Ethical Storytelling Initiative: “Mari”

*Mari is a 34-year-old “grateful woman in sobriety” who loves thrifting and supporting slow fashion and sustainability. She also loves sudoku puzzles and, even before joining AnnieCannons, had “an affinity for coding since early Myspace days.”

Yet, rather than pursuing her love for code, Mari found herself fighting addiction and an eating disorder at the age of 15, conditions that stemmed from sexual trauma. By the time Mari was a high school senior, she was living on her own. It was during this time period when she met someone who recruited her into “the life.” 

Mari is not alone. Evidence shows that addiction, among other risk factors, can increase an individual’s vulnerability to being trafficked, and is used as a “tool of coercion” by traffickers to entrap and control their victims. At the same time, substance use disorder can serve as a lifeline for victims’ survival, and a means to help them cope “with the physical and psychological traumas of being trafficked.” Mari concurs, recalling that her addiction and eating disorder “helped me to disassociate from the person I had to be in order to survive.” 

By the time Mari discovered AnnieCannons, she had already gotten out of the life, found sobriety, and earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Social Work while working at a local shelter for trafficking survivors. Yet, she was also facing financial challenges and the constant fear of being “found out” at every job she had. Mari describes her acceptance into AnnieCannons as a life-defining moment. 

“I freaked out!” she recalls, when learning about AnnieCannons. Yet, it wasn’t until the first virtual cohort was offered earlier this year that her coding dream became reality. “I had a tough relationship with the internet due to the nature of my exploitation, and I feared that I wouldn’t be taken seriously in a male dominated industry…but when I saw what AC did, I knew it was my way in.”

It was only six months ago that coding was akin to magic for Mari: a mysterious, supernatural power that was impossibly out of reach. Since then, she has mastered digital literacy, built websites, and is now learning how to create web applications. While she still considers coding to be “magical,” she admits she has also “seen behind the curtain of OZ” and fully embraces her transformation into a “coding magician.”

When asked about what she looks forward to in the next stage, Mari wants to explore ways to incorporate her love of social work and programming. She aims high, and aspires to “work with local nonprofits that show young girls and nonbinary kids how rad STEM is and how it can be accessible to all.” 

Today, Mari is honoring both her passion and her younger self by pursuing this dream.

“My journey at AnnieCannons has been empowering and rewarding. Every step I take forward is a small reminder that I can do things I never thought possible. The pain of my past feels the freedom of my present, and I am so proud of how far we both have come and where we are headed.”

*Name has been changed to protect the survivor’s identity and privacy.

Our 2021 Ethical Storytelling Initiative was developed in partnership with the Dressember Foundation.

October Newsletter


October 2021

Letter from the CEO

Greetings!

There is so much happening at AnnieCannons and we’re really excited to tell you all about it! Check out below our new app, ReferAll, created to help survivors navigate the systems of services in their area. In addition to this exciting new software product, we are honored to be featured as a social enterprise leader in Georgetown University’s Business for Impact report on how businesses can create jobs for all. In the training program, our coding training collaboration with the HYPE Center is up and running with talented young people deep in the world of coding and loving it. Lastly, our fabulous collaboration with Futures Without Violence has just wrapped-up with the launch of their new website addressing interpersonal violence and exploitation, and you can see it live.

Thank you so much for your ongoing support!

Until next time, stay safe and well,

Laura Hackney, CEO


ReferAll – Changing the Landscape

Transformational relationships are one of the most important assets that help survivors leave and remain free from trafficking. Those can include relationships with service providers. ReferAll is an app, built by AnnieCannons, committed to making these important connections between survivors and providers. By the end of the year, AnnieCannons will have built, tested and launched our prototype designed to match survivors with the providers they are eligible for and offer the resources they want.

ReferAll needs the right connections! If you’re a provider serving survivors, or just know of organizations that are a fit for our platform, email us at referall@anniecannons.com

Watch this video for more information on ReferAll and how it changes the landscape for survivors of trafficking who are seeking services.

Together we can build exit ramps from exploitation.


Business for Impact Features AnnieCannons as
Employment Social Enterprise Leaders

AnnieCannons is featured as an Employment Social Enterprise Leader in the new release of the Jobs for All: Employment Social Enterprise and Economic Mobility in the United States, and at the virtual event held by Business for Impact at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. Our very own Laura Hackney joined other nonprofit and corporate leaders to share insights on how companies can build inclusive workforces and support economic mobility for people traditionally excluded from jobs.

The unfortunate truth is that for many Americans, the American dream has never been within reach as structural barriers related to race, disability, and other factors have limited economic opportunities for millions of potential workers. AC is changing that.

Don’t miss this must-read report!


We Can’t Wait!

