Rainbow PUSH to boost tech education

Leaders from the civil rights organization’s educational arm — PUSH for Excellence — announced a plan to emphasize technology education as they unveiled the agenda for an upcoming scholarship celebration.

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Piper Williams, 7, tests out virtual reality goggles at Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters on the South Side on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022.

Piper Williams, 7, tests out virtual reality goggles at Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters on the South Side. The organization wants to boost technology education.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

Piper Williams slipped on some virtual reality goggles and stole a peekinto the next phase of education parity — technology classes in areas including coding and robotics.

Glenn Williams looked on in amazement as Piper, his 7-year-old daughter, twirled around a lecture hall.

“It’s great, keeps them occupied and engaged,” he said.

Piper may have been immersed in a virtual world, but in reality, she and her dad were at the headquarters of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

That’s where, on Tuesday, leaders from the civil rights organization’s educational arm — PUSH for Excellence — announced a plan to emphasize technology education as they unveiled the agenda for an upcoming scholarship celebration.

Helping PUSH tout STEM education was Bernard Key, who for the last two years has taught robotics and other technology classes in the organization’s summer programs — programs the group hopes to eventually offer year-round, and to adults, as well.

Williams, who grew up with Key in the Brainerd neighborhood on the South Side, said Key has always been interested in technology.

“We couldn’t afford go-karts, so he would build them,” Williams said. “That’s been part of his DNA ever since we was kids.”

Key said he wanted to instill that same spirit in students, leading them to better jobs.

He cited fast-food chain White Castle, which announced earlier in the year that it would use robots to cook burgers at some locations.

“This is going to be the difference between them programming that robot or cleaning the bathroom,” Key said.

Hardy Williams (left) explains how Bernard Key (right) uses virtual reality to boost tech education. The two were among those speaking on Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022 at Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters on the South Side.

Hardy Williams (left) explains how Bernard Key (right) uses virtual reality to boost tech education. The two were among those speaking Tuesday at Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters on the South Side.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

Bishop Tavis Grant, acting national executive director of Rainbow PUSH, also spoke at Tuesday’s news conference, emphasizing the importance of helping students get financial aid to further their education. Rainbow PUSH does its part, keeping those summer programs affordable. They’re open to PUSH Coalition members for the $15 cost of membership.

“This work is so very critical, especially in times of inflation,” Grant said.

Annual scholarship breakfast on Martin Luther King Day

Rainbow PUSH, founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, will host its 33rd Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Breakfast Jan. 16 at the Marriott Marquis Chicago, 2121 S. Prairie Ave.

Held since 1993 on the holiday honoring King, the breakfast is a chance for the organization to renew its commitment to the civil rights leader’s vision and highlight the organization’s way of furthering those goals through education.

Speakers at the January event will include actress Sheryl Lee Ralph; retiring Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White; and activist Jitu Brown.

Beyond offering more details on PUSH for Excellence, the group also will use the scholarship breakfast to highlight its efforts at financing education and announce a plan to prevent violence in schools.

Remote-control cars made by PUSH for Excellence students under the guidance of instructor Bernard Key were on display Tuesday at Rainbow PUSH headquarters.

Remote-control cars made by PUSH for Excellence students under the guidance of instructor Bernard Key were on display Tuesday at Rainbow PUSH headquarters.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

The Rev. Janette Wilson, the organization’s executive director, addressed the same topic. “No child should grow up without these tools,” she said. “Many of our parents aren’t working the jobs of today because they don’t have the training.”

In addition to emphasizing technological education, the organization will also return to the perennial topic of the group’s role in providing scholarships. Since its inception, the organization has paid out $8 million in scholarships, including for 82 college and university students last year.

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

Bishop Tavis Grant, acting national executive director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition speaks at a news conference Tuesday, Dec. 27, 2022 at the civil rights group’s South Side headquarters.

Bishop Tavis Grant, acting national executive director of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, speaks at a news conference Tuesday at the civil rights group’s South Side headquarters.

Michael Loria/Sun-Times

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