MITCHELL: Rainbow PUSH unveils ‘Stay Safe App’ at Chicago Tech expo

on Jul13

12 July 2017 | 11:54 pm

In neighborhoods where violence is almost a daily occurrence, it’s impossible to figure out the safest route for a teen to take home.

But if the teens participating in Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s tech program could get a little help from the city, there could soon be an app for that.

The “Stay Safe App” project was unveiled Wednesday by the civil rights group’s tech team at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition’s 46th Annual International Convention.

The convention, which will host a gubernatorial debate on Friday at its headquarters at 930 E. 50th Street, is underway at the Hilton Chicago through Saturday, July 15.


Martin Pieters, the STEM director for Rainbow PUSH, is a chemical engineer by training.

About four years ago, the Rev. Jesse Jackson asked him to come up with a proposal for increasing the number of minorities and women in the boardrooms of corporate America, especially in the field of technology.

Pieters said that when he looked at the data, he found that in Illinois only 24 African-Americans took the AP computer science exam.

Martin Pieters is the STEM director for Rainbow PUSH. | Mary Mitchell/Sun-Times

“Of the 24 students that took it, six were female and 18 failed. That is so powerful because Google did a survey of its employees in 2015, and 90 percent were exposed to computer science before high school,” Pieters pointed out.

That data shows just how far behind black children from low-income communities are when it comes to technology.

That gave birth to the organization’s first Chicago Tech expo, which also featured PUSH Excel’s robotic’s team.

“We asked the kids what do you want to design and, of course, because a lot of them attend CPS schools, they said how do we get home safely. These kids are saying, we want to be safe. We don’t want to be shot,” Pieters said.

Over the long Fourth of of the July weekend, more than 100 people were shot and 15 people were killed. Last week, a 15-year-old boy was among three people shot near Rainbow Beach on the South Side.

“There is ‘Safe Passage,’ but the problem with ‘Safe Passage’ is it is only from 6:00 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. We said what can we do, especially with this proliferation of violence, to help,” Pieters said.

The teens used data readily available to the public to come up with a “heat map” that tracked shootings from May 2017 through June 2017. The goal of the app is to give the teens an alternative route to avoid areas recently affected by gun violence.

“We don’t lay claim to being the first to design it, because we know others have done it. But we feel it is ours. We take ownership of what these brown and black kids have done,” Pieters said.

At this stage, the app is being developed on the teens’ phones because they have not yet designed the mobile platform.

Kyrstopher Williams, 17, got involved in the Rainbow PUSH tech team project because he wants to go into nanotechnology.

“This is a good way to get started. We are using the city’s own data to go around the violence,” Williams said.

Jonathan Key, 21, a biomedical engineer at Illinois Institute of Technology, who also helps corporations in the Chicago area with software solutions, came on board to give back.

“I like STEM and more importantly, I like to give back especially to young kids that also show an interest in STEM. That’s just what I do,” Key told me.

Pieter pointed out that a lot more work has to be done before the “Safe App” becomes a reality.

“We don’t have access to live data. All we have to work with is the data that is available on the city’s portal. If we could have data maybe one hour old, then the [Safe App] could map a way home and avoid all the trouble spots,” he said.

This is a project that could not only make STEM education accessible to more black and brown students, but it also has the potential to keep them safer.

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