Cohort 8 kicked off the website development unit on Monday, October 4th at HYPE Center. Students came back from a break after our digital literacy class ready to get to work learning HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. In the first week, students excelled their HTML skills, By Thursday, they were able to create a simple website with an image, a table, a form, nested lists, and plenty of links – all in less than an hour! Students are offered the opportunity each day to practice, review, repeat. Next week, we will start our journey into CSS, where students will finally be able to control the layout of their websites, as well as add some pizazz with color and background images. We can’t wait!

Photo by Eliot Reyna on Unsplash


Futures Without Violence Website, Designed by AC, Is Live

Check out the latest website created by our software engineers in partnership with Futures Without Violence, a health and social justice nonprofit whose mission is to heal those among us who are traumatized by violence today – and to create healthy families and communities free of violence tomorrow.

You can see it here!

Ethical Storytelling Initiative at AnnieCannons

Earlier this year, we entered into an exciting new partnership with the Dressember Foundation to explore meaningful, impact-driven ways to support and empower survivors who have experienced human trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence.

Dressember is a global movement that combines the power of fashion and creativity to fight human trafficking and fundraise for change, and has raised more than $13 million to support anti-trafficking work worldwide since 2013. 

Like AnnieCannons, Dressember is committed to centering survivor voices at the core of their work. As part of this collaboration, we will be sharing survivor stories and launching the AnnieCannons Ethical Storytelling Initiative, a recent but long-awaited effort to propel the voices from our community, forward.

Follow along with us as we listen to, learn from, and honor survivors on their journey to becoming software engineers.

“I’m a part of a community of individuals who understand me, and accept me as I am…it is the missing piece. Learning to code has made me whole. I didn’t know that I had such a strong work ethic, or that I have great study habits. I’m not treated like a victim here, I am treated like a burgeoning genius.”

Meet Morys. Age 33. 

He is a trafficking survivor and one of AnnieCannons’ newest trainees. He is a self-described learner, discoverer, and adventurer.

He describes his life calling to be experiencing “newness,” with a passion to “discover things I know nothing about…I want to see everything I can in my lifetime.”

Morys joined our training program earlier this year as one of 12 participants, and the first to identify as a cisgender man across the organization’s seven cohorts. 

He had been relocated 3,000 miles to a residential program for male trafficking survivors, and had been searching day and night for resources and guidance, any assistance to help get his life back. His goal? To live a life that made him “untraffickable.”

Among a host of tactics that traffickers employ to exploit individuals, Morys describes one of the key methods: isolation. 

“I was systematically cut off from personal connections and resources until all I had left was my traffickers. And without a connection to the world around me, all I was left with was decisions made by somebody else.”

At the time he found AnnieCannons, Morys was “homeless, broke, out of touch with friends and family and suffering catastrophic health issues” that nearly took his life. It was through sheer accident that he discovered AnnieCannons, through a Google search.

“When I saw the site, I saw not just a lifeline, but an entire learning environment that would catapult me out of my situation and into the life that I wanted for myself.”

His raw talent for programming was undeniable. During his initial screening test, Morys not only displayed keen intellect but a passion for learning. He excelled at the logical, visual-spatial, and focus-based exercises─key indicators for success in coding.

He brought these talents into the classroom and has shown up, day after day, with steadfast commitment. Last month, Morys successfully conquered digital literacy, the first stage of AnnieCannons’ training, and is now facing his next challenge: building functional websites. 

Morys channels his newfound passion for code with memes and self-discoveries that he generously shares with his classmates, even going as far as wishing for more assignments. When asked how the journey at AnnieCannons has been so far, Morys describes it as “glorious.” 

“This is the happiest I have ever been in my entire life. Thanks to AnnieCannons, I don’t feel scared or confused about what tomorrow brings. I know in my heart that I’m on a journey that will take me to places I never thought possible. I no longer see barriers, I see ladders and staircases and elevators. I can do anything I want for the rest of my life and nothing is going to stop me.”

Stay tuned for more updates on Morys and other AnnieCannons participants along their software engineering training journey.

June 2021 – Updates

Greetings! 

I am extremely honored and thrilled to be writing to you in my new role of Chief Executive Officer at AnnieCannons. The success and growth of this organization is fueled by you, our larger AnnieCannons community of partners, supporters, clients, donors, and all-around champions. Thank you for continuing to walk with us on this journey to end cycles of exploitation and abuse through economic empowerment.

I am also incredibly grateful for our staff, graduates, and all of the trainees at AnnieCannons. What a team! Progress is made through the consistent and thoughtful actions of the everyday. These actions make the world a more just and equitable place, and this is demonstrated in spades at AnnieCannons. I couldn’t be more proud to continue this work alongside such talented and passionate individuals.


Here are some updates!


Cohort 7

Our current training cohort, led by our stellar teaching team, successfully completed Digital Literacy and started the second module, Website Development. Our trainees will start working with today’s most in-demand web technologies through project-based learning and interactive curriculum modules. 

