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Head shots of (clockwise from top left) Natasha Crepeau, Kira Favakeh, Camille Simon and Ben Hinthorne with a Hack for Black Lives logo

CMS Student-Athletes Create 'Hack for Black Lives' Hackathon Feb. 19-21

CLAREMONT, Calif. - The phrase "Think Globally, Act Locally" has been a mantra of social activists for more than a century. This past summer, the Black Lives Matter movement rapidly spread globally, with demonstrations taking place in major cities, and at major sporting