For the July edition of our “sySTEMic leaders” series, we sought to look locally and hear from changemakers within the Greater Boston community. sySTEMic flow had the pleasure of chatting with Bridgette Wallace, Founder & Executive Director of G|Code House. G|Code House is a Roxbury nonprofit committed to helping young women of color pursuing careers in tech; their cohabiting model provides educational and professional development as well as soft skills, enabling women to build a personal community and lifelong network.
The origins of G|Code house is just as unique as their holistic approach. In response to rapid turmoil, Wallace wanted to affect change in her neighborhood—what happened as a result is a story of tenacity and passion, rethinking the way leaders address systemic injustice at large.
Bridgette Wallace saw a problem. A longtime Roxbury resident, she, along with many others, was witnessing continued patterns of disruption within her community; the more industry moved in, the more residents were pushed out. This is not a story that we haven’t seen before. The rise of gentrification continues to manifest in pockets throughout the country today, seeping its way into historically Black and brown communities until they can no longer continue existing in the spaces they call home. Companies and developers typically make the same case at the onslaught, promising jobs, economic development, and renewed opportunities to communities who are later shut out from reaping these benefits; eventually, it becomes apparent that these benefits were only truly guaranteed to outsiders. The same was happening in Roxbury at an accelerated rate, an age-old tale that reads more like a tragedy than a triumph. By the numbers, it’s pretty clear to see what was happening. A 2019 report indicated that Roxbury home values had increased by nearly 531% since 1996, compared to 391% in Boston. Developers and tech companies were setting their sights on the transformation of Roxbury, driving up property values and respective prices. But in a community that is 53% Black, the stress of Roxbury’s hyperinflation ultimately falls on the backs of Black residents whose median income, per reports, comes in at around $30,000. Compare this to the $247,000 median income for white families in Boston, and things begin to shape a little differently. The bustling development of Roxbury was driving up the cost of living for a population that was already disproportionately impacted economically. At the same time, those promises of job growth began to fall flat as the community continued to buckle under the weight of a nearly 10.7% unemployment rate. Taking a step even further puts the picture into perspective, considering that Black men and women make up only an estimated 8% of the STEM industry on a national level. When putting the pieces together, it’s not a stretch to conclude that the rise of tech opportunities in Roxbury was not extended to Black residents, nor was it ever really intended to be—and that’s just one industry at play in the larger game of chess when it comes to gentrification. Bridgette Wallace saw a problem. So, to alleviate the strains of this ongoing narrative, she did something kind of unexpected; she purchased a home. Buying a home meant buying some time, and an opportunity that was right up her alley. Wallace had years of experience in urban planning and community development, making this pivot after finishing her studies in public health and youth at Tufts. While unsure of what exactly to do with this home, she knew through experience the power that land and subsequent spaces hold for people in a community—and she was actively listening to her own. Wallace says it was the young people in Roxbury who were leading the charge, actively rallying against the changing tides and demanding the opportunity to grow with the community. The people wanted to fight the system, and Wallace knew this home could somehow provide the means to do so; getting it, however, was proving itself to be just as difficult of a battle. Once setting her sights on the home, Bridgette penned a personal note to the homeowner explaining who she was, her relationship to the neighborhood, and the gravity of her mission. Right as she was sealing the deal, she found herself in a bidding war against those same forces that were seeking to gentrify the area. Developers incessantly fought to nab the home, so much so that Bridgette was eventually forced to take legal action to successfully secure the property she was entitled to receive. In what she describes as a David and Goliath clash, Wallace won her case and the home, though knowing she was not the first to endure this struggle. The irony here lay in the fact that this home was the key to unlocking just an opportunity to fight the systems at large: gentrification, marginalization, and collective oppression against Black and brown folks, emboldened by corporate capitalism. And yet, to secure this key, Wallace had to fight those very systems in the process. She had to fight the system for the chance to fight the system; in this sense, it was a David and Goliath battle within a David and Goliath battle—such is the nature of these systems. The fight to secure the home stands as a testament to how oftentimes, systemic injustice exists in layers—cyclical in effect and intertwined by design. With this in mind, it’s only logical that these hyperconnected models of oppression mirror the philosophy behind how Wallace would design the purpose of this home; specifically, to be a place of layered, connected, and holistic