Part of the journey of a trainee includes learning about the software development lifecycle. How do technology companies build successful products from just ideas into code? Our product team visited the classroom to lead our trainees through a product workshop. This workshop gave trainees the chance to propose ideas for new technologies that could address issues they have faced or seen in their own communities. The product team took these amazing ideas and helped trainees craft their plans into a Product Requirements Document, helping them with the first step in creating a new piece of software.
 

Summer of Coding

This summer is gearing up to be one of the busiest yet for our talented group of engineers. We have a number of new client projects that are moving from design to development, and we are revamping our sales pipeline to be able to better accommodate and support projects in early phases of growth. 

We will be doing some application launches this fall, and can’t wait for you all to see what we are building!


Career Development Coordinator

We hired our first Career Development Coordinator at AnnieCannons. Thanks to funding from our wonderful partners at GrantTank, we were able to hire a position that has been just a dream at AnnieCannons for several years. 

Our Career Development Coordinator (affectionately known as the “CDC”) is focused on broadening and deepening the support and services we offer trainees and graduates of our program, in the classroom and on the job. While our teaching team provides technical instruction and our product team supervises paid work performed by graduates, the CDC is helping our trainees and graduates succeed when they are experiencing issues, as diverse as housing insecurity to time management difficulty.

This week, the CDC launched our one-on-one coaching program to provide individual support and to identify areas where third-party experts are needed to support both individuals and the whole community. We are so thrilled about this role as well as the amazing work already underway.
 

Many Thanks

Thank you again for continuing to support AnnieCannons. In the next several years, AnnieCannons will continue to reach more survivors, train more world-class software engineers, develop more interesting and purposeful products, and re-shape the way we all view the workplace and the world. We have always been reaching for the stars, and we are just getting started.

Look forward to many more announcements to come. 

All best,
Laura Hackney
CEO
AnnieCannons

Announcement from AnnieCannons

I am writing to let you know about some important leadership changes taking place at AnnieCannons.

Jessica Hubley, our remarkable co-founder, has stepped down after six incredible years as CEO. Jessica has been a driving force behind AnnieCannons’ growth and a visionary leader who has inspired us all. She has advocated continuously to advance the position and elevate the voices of survivors. We are profoundly grateful for the unceasing efforts she has made on behalf of AnnieCannons. 

Laura Hackney, AnnieCannons’ other remarkable co-founder and CTO, was unanimously appointed by our Board of Directors as the next CEO. Laura has overseen the success of our flagship software development training and workforce development programs since AnnieCannons’ inception and the Board is delighted she will now helm the organization.

Under Laura and Jessica’s joint direction, AnnieCannons has not only emerged as a leader in the anti-trafficking space, but a pioneer in testing new models of economic empowerment and technology innovation to support the talents and potential of underserved populations.

I would also like to thank AnnieCannons’ interim CEO, Elizabeth Gardner, who stepped in temporarily while the co-founder transitions took place. Liz’s contributions to the management of the organization have created a legacy that will be felt in the lives of survivors for years to come. We are so grateful for her tireless efforts and wish her all the best as she returns to her long-time work in another field.  

AnnieCannons has never been better positioned to accelerate its growth and scale its impact to reach an ever-increasing number of survivors in 2021, and beyond. 

Our entire community is grateful for the hard work, dedication and vision of our leaders, and looks forward to entering our next chapter with your continued support.

Respectfully,
Lawrence Cole,
Chairperson, AnnieCannons Board of Directors

AnnieCannons 2020 Holiday Reading List

The team at AnnieCannons has put together a list of what we’ll be reading this holiday season.  Whether you’re looking to expand your worldview, educate yourself, read with the kids, or just relax with the classics, we have something for everyone!  

What’s on your list this season? Happy holidays and happy reading!

Emergent Strategy

by Adrienne Maree Brown

Inspired by Octavia Butler’s explorations of our human relationship to change, Emergent Strategy is radical self-help, society-help, and planet-help designed to shape the futures we want to live. Change is constant. The world is in a continual state of flux. It is a stream of ever-mutating, emergent patterns. Rather than steel ourselves against such change, this book invites us to feel, map, assess, and learn from the swirling patterns around us in order to better understand and influence them as they happen. This is a resolutely materialist “spirituality” based equally on science and science fiction, a visionary incantation to transform that which ultimately transforms us.

The Snakehead

by Patrick Radden Keefe

The Snakehead is a panoramic tale of international intrigue and a dramatic portrait of the underground economy in which America’s twelve million illegal immigrants live. Based on hundreds of interviews, Patrick Radden Keefe’s sweeping narrative tells the story not only of Sister Ping, but of the gangland gunslingers who worked for her, the immigration and law enforcement officials who pursued her, and the generation of penniless immigrants who risked death and braved a 17,000 mile odyssey so that they could realize their own version of the American dream. The Snakehead offers an intimate tour of life on the mean streets of Chinatown, a vivid blueprint of organized crime in an age of globalization and a masterful exploration of the ways in which illegal immigration affects us all.

