Being the only one in any situation can be a lonely journey. It’s also one that’s become a perpetual way of being for many Black Canadians who work in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) field.

“I’ve just gotten so used to being the only Black one in the room,” says Jason Matthews (business tech management ’11).

Matthews is the Toronto chapter leader of Black Boys Code, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to introducing young Black boys to computer science through mentorship and training, and to reversing the dominant whiteness of the Canadian tech landscape. A room that, Matthews says, they’re trying to fill.

On Saturday, March 2, Ryerson University’s Spanning the Gaps outreach initiative partnered with Black Boys Code to host a one-day hackathon, during which a cohort of 16 or so children, ages 8 to 13, collaborated on an intensive technology workshop.

“Spanning the Gaps is thrilled to partner with Black Boys Code on this important event. Through promoting awareness of the importance of education, the program seeks to empower members of underrepresented communities to reach their long-term learning goals,” said Marie Bountrogianni, dean of The Chang School. “We hope this event inspires more Black youth to pursue a career in the STEM field.”

In groups of three or four, the students were tasked with programming small, orb-shaped robots to roll through obstacle courses, accumulating as many points as they could along the way. (The inevitable chorus of “WAKANDA FOREVER!” from the popular movie, Black Panther, occasionally slipped out from one eager teammate and another, and was usually answered with other kids crossing their arms against their chests like coding superheroes).