solutions. Bridgette does not come from the world of STEM, and it was not necessarily an area that would have naturally occurred to her to explore. The focus on STEM came as a result of the problem itself. When deciding what to do with the newly-purchased home, Wallace recognized that Black and brown people—particularly young women—were becoming increasingly marginalized; this was occurring simultaneously and largely because of the rise of gentrified development. The economic transformation of Roxbury, as described by Wallace, “was not designed with inclusion in mind”, instead driven by an effervescent need to deepen the pockets of large tech companies. Here lay the solution. If large tech companies were hell-bent on occupying space within the community, Wallace decided she needed to empower young women to infiltrate this space themselves. If tech was going to disrupt this community, the women of Roxbury would disrupt theirs. Thus, G|Code House was born. G|Code House is a non-profit organization designed to educate and empower young women of color to pursue careers in technology. Empowering women to pivot into tech plays a critical role in ensuring equal representation and a proper seat at the table for the people of Roxbury. It’s a powerful message to the systems working to shut Black and brown folks out, giving them the tools to work their way into those very spaces. But G|Code goes much deeper than STEM training, again as a result of taking a closer look at the problem. Wallace recognized that women over the age of 18 were in a particularly vulnerable position, as resources often tend to dry up past the point of high school education. Their programs specifically target women between the ages of 18-25, positioned to assist those who may no longer be the targets of training programs or resources. G|Code also makes a concerted effort to develop not only the student but the person. Wallace sees developing those soft skills as one of the cruxes of their mission. Advancing women of color and particularly Black women in fields like STEM is not just a matter of providing them with the training; otherwise, there would already be much greater representation. What we see time and time again is that young women of color have to be equipped to navigate through worlds not readily accessible to them. Similar to how Wallace describes the Roxbury transformation, STEM was not designed with inclusion in mind, nor has the process to alter this DNA been particularly rapid. STEM is still, by the numbers, an increasingly white, male, cisgendered field; infiltrating it as a woman of color requires a complex toolkit of self-worth, courage, and camaraderie working in harmony. G|Code strives to empower women at their most human level. The idea is for the home itself to quite literally serve as a common space where women can live under one roof, working together while forming a collective bond. Women learn cutting edge technology while also receiving career training, listening to speakers, honing their interview skills, and building their respective networks. While the cohabiting portion of the project is still in the works and is actively in need of funding, the rest has been fully underway. It wasn’t easy justifying the depth and breadth of their mission; one of the hardest challenges from the onslaught, according to Wallace, was simply getting people to buy-in. Providing proof of the concept would eventually reveal itself in another layer, this time in history. The very idea of creating a collective space for women is rooted in Black history, as Wallace explains she was inspired by the countless stories of freed slaves renting apartments in Harlem to house and educate women. In these homes, women were taken in at their most vulnerable and provided with the tools necessary to infiltrate an exclusionary system—such is the case with G|Code. It’s within this framework that Wallace considers G|Code to be almost a new concept of a settlement house, creating space that ignites and unites unlocked potential. Even the modern history we’re experiencing right now with the continued rise of COVID-19 ultimately makes the case for G|Code, according to Wallace. They, like all organizations, had to swiftly make the transition to virtual learning. Though successful, she expresses that if G|Code had already completed the housing element of their mission, there wouldn’t have been as many obstacles; all women would have simply continued living and learning together in quarantine. Now, the program is continuing to adapt under stricter guidelines and mitigate this loss of personal connectivity, so vital to their mission at its very core. History—past and present—confirms the blueprint, while real-life experience cements the meaning. Wallace expresses that being the parent of a young Black girl in STEM made the circumstances more personal, particularly when stepping back and assessing what enabled her daughter to succeed. Unlike many young women in Roxbury, Wallace’s daughter had what she needed: a constant roof over her head, a reliable food supply, a steady source of income. With the necessities taken out of the equation, Wallace says her child “had the space to dream, think, and explore” Not everyone does. For too many in this country and around the world, tracking down that next meal or piecing together next month's rent is constantly top of mind, much less how they can advance their studies or career. As Wallace states, those who have never gone without life’s necessities “often take them for granted” For G|Code, supplying that communal