Roxbury is a historically black neighborhood in Boston that has been faced with gentrification and rising housing prices, according to Fast Company. That means longtime residents are being pushed out. A company called SkyLab Boston, founded by two women named Carolle Nau and Brigitte Wallace, considered what else they could do to support women of color in their community, and strengthen the historic population's connection to Roxbury.
SkyLab is a tech and business incubator, that works with small businesses on "community awareness and education to further economic development." They want to support people with ideas for businesses who don't necessarily have the training for things like logo design or setting up websites. Their work is supported by grants and institutions who want to see this kind of community-based innovation.
The next move was establishing a kind of launching pad in Roxbury. SkyLab purchased an old Victorian building on Nau's street and named it [G]Code House. Starting this year, it will be a 14-person residence for women of color. Residents will be given housing as they learn coding skills, work in internships in tech, and then eventually move on to jobs in the industry.
Nau and Wallace want to turn the house into a community asset that helps local residents stay where they are and contribute to the area with the sort of skills that help with healthy development. SkyLab is looking for the first group of women in homeless shelters and disadvantaged schools. They'll have two years at the house, during with they'll take classes at Northeastern University, which is partnering with the program.
They are still working out the details, but Nau and Wallace imagine that the two years will be divided into schooling, internships, and finally a job. During the internship portion of their stay, the women will be asked to contribute a fee towards rent, which will be held for them and then released upon their departure.
“What we’re really trying to get at is: How do we as a community retain young people and create opportunities for them?” Wallace explained. “You focus on energizing the community through new housing models, and investing in people like these young women, who will begin to create a pipeline to jobs in tech.”
Organizations like Google have locations in Boston, as do a number of start up tech companies. Google and the tech industry in general have struggled to diversify, and are predominately staffed by white men, at both the lower levels and in positions of power.
SkyLab isn't just suggesting an innovative solution for supporting Roxbury; they're modeling a way for tech companies to start putting their money where their mouth is when it comes to developing talent. Nau and Wallace hope to pair with these sorts of companies for internships or jobs for their residents, but they're also offering an extremely compelling example for those very companies.