My Grandmother’s Hands

by Resmaa Menakem

The body is where our instincts reside and where we fight, flee, or freeze, and it endures the trauma inflicted by the ills that plague society. In this groundbreaking work, therapist Resmaa Menakem examines the damage caused by racism in America from the perspective of body-centered psychology. He argues this destruction will continue until Americans learn to heal the generational anguish of white supremacy, which is deeply embedded in all our bodies. Our collective agony doesn’t just affect African Americans. White Americans suffer their own secondary trauma as well. So do blue Americans—our police.

My Grandmother’s Hands is a call to action for all of us to recognize that racism is not about the head, but about the body, and introduces an alternative view of what we can do to grow beyond our entrenched racialized divide.

The Hobbit

by J.R.R. Tolkien

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. Written for J.R.R. Tolkien’s own children, The Hobbit met with instant critical acclaim when it was first published in 1937. Now recognized as a timeless classic, this introduction to the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, the wizard Gandalf, Gollum, and the spectacular world of Middle-earth recounts of the adventures of a reluctant hero, a powerful and dangerous ring, and the cruel dragon Smaug the Magnificent.

For younger learners:

I Promise

by LeBron James

NBA champion and superstar LeBron James pens a slam-dunk picture book inspired by his foundation’s I PROMISE program that motivates children everywhere to always #StriveForGreatness. Just a kid from Akron, Ohio, who is dedicated to uplifting youth everywhere, LeBron James knows the key to a better future is to excel in school, do your best, and keep your family close.

I Promise is a lively and inspiring picture book that reminds us that tomorrow’s success starts with the promises we make to ourselves and our community today.

Julián is a Mermaid

by Jessica Love

While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a periwinkle curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes—and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? Mesmerizing and full of heart, Jessica Love’s author-illustrator debut is a jubilant picture of self-love and a radiant celebration of individuality.

World Day Against Trafficking in Persons 2020

Thursday, July 30th, marks the seventh annual World Day Against Trafficking in Persons

This global event was launched in 2013, when the General Assembly of the United Nations came together to dedicate a day to raising awareness about human trafficking and the situations of the victims involved, and to promote and protect their rights. 

This year’s theme, “Committed to the Cause: Working on the Frontline to End Human Trafficking,” is appropriately focused on recognizing frontline workers who are committed to identifying, supporting, counseling and seeking justice for victims of trafficking, and challenging the impunity of the traffickers.

What is Human Trafficking?

The scale of human trafficking is staggering, entrapping an estimated 40.3 million people globally in conditions of modern day slavery. Trafficking takes many forms but by definition, includes the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of exploitation, including the prostitution of others, sexual exploitation and forced labor. 

As a result of mainstream media and Hollywood blockbusters, human trafficking is often depicted in sensationalized images that nearly always begins with a dramatized kidnapping, leading to a young woman being forced into sex work. More often than not, this crime is perpetuated by an underground global prostitution ring that is ultimately taken down by an equally dramatic rescue. 

While this scenario can play out in reality, the large majority of human trafficking cases look vastly different. Most traffickers utilize psychological tactics to trick, manipulate or threaten their victims, often around the premise of economic opportunity and bait-and-switch promises of a better life. Perpetrators can be strangers or have familiar faces: a romantic partner, a family member, and even parents. 

Though the overwhelming majority of commercial sex trafficking victims are women and girls─99% according to the International Labor Organization─trafficking takes many forms, including forced labor, indentured servitude, child marriage and conscription (i.e. child soldiers)─and can impact men and boys, who are often silent, unseen victims of modern day slavery. The most recent data in the UN Global Report on the Trafficking in Persons estimates that men account for 21% of all persons trafficked globally, and more than half of all trafficking victims of forced labor. The same report estimates that 30% of all detected victims worldwide are children. 

Trafficking in the U.S.: The Ugly Truth

While there are myriad myths and misconceptions about human trafficking, there are a few notable ones that we want to bust as we approach World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, and highlight some vital, important truths about this horrific crime. Among them:

  • Trafficking is not merely a problem happening in third-world countries “over there,” among the faces of young women and girls in Southeast Asia or Eastern Europe. Modern day slavery is alive and well in the U.S. today, with an estimated 400,000 people believed to be trapped working as modern slaves: at every major sporting event, in truck stops, in restaurants, on farms, in massage parlors and in hotels. Trafficking hides in plain sight and is seen, touched and supported by Americans everyday, in every zip code across the country.

