Monique Bess moved to Baltimore at 17 to attend Morgan State University. Baltimore made such an impression on her that she never left. In time, she wanted to contribute positively to her city and uplift her community, asking herself how she could help build up Baltimore. After addressing a serious health condition, she decided it was time to be proactive in helping the community.
In 2019, she established a multimedia company, BLaK BoXX Radio, as a safe and authentic space for Black people to tell their stories. Through her platform, she produces 7 to 9 shows month to highlight the diversity, resilience, and genius of Black people.
Then, while driving around town one day, a squeegee worker came up to her. She didn’t have any cash, but the young man presented her with a card that displayed a QR code for payment. That stuck with her, and she began to think that technology was the vehicle she should use to better the community.
“Technology is free, and it’s boundless,” Bess said. “But there are so few African Americans in tech. It’s a newer system, that we’re building it for certain people while excluding Black voices. That’s not how we should build new systems.”
While Bess was inspired by her conversation with the squeegee worker, the SQueeGie ProJect is more squeezing Black People into the tech space. The project is a workforce development program that will help connect Black people to skills in technology and social media. The program will initially focus on youth, ages 18-25, but Bess aspires to expand to other ages. She is currently developing a 12-14-week curriculum that will teach a number of skills from the building blocks of filmmaking to comprehensive website development. Participants will leave the program with a working portfolio and connections to job placements in the technology sector.
Bess will use her OSI Community Fellowship to build her program, finalize the curriculum, and recruit partners. Launching her first cohort and building relationships that will result in mentorship and apprenticeship opportunities for the participants in the tech sector are also key priorities.
“Young people use technology every day. I want to give them the opportunity to build on those skills while also displaying their own genius,” Bess said. “We know opportunity is a problem, but the bigger problem is not being prepared for it. I want to help prepare young people for all opportunities, because when we pour into them, when we give them the tools they need, you can watch them manifest it and we will all benefit from that.”