living component gives young women the space to dream, think and explore. Helping them get their footing requires one to look deeper, realizing that they must be secure as people to then grow as learners. It is when weaving through all of these layers that the beauty and the gravity of G|Code manifests. G|Code is counter to systems at large, rooted in history, and emboldened by personal experience. It operates on a human-to-human level, molding a sisterhood of Davids with the power to combat Goliath in his many iterations. For us at sySTEMic flow, we’re all about carrying the same core mission that G|Code continues to propel; empowering current and future generations of Black women and women of color to make waves in STEM. For others committed to the cause, there is a larger lesson to be learned from the work that G|Code is doing. Systemic injustice is multifaceted. For Black and brown folks, its omnipresence can be felt at every level, in every neighborhood, and on every block. What G|Code validates is the notion that multi-layered problems require multi-layered solutions. Fostering better representation within STEM has to expand beyond the framework of singular approaches; so long as the problems are layered, so must be the respective solutions. Affecting change is not so much about fighting fire with fire, but fighting the system with a system; in this case, it means empowering the person, preparing the professional, and activating the sisterhood. It’s from working through these layers that young Black and brown girls can develop hard and soft skills while cultivating a legacy network of support. This will enable them to achieve that disruption Wallace references, better described by a term she coins as “disruptive stabilization”—disrupting a system that was not designed for them to ultimately stabilize its impacts. Enacting systemic reform is sometimes easier than it looks. There’s an old adage about the power of small acts that, when up against a wall, can often feel like a cruel oversimplification, but that’s just what Bridgette Wallace did. Purchasing that Roxbury home was the first step in a long line of action, one that initially had little guidance or clear purpose. Bridgette Wallace simply wanted to affect change, being someone who believes that small acts “are where the transformation happens” There’s a lot to learn from Bridgette Wallace and the story G|Code. It’s a reminder of the impact that small bouts of change can have on the people around us, opening doors to even more doors that eventually lead the path to a world of new opportunities. It’s also a testament to what being a systemic leader has to mean in this world. A David cannot pigeonhole themself into singular realms of combat; they must meet their Goliath halfway, sizing up to the challenge with a connected line of defense. Bridgette Wallace saw more than a problem; she saw a system. Bridgette Wallace created more than a solution; she created a system. Building systemic change requires systemic solutions. Only then can we disrupt and stabilize them in the spirit of creating a more balanced, equitable, and prosperous world. For more information on G|Code House, visit https://www.thegcodehouse.com/. Footnotes  Barbara Lewis. "AFRICAN AMERICANS IN GREATER BOSTON: CHALLENGES, IDENTITIES, LEGACIES AND MOVEMENTS" Boston Indicators, 2019, https://www.bostonindicators.org/-/media/indicators/boston-indicators-reports/report-files/changing-faces-2019/changing-faces-of-greater-boston-v2aafrican-american.pdf?la=en&h.  Boston Planning & Development Agency Research Division, BPDA|Roxbury, June 2017, http://www.bostonplans.org/getattachment/70aaac6d-0459-4b1f-b91f-fe19ba5437cc Zebulon Miletsky and Tomas Gonzalez. "How Gentrification and Displacement Are Remaking Boston" Black Perspectives, November 28, 2017, https://www.aaihs.org/how-gentrification-and-displacement-are-remaking-boston/ Samuel Kim, "Roxbury residents face gentrification" The Hungtington News, January 18, 2018, https://huntnewsnu.com/50562/city-pulse/roxbury-residents-face-gentrification/.  Cary Funk and Kim Parker, “Diversity in the STEM Workforce Varies Widely across Jobs,” Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project, December 31, 2019, https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/01/09/diversity-in-the-stem-workforce-varies-widely-across-jobs/. Sources Boston Planning & Development Agency Research Division, BPDA|Roxbury, June 2017. Accessed June 2020. http://www.bostonplans.org/getattachment/70aaac6d-0459-4b1f-b91f-fe19ba5437cc Funk, Cary and Kim Parker. “Diversity in the STEM Workforce Varies Widely across Jobs,” Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project, December 31, 2019. Accessed June 2020. https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/01/09/diversity-in-the-stem-workforce-varies-widely-across-jobs/ Gonzales, Thomas and Zebulon Miletsky. "How Gentrification and Displacement Are Remaking Boston" Black Perspectives, November 28, 2017, https://www.aaihs.org/how-gentrification-and-displacement-are-remaking-boston/ Kim, Samuel. "Roxbury residents face gentrification" The Hungtington News, January 18, 2018. Accessed June 2020. https://huntnewsnu.com/50562/city-pulse/roxbury-residents-face-gentrification/ Lewis, Barbara. "AFRICAN AMERICANS IN GREATER BOSTON: CHALLENGES, IDENTITIES, LEGACIES AND MOVEMENTS" Boston Indicators, 2019. Accessed June 2020. https://www.bostonindicators.org/-/media/indicators/boston-indicators-reports/report-files/changing-faces-2019/changing-faces-of-greater-boston-v2aafrican-american.pdf?la=en&h