    Likewise, victims cannot be profiled and distanced in images of the “other.” Individuals exploited and trafficked everyday are U.S.-born citizens just as they are foreign nationals, living in or brought to this country by both illegal and lawful means.
  • Traffickers do not only target poor individuals from small rural villages. While poverty is a common vulnerability, it alone is not a single causal factor of human trafficking. There are a multitude of compounding factors that can increase an individual’s vulnerability to trafficking: homelessness, history of trauma or violence, disability, neglect, family breakdown, substance abuse, or a combination of these and many other factors. Though in all cases, traffickers exploit the vulnerabilities that individuals already face.

    And while trafficking can happen to anyone, there are undeniable gender and racial dimensions to human trafficking that disproportionately affect women of color. In the U.S., approximately 40% of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are Black and compared to their racial counterparts, Black girls are more likely to be trafficked at a younger age. One study found that 85% of those who bought sex on the internet were white men and in an interview with the Urban Institute, traffickers admitted their belief that trafficking Black women would land them less jail time than trafficking white women, if caught.

    Recognizing, understanding and acknowledging the intrinsic link between human trafficking and structural racism in the U.S. is the first essential step in addressing the root causes of this crime.
  • Victims are rarely “freed” from their trafficking experience despite exiting their exploitation. The climactic rescue scenes that unfold on screen are typically followed by images of a resumed “normal” life. Yet, this portrayal is problematic in multiple ways: it not only over-simplifies the survivors’ trafficking experience with a start and end point, disregarding the lifetime of discrimination, oppression and exploitation they have likely faced and will most likely continue to face, it also assumes a “‘rescue’ mentality steeped in racialized perspectives” that are founded on the notions of white saviorism.

    The rescue scenario also obscures the complex reality of victims’ experiences, crafted on assumptions that they are powerless to leave, are held against their will or always want to get out. Though sometimes the case, people in trafficking situations also stay for a complex array of reasons including familial pressures, economic needs, or lack of basic necessities to physically leave, such as transportation or a safe place to live. In other cases, trafficked individuals may not be aware they have been trafficked or are a victim of a crime, having been manipulated by their traffickers or born into their enslaved circumstances.

    Importantly, the point of escape is hardly the end, but the beginning of another lifelong journey that coexists in parallel to a survivor’s trafficking experience. Not only are a small percentage of survivors ever “rescued,” even fewer are able to secure true freedom or justice, burdened by stigma, lack of opportunity and an inherently biased system that discriminates against them.

    Over the past five years, only 1,230 federal prosecutions were initiated against human traffickers, representing less than 3% of total cases reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. At the same time, survivors are too often criminalized for the crimes committed against them. Nineteen states can still arrest and charge youth survivors with the crime of prostitution despite being a victim of child sex trafficking.

    That’s right: despite growing consensus that a child cannot be a prostitute, there are still states and legislators who believe that a minor can willingly and consensually engage in commercial sex. And Black children bear the brunt of these arrests, disproportionately making up nearly 58% of all juvenile prostitution arrests.

What Next? Life After “The Life”

Human trafficking is a lifetime cost for survivors, especially for women and children of color. Yet, very few ask what comes after “the rescue.” What happens after the dust settles and a survivor, against all odds, is able to imagine their future beyond the shelter and trauma support group? Or even years after they have started down their road to recovery? According to one nonprofit executive, many in the human trafficking community shy away from the notion of the rescue “because it doesn’t give merit to the process that is at play when a trafficking victim exist the Life.”

At AnnieCannons, we recognize that survivors face insurmountable barriers to sustainable recovery that are impacted by a lifetime of multiple victimizations. We know that trauma is not a one-time event, and a return to a pre-trafficking “normal” only perpetuates the violence and discrimination that created opportunities for their exploitation in the first place. We aim to permanently break this cycle by unlocking the talents, brilliance, ingenuity and perseverance that survivors already possess, yet are largely overlooked. 

We see this potential, and work hand-in-hand with survivors in our program, on our team, and in our workplace to leverage their abilities and gain the economic power they deserve. In doing so, we are also challenging the status quo that discriminates against survivors, women and minorities in the workplace, demanding a new improved normal that is built on inclusion and diversity.

How YOU Can Help

Human trafficking is a global problem that requires a global solution. Yet, despite the grand scale of this issue, there are simple, everyday ways that we can all fight against modern day slavery. There is a role for everyone to play and together, we can stop human trafficking and demand justice for survivors in this country. Here are a few ways you can help:

  • Support frontline workers fighting trafficking and supporting survivors in your community. Human trafficking, racial injustice and gender inequality are mutually-reinforcing when we talk about vulnerability and exploitation. Don’t know where to begin? Start by reaching out to your local shelters and victim services providers to see how you can help. You can also email us at info@anniecannons.com to learn more about how you can support survivors.
  • Be a mindful consumer. Trafficking bleeds into every global supply chain, from the clothes you wear to the food you eat. Support socially responsible businesses and demand social responsibility from businesses in your community. Visit KnowTheChain to see which industries and companies are working to eliminate slavery from their products.
  • Most importantly, use your platform and your social advantage to fight alongside survivors and amplify their voices. Allyship is needed now, more than ever.  

