In the midst of a pandemic and a national reckoning regarding racial discrimination, a group of students started Build for Black Lives, an organization that connects students willing to work pro bono with Black-owned businesses who need technological help.
Fifth-year Nupur Neogi and fourth-year Ifteda Ahmed-Syed, both computer science students at Northeastern, founded Build for Black Lives along with seven others, and were both previously part of HackBeanpot, an annual hackathon for students across Boston. The duo decided to use their computer science skills for good when they started seeing the Black Lives Matter protests in the news.
“We wanted people to feel supported and [for us] to have a way to show that we’re actually supporting them,” said Neogi.
To that aim, the project is specifically oriented around anti-racism. The organization’s website specifies that it is “NOT an opportunity for participants to do ‘charity work,’ cleanse their guilt, or impose their opinions about what the Black community needs,” but rather an opportunity for volunteers to try to dismantle the “white-centric” biases in their own tech and design work while also helping others.
They started by cold-emailing local businesses and looking at the lists of Black-owned businesses that have been circulating around social media to find willing partners.
“Since we’re in Boston, we wanted to be Boston-based, but the good thing about being in a university is that people are from all over the country,” said Ahmed-Syed. “I’m from Connecticut, so I reached out to people here, and we’ve gotten partners from all over the country.”
Build for Black Lives has a wide array of projects available to work on from branding work for In This Life Together, an organization aiming to destigmatize therapy, to a mobile app for My Brother’s Keeper 617, a Dorchester non-profit that creates mentorship opportunities for young men.
Part of the reason for creating the platform was to create an untapped space for anyone with tech skills who wanted to support the community without having to navigate a maze of different emails and individual businesses, Neogi said.
Ahmed-Syed not only hopes that the platform will help these businesses, but also that the people who provide their services will benefit from having somewhere to direct their energy.
“I think a lot of people, especially in the past few months, but also in the past few decades have been seeing different movements and thinking, ‘I want to help, but I really don’t know how, I don’t even know where to start’,” Ahmed-Syed said. “I [want] to offer our hacker community an opportunity to see some actionable steps that they can take and really use their skills for the better and also hone their skills.”
Build for Black Lives’ Build for Black Lives uses tech skills for social changewebsite is https://buildforblacklives.com/.
This story is a part of a series within the city section, which explores the stories of Black-owned small businesses surrounding Northeastern and throughout the Boston area.
Jayden Khatib can be reached at [email protected] or @jaydenkhatib on Twitter.
Correction: This article was updated at 10:45 a.m. on Sept. 18 to correct information regarding the founders of Build for Black Lives.