Diversity in Tech the Goal

Christina Lewis Halpern, left, and her mother, Loida Lewis, right, will host a fund-raiser for All Star Code, which Ms. Halpern founded, on Saturday. They are pictured at last year’s event with David Dinkins, a former mayor of New York City. Carl Timpone/BFA.com

“Technology is the engine of innovation and job creation today,” said Christina Lewis Halpern, the founder and executive director of All Star Code, an organization that helps African-American and Latino boys learn about computer science and coding, in anticipation of its fourth annual benefit on Saturday at the Lewis residence in East Hampton.

If her father, the late Reginald Lewis, were a young man today, Ms. Halpern believes he would gravitate toward technology. As chairman and chief executive of TLC Beatrice International Holdings, Mr. Lewis was the first African-American to build a billion-dollar company. He and his wife, Loida, and their two children spent summers at Broadview, the 1916 mansion at the Bell Estate in Amagansett. Soon after it was destroyed by fire, in 1991, they bought an East Hampton oceanfront house.

One month before his death, in 1993, Mr. Lewis named his daughter, who was 12 at the time, to the board of his foundation. That, Ms. Halpern said, inspired her dedication to causes that help historically oppressed people. As a staff writer for The Wall Street Journal she experienced the educational gaps among young people and was led to seek ways to help talented minority students gain access to the technology industry, she said.

“Being a programmer is a ticket to the middle class,” she said last week. “But also, software is running our civilization. Imagine the tech industry: Only 10 percent is black or Latino, and the number who are engineers is even less.” All Star Code exists “to diversify the group of people who are building the tools that run civilization. It’s really important to creating a more equal world for everyone,” she said.

The All Star Code program creates a tech-startup environment for male high school students. The curriculum includes a six-week coding “boot camp” or summer intensive. Last year, 80 teenagers were seeded into technology firms, such as Google and Facebook, exposing them to new career paths, professional environments, and mentors.

More than 160 students were accepted into the boot camp this year. The program has a 100-percent completion rate, with 97.2 percent of alumni attending or accepted into four-year universities. Eighty-five percent of alumni are now majoring in or planning to major in computer science.

Saturday’s fund-raiser, from 5 to 9:30 p.m., will include an auction, with such enticements as a stay at a house in Cuba, at an apartment in Paris, and at a farm outside Pittsburgh. The gathering is “a wonderful mix, a diverse crowd from the tech industry, finance, and media,” Ms. Halpern said.