Christina Lewis, All Star Code, Woman Entrepreneur
A profile of the woman behind All Star Code, which helps young African Americans get into the tech industry.
By Joanne Wilson (Blogger & Angel Investor, Gotham Gal)
Any one trying to help the youth connect to the technology industry in underserved communities is commendable. Someone trying to do that with the African American community goes to the top of the list. We continue to talk about the difficulties of women in the technology industry, but few people talk about how difficult it is for a black man or women in this industry too. Then I found Christina’s blog and thought her description of herself was pretty bold; Opinionated woman, wife and mother exploring identity, class and the meaning of life. I work, I cook, I think, I grow and I believe that writing will show me the way. So we met.
Christina mostly grew up in NYC. Her parents met on a blind date and moved to NYC to start a life. Her father was born in Baltimore during segregation. He first attended an all black school, made his way to Harvard and then onward to Harvard law. Her father was a pioneer of his time, building his own conglomerate on Wall Street buying and selling large companies including Beatrice Foods that he bought in a leverage buyout building it into a billion dollar company. He is an inspiration to many black men becoming not only one of the most successful business men in the 1980s but the richest African American man of that time. Her mother was born in the Phillipines where she went to law school and became the first Asian American to pass the bar in the United States without being educated here. She was an attorney for the Immigration and Natural Resources for over a decade.
At eight years old the family moved to Paris. Christina went to a bi-lingual school not the American school. It was an International school on the French system where they spoke both English and French. A complete immersion program that was a bit overwhelming at first. She was a quiet child and was not into it initially but eventually got there. The teachers were not that understanding. Then, when she was twelve years old, her father got sick very sudddenly and died. They learned in November around Thanksgiving he had brain cancer and then by January he was gone. It was terrible. He was a CEO of a major company with a controlling stake and everything was up in the air. At first her uncle took over but after a year her mother took over the company.
The family moved back to NYC as soon as her father became sick, and Christina returned to Dalton where she was in school before leaving for Paris. It was a tough time. Her mother was now one of the few woman CEOs of a huge publically traded company. After high school Christina went to Harvard where she majored in history and literature. She did some photography for the Crimson Paper. At that point of her life she considered herself to be a creative.
After graduation she took her first job at Court Tv as an intern for the website. She had played a little bit with html before taking the job. She stayed eight months and decided she wanted to be a reporter in the classic way, so she took a job at the Stanford Advocate (Stanford, CT) as the night cop reporter. The job would start at 3pm and then she would get the blotter to see what happened and follow things from there. She even had a police scanner. It was 2003. She was reverse commuting and as much as she tried, they would not take her off nights so she decided to move on. She did some freelancing for a few months before landing a job at the WSJ. At the WSJ she did features focusing on luxury and commercial real estate and travel. It trained her to start thinking about companies. She ended up staying there for five years.
Then Christina had a life pivot. There was a lot of personal things happening in her life and she felt like she was going down the wrong path. As she puts it there were many red flags. She had all these skills yet she felt in journalism that she was feeling constrained and that she had so much more that she wanted to do. She got engaged, married and traveled. Christina and her husband were able to take a honeymoon road trip around America for a month and they also went to India. While she was on this trip she became pregnant. When she returned she wanted to come to terms with her own personal history and decided to write a memoir. It is called Lonely at the Top.
Her memoir helped her understand where she came from and the struggles she faced losing her father at a young age. She took the book on like a journalist, interviewing people who knew her father. She wanted to understand what made him so successful being born black in a segregated world. He got into Harvard law through a prep program in 1964. The concept was to prep these kids about corporate America. The program taught the kids that were picked to learn about the law and how they could use the law to be better prepared for corporate life. Franklin Sander, a holocaust survivor, was one of the mentors in the program.
Christina thought a lot about the program that her father went through. At age 12, Christina was appointed to sit on the board of the family foundation that has always been focused on the community. She began to think what would her father do now if he was alive with those resources. The next phase of corporate America is actually the technology community. So few black people are making their way into this area of business, so could she decided that she would create a prep program for the technology industry like her father went through for law. All Star Code was born.
Christina saw an industry that had yet to be diversified. She did tons of research on what she should build. What would the curriculum look like, how can the kids going through the program be exposed to the tech world, and how to build an all-star team to ensure that these kids will get the experience needed to be successful entrepreneurs that can compete in the tech community. She started on a summer program for rising juniors so they would stay for two summers. She would expose them to coding, entrepreneurial principals, critical and creative thinking. The second summer she would get the interns in to the right companies.
Christina launched publicly, doing an event at Spotify. She began with 19 students that were all amazing because they had the desire to be there. She is looking at the program and playing with it to make sure it is the best it can be. The model is unique. They are need blind when looking for talent among the black men in the NYC high school community. She has been gung-ho from the onset and is now in the process of taking a step back by creating a board, a donor base while formalizing everything includes technology company outreach.
Christina is impressive. Coming from two very successful parents is not always so easy. She has her own smarts and her own vision of what she wants to accomplish with her life. I am looking forward to watch All Star Code grow. No doubt that the writing of her own life helped her work through a lot of baggage that helped her move forward to where she is today. That in itself is impressive.
his post originally appeared on Gotham Gal.
About the blogger: Joanne (@thegothamgal) is an advisor and investor in startups, including Curbed (Eater/Racked), Food52, Red Stamp, Catchafire, DailyWorth, Editd, Ricks Picks, Cacao Pietro, Editions 01, Hot Bread Kitchen, Nest.io, Gotham Gym, The Moon Group and MOUSE. Her most successful venture is being married to her best friend and raising three kids.