AnnieCannons stands in solidarity with Black communities.

We spent the past week talking amongst ourselves and reflecting on recent events in the United States. 

Below is a personal essay written by AnnieCannons’ Director of Product, Grace McCants, followed by a snapshot of AnnieCannons’ community members’ reflections.

We’re also working on an action plan of short- and long-term changes AnnieCannons can make internally and promote externally to combat racism and racial violence.  


It took a long time (and wine) for me to figure out what I wanted to say publicly at this moment. The best I could think of was to talk for a moment about how I feel. And maybe a bit about how I got here. The act of writing it all down was a cathartic and ultimately helpful exercise. Thank you all in advance for reading. 

How do I feel? I feel like shit. I feel hopeless, angry, and scared at the world. I feel disappointed. And I feel sad. I feel like the little cup that holds my ability to deal with it all is full and I can’t handle much more. In these moments, therapists have told me I am what they call “OVERWHELMED.”

Jokes aside, this is not a new feeling at all. Racial violence in America is not new. The disproportionate racial violence against black people is not new. Very disturbing, publicly documented, viral racial violence is not new. It’s not new for me up close or from afar and I assume not new for many folks reading. I’ve cried many times about this on a personal level. I’ve long considered and drunkenly, through tears, asked friends, “why do people hate black people so much?” 

Which is to say, fairly confidently, that I’ve never quite gotten it. I grew up listening to Nina Simone tell me I was “Young, gifted, and black!” And was told by my white mom how important and valuable being black was. But I was also taught that despite me being fucking amazing, there were a lot of people that either didn’t feel that way, or benefitted directly from keeping black people down. And that life was simply not fair for some folks in this country.

Strangely, something that keeps coming to mind is a quote from an interview Chris Rock gave a while back about the notion of “black progress.” He says, 

“When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before…

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years.”

This connected the dots for me in a way that previously – well, before I read the interview in 2012 – I only understood as a feeling. Black people have always been good. And progress will only occur when white people do better and do more. We have always been worthy of it all. We have always known it. 

Two days ago a young black man ran past me towards the demonstrations in downtown Chicago, yelling into his phone, “we kings and queens in this bitch.” It breaks my heart to know that he had to risk his life that night to prove it. 

It is not the job of black folks to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” and present better for the structures that exploit and tear us down. 

It is the job of our proposed allies to work harder to keep us alive. Explicitly that means advocate for us when we’re not in the room, fight for us when we don’t have the energy to fight anymore, and imagine a world where hierarchy, competition, and capital do not determine worth. “Progress” is the job of folks who have never shed a tear for a loved one who has been murdered by the police or whose life has been ruined by the criminal justice system. It is your job to consider why we’ve been crying about this since we were old enough to understand. 

Black people have always been deserving of praise, of love, of safety, and of peace. We have always been excellent. And things will not get better without the progress of white people and a commitment that your comfort is not more valuable than our lives. 

I’ll close with a few PSAs:

The term “woke” comes from the full term “stay woke” which indicates action, not arrival. Also, people don’t really say woke anymore.

Anti-racism is not a badge. It is work. And a lifetime of work. 

Solidarity is commitment. 

Allyship is imperative. 

There are many resources on how to do this work. I know a lot of us already are doing anti-racism work so please share your resources. Get an accountabilibuddy – a buddy to keep you accountable. 

The idea to create and share this statement is the bare minimum. It is the very least we can do as an organization. We’ll follow up shortly with a commitment to change and a plan of action.

The reflections below are presented largely unedited and in list form to uplift the individual and collective voices of our community.

The AnnieCannons community has expressed:

  • Sadness, outrage, anxiety, depression, anger, grief, and pain.
  • Support by following the lead of women and families of color, standing by their side, and uplifting their voices.
  • A desire to stand for the lives, well-being, and rights of all black people.
  • Fear for their black children.
  • Questions of how to prepare their children for the harsh realities of the world while allowing them to feel hopeful and that they can make change.
  • Acknowledgement of the false and harmful notion of whiteness as dominant or default.
  • “Injustice + time does not = justice.”
  • Racism being a major part of the United States’ history and that it’s all Americans’ job to recognize it, condemn it, root it out, and replace it with more just and decent institutions and policies.
  • “Revolution is not a one-time event.” 
  • That rioting is a justifiable response to centuries of state-sanctioned violence. That it is self defense. To focus on Black acts of communal self-defense rather than the centuries of systemic violence and against them misses the point.
  • Attempting to stay upbeat for the sake of their kids.
  • That this is not new. 
  • The trauma caused by these black lynchings being posted and shared digitally and without care.
  • That we are tired.

