Really loved interviewing Stevon Cook, CEO of Mission Bit and Commissioner on the board of Education with SF Unified School District.
What is most striking about Stevon’s story is his perseverance. Stevon grew up in a pretty rough neighborhood of San Francisco. Kids in his neighborhood dreamed of becoming famous, looking up to sports players and seeing stardom as their only legitimate career option. The other option for making quick money...selling drugs and stealing cars. Given, this, it’s no surprise that most of the kids from Stevon’s neighborhood ended up becoming pimps, drug dealers, and prostitutes.
His life took a turn, when he went to live with his grandmother at the age of ten. She was a deeply religious woman, that went to church daily. All of a sudden, he went from a home that had very little structure, to one that was extremely strict and holding high expectations of him that were uncompromising. As a young boy at that time, it was difficult, but in hindsight, it is what saved him and it was because of his grandmothers’ strict upbringing that Stevon kept from getting wrapped up in a negative lifestyle. The discipline helped him focus in school, digest the information and receive the guidance his teachers were giving him.
While in the tenth grade, his English teacher advised him to take part in a three-week Stanford philosophy program, where he met kids from all over the world, many of whom came from super affluent backgrounds. As they were talking about their parents, they asked Stevon about his parents, but he could not answer truthfully as he hasn’t seen them in years. It was that moment that transformed him and he swore that if he ever had kids, he didn’t want them to have to answer a similar question and feel how he felt, so he turned his focus to education, understanding that it was the only way to escape poverty.
After college, he went to work for the public school system, but always wondered why a thriving city like San Francisco still had communities of people who were locked out of all of its rich resources. In 2014, he decided to run for the school board to address those systemic issues. Later, he came across an article, which reported that no African-American students in the state of Alabama had taken an AP computer science exam. Upon further research, he found that the same was true in San Francisco and on top of that, only six percent of high school students had access to a computer science class! This concerned him so he started to look up organizations that were trying to solve this problem as he wanted to address this as a campaign issue. His search led him to connect with the founder of Mission Bit, Tyson Daugherty.
Mission Bit is a non-profit organization that strives to eliminate the tech divide for youth living in urban poverty and rural areas across the San Francisco Bay Area by building computer programming and professional opportunity pathways for public school students. Students are provided with everything they need, they just need to show up and be eager to learn.
Almost immediately after meeting, Tyson asked Stevon to become the CEO of Mission Bit and Stevon agreed after seeing the level of commitment within the organization and the board.
Mission Bit started by teaching intro to web development courses, but this fall they are rolling out more courses, to help even more students. Currently, they have reached 1800 students and their mission is to reach 10,000 students by the year 2020. To run their classes, they hire many part-time college students and even former Mission Bit students. Since its inception, Mission Bit has delivered technical education to underserved and at risk bay area youth. Many today are now successful young people who have started their careers in tech or have gone on to do other things. As an educational organization, they constantly have to remind students who are thinking about quitting to persevere and cultivate a growth mindset. They continuously encourage kids to make progress in everything they do and encourage embracing discomfort throughout the process. He also highlights the role that parents play and how they can be a major source of encouragement, even if they aren’t well versed in the subject matter.
Can’t express how much we enjoyed this conversation with Stevon and support the extremely valuable and important work that Mission Bit is doing to provide a path to careers in technology for today’s urban youth.
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