZone and Hennepin County.

The program has three pillars: life skills, professional development and career pathways, and an introduction to computer technology, including coding.

“We want to expose them to life skills technology and financial literacy. Boys between 12 and 17 will also be paired with adult males,” said Burks. One of the features of the program she is most excited about is an app called “My money, my destiny,” which encourages the students to learn to invest. The program gives boys $100 to begin investing.

Submitted phot Suzanne Burks

“They really engage with the kids,” said Azucena Ortega, a parent of an 11-year-old who participates in the ManCode program.” He has gained awareness and how to manage money and finances. For him to see all these Black men talk about finances and investment has really helped him.”

PWCC is the only Minnesota organization—and one of just 50 selected grantees from a field of 1,500 applications—for the multi-year unrestricted Microsoft cash grant. Additionally, PWCC will receive technology enablement support from Microsoft, which will also provide software and digital consulting services, to support PWCC’s digital transformation for improved technological capacity.

 “In applying for this competitive grant, we determined we were uniquely positioned to address the adult digital literacy gap through our Digital TechWorks Academy,” said Burks. “We anticipate training 1,500 young adults ages 18-27 over a three-year period to enable them to secure jobs such as software developers.”   

“Last June, our CEO Satya Nadella committed Microsoft to put its data, technology and partnerships to work to help improve the lives of Black and African American people across the country,” said Kate Behncken, vice president and lead of Microsoft Philanthropies. “We’re proud to partner with these 50 organizations, led by and serving Black and African American people, that are providing access to the digital skills needed for so many jobs today. We’re inspired by their work and are excited we can be a part of it.”

“At the end of the program, participants will get a certificate of completion. They will also be part of the E sport gaming league that Phyllis Wheatley will launch soon,” said Burks.