Thanks for reading,

Grace

COVID-19: How AnnieCannons is Responding

We know that crises disproportionately affect women and exacerbates gender-based violence and inequality. For survivors already facing hardships, the impacts can be devastating.

At AnnieCannons, our utmost priority is protecting the health, safety, and well-being of the survivors we serve through our software development training program. 

To mitigate the potential impacts the virus can have on the lives and livelihoods of our students and broader community, we have temporarily shifted all classroom instruction to a remote platform to do our part in halting the spread of the virus, and provided students’ with accommodations for connectivity and hardware. 

We have also shared the latest COVID-19 prevention and response recommendations to empower survivors with the information they need to protect their health and the health of their families. Our training Instructors are checking-in with each student to make sure they have the resources and support they need during this time of uncertainty; for survivors, immediate crises can often trigger historic trauma.

Importantly, we have taken measures as an organization to reinforce our investment in families and our unwavering commitment to promoting an inclusive workplace, especially for women. These measures include encouraging employees to make use of our generous paid sick and time off policies during this time, and covering local transport for any essential work-related travel through our partnership with Uber Community Impact Initiative. 

Click here to see how the pandemic disproportionately impacts women around the world.  

We also urge other companies, especially those with a majority female staffbase as well as organizations seeking to create a more inclusive workplace, to re-evaluate their existing policies to better accommodate worker flexibility during this COVID-19 crisis.

How YOU Can Help Survivors of Human Trafficking and Gender-Based Violence

During this period of uncertainty, AnnieCannons is doing all it can to support survivors and staff with a flexible working and learning environment.

Unfortunately, for the students, remote instruction means they will not have the benefit of face-to-face learning and dedicated use of our equipped training space, including built-in childcare and peer support. The lack of in-class participation also means reduced levels of individualized coaching that is so vital to their learning experience.

Here are some ways you can help:

  • Donate to AnnieCannons. No contribution is too small, and your support will help us to:
    • Expand teaching time and maximize remote individual support. This will help us to increase instruction time, offer additional 1:1 virtual tutoring, retain student participation, and provide critical follow-up to survivors during this interim crisis period.
    • Accelerate advanced development skills training. We will ramp-up capacity of our trained graduates to respond to high client needs, positioning them to fill a widening labor demand for complex application work as companies move to digitize their workplace and shift to remote teams. This will also open up simpler website work for the newest graduates.
    • Sponsor our current cohort of students. Each survivor faces her own unique hardships that place undue burden on her ability to participate or learn in the midst of crisis. >>> Reach out to info@anniecannons.com to learn more.
    • Invest in our broader crisis preparedness to minimize future disruptions to our survivor training program. We are working diligently to reinforce our online teaching capacity and student support systems for the long-term. 
  • Hire us for your existing or emerging data quality needs. With corporate partners, AnnieCannons has always supplied data work for newly-qualified graduates still in class. With economic uncertainty, we need even more data work to offset reductions in the current workstream. If your company has data projects that require off-site help, please reach out to info@anniecannons.com to explore working together.

Why Support Women in Technology?

Supporting women in technology fields goes beyond simply balancing the numbers. Historically, the tech sector has been white, young and male, and only conscious effort will change the imbalance. The good news is that efforts to close gender gaps in the tech industry yield rewards in the form of happier employees, higher profits, and recognition as a company making a difference. Read on to find out how you can support women in technology, whatever your company role or gender.

Inspire future women in technology

When you support women in technology, you are also supporting the future of the industry. Since 1993, the number of women in the STEM fields of science, engineering, and mathematics has been on the rise. However, in technology fields specifically, female participation has decreased.

A few shocking stats:

  • In 1995, 37% of computer scientists were women. Today, it’s only 24%. This infographic shows staggering statistics.
  • Women hold fewer than  than 20% of US tech jobs (and the number is going down!). 
  • A survey shows that girls show an interest in pursuing careers in STEM fields as young as 11 years old but many get discouraged and lose interest before age 15. 
  • There are only five female CEOs of technology companies in the Fortune 500. 
  • Merely 5% of startup founders are women and only 11% of decision-makers in venture capital groups are women. 

It’s clear that there need to be more initiatives to get young girls interested in technology jobs, and keep them interested. Young women in technology fields face a variety of obstacles:

  • Encountering stereotypes and biases that math is for boys and the arts are for girls. 
  • A lack of mentorship and little knowledge of career paths available to them.
  • The belief that their intelligence is limited to a fixed amount, rather than being unlimited. 

In fact, the American Association of University Women presents eight key research findings that point to environmental and social barriers that block women’s progress in STEM. The only way to change conceptions like these is to show women in STEM careers as the norm, rather than the exception: 

  • Be aware of your own biases and change the way you talk about women in STEM.
  • Offer science and technology camps for girls to teach them how encountering challenging problems is in the nature of scientific work and that they have the ability to learn.
  • Encourage your female employees to mentor girls who show interest in tech careers and introduce career paths to them.

