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Rev. Jesse Jackson calls for more diversity in tech development

Giving African-Americans greater access to technology — and a louder voice in the digital revolution — is the nation’s next big civil rights fight, Rev. Jesse Jackson said Friday as he touted the upcoming Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Convention.

And while his efforts to promote diversity at Silicon Valley firms including Google and Twitter have already borne fruit, Jackson said, “The most important tech work today is coming out of Chicago.

“Not New York, not L.A., but here,” he said at the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition headquarters on the South Side. 

The coalition’s convention, which will be held at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel from June 20, will focus on diversifying the tech industry and educating students of color in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

Jackson said he has met with Silicon Valley executives to discuss the underrepresentation of minorities in positions of power in tech. He recently met with Twitter executives, he said.

“We’ve changed these companies in a fundamental way already,” Jackson said.

Though African-Americans are big users of Twitter, the company’s San Francisco headquarters don’t reflect that, he said, adding, “When we first sat down with Twitter, it didn’t occur to them to have an African-American on the board.”

Rainbow/PUSH has plans for a renovated tech center at its headquarters, where students will learn coding, financial literacy and the sciences. It hopes the lab will be a model for other communities to follow: Jackson said there are plans to implement tech labs and the STEM curriculum aimed at children in 1,000 churches nationwide.

It also hopes increased access to technology will reduce violence.

“If you want to impact the violence on the street you have to have children engaged in positive, adult-supervised recreation,” said Janette C. Wilson, a senior adviser to Jackson.

Dennis Rodman, Judge Greg Mathis and California Congresswoman Maxine Waters are among those expected to attend the convention next week.