By showcasing and highlighting the contributions and successes made by women at your tech company, you will be part of the sea of change to inspire and encourage the next generation of women in technology careers. 

Supporting women in technology can increase profits

A report by Morgan Stanley shows a well-documented increase in financial returns for companies with high gender diversity. Those companies have delivered increased returns with lower volatility compared with their low diversity peers, and have outperformed on average in the past five years. The top fifth of selected companies that consistently rank gender diversity among their priorities, with data to back it up, outperformed those that did not. What does all that mean? Getting more women into the tech workforce yields higher profits, and there’s plenty of data to prove it. 

Jessica Alsford, head of the Global Sustainability Research Team at Morgan Stanley, discusses the link between company financial performance and gender diversity. “Gender diversity can improve team decision-making and improve innovation capabilities for development of new products or services,” says Alsford. “It can also create alignment with diverse customer bases and, thus, open up untapped business opportunities.” There is an emerging body of academic and qualitative research that links inclusive work environments with increased returns.  

Want an even more convincing financial argument about supporting women in technology? Shark Tank’s Kevin O’Leary prefers women founders, saying “They make me more money.  Now this isn’t some kind of academic research, this is real data. This is real money coming back to me.” He links a number of traits often found in women that lead to business success, including time management, goal-setting and taking critiques well. “To succeed, executives need to listen to everyone. That’s something women excel at, especially with critical feedback.”

How your company can support women in technology

During the recruitment process:

Take the time to really analyze your job descriptions. Research shows that men will apply for jobs where they meet 60% of the requirements while women are more reluctant to apply unless they meet  100% of the qualifications. Ensure that only the minimum requirements for the job are stated as such, and include other desired attributes separately. 

Actively source female candidates for open positions. Female-focused associations, career initiatives, leadership conferences, and meetup events are great places to discuss your recruitment and find qualified talent. 

Work with vendors who value diversity:

Partner with companies who bring not only their expertise but also their diversity to your outsourced services. By choosing to work with other companies who value women in technology, your own diversity initiatives can grow. Not only does your choice support other female-focused tech businesses, but you will also gain the value of other diverse perspectives. 

Hiring companies who support women in technology will maximize your diversity efforts and you will be able to make even more of a difference in improving the lives of women. At AnnieCannons, our corporate social responsibility plan centers around lifting survivors of human trafficking out of their situations and teaching them how to be amazing programmers. Hiring us for web development services allows us to continue to grow our program and get more women working in the tech industry.

Show off women in leadership roles:

Women are more likely to accept a new job if the company has female leaders. If your leadership team is gender-balanced, include that in promotional materials around your recruitment efforts. Increase the visibility of your female employees with published content on your company website and social media channels. Encourage them to publish blog posts and articles and invite them to be part of the recruitment process. Seeing other women successful in your company will increase your recruitment power.

Promote work/life balance:

It’s especially important to recognize how working parents can thrive in STEM fields, often because of the experience of parenthood, not at the expense of it. Busy parents who balance their home lives with a career are experienced at long-term planning, quickly putting out fires, listening to others, and keeping track of multiple time tables. They can set realistic goals (and meet them!) which encourages others in the workplace. 

Those performance benefits aren’t limited to parents, either. Many people without children have active households or partners to support and are equally adept at efficient time management. They can multitask like no other, because they know what’s most important and what will be the best value of their time. This translates into work groups where everyone’s time is valued, leading to improved performance and morale. 

There are several aspects of offering a work/life balance that the tech industry could focus on to appeal to more women. Schedule flexibility and opportunities to work from home are valued by many busy women. Invest in families by making parental leave mandatory and having it last longer than average. Showcase the company’s family-friendly policies on your recruitment website and in job descriptions. And it should go without saying that you will have closed the gender pay gap. Even if you don’t publish salaries, including it in your diversity statement and publishing an annual report will demonstrate that you are doing something about the issue. 

Everyone can support women in technology

Susan McDonald of StackPath addresses the need for everyone to get behind supporting women in technology, regardless of gender. When their VP of Community Josh Krammes was selected as a finalist for the Women in IT Awards Silicon Valley Advocate of the Year, her initial reaction was raised eyebrows. However, she recognized how the nomination “perfectly demonstrates the ethos of our ecosystems program: we don’t succeed unless ALL are given the opportunity to succeed.” 

At AnnieCannons, our focus is on closing the gender gap in tech and STEM fields. We deliver tech education to the underserved and underrepresented and provide jobs for survivors of human trafficking and gender-based violence. Whether you hire our developers on a web project, partner with us as a volunteer, or donate financially to our cause, your support of AnnieCannons goes directly to supporting women in technology. How is your company showcasing women in tech? We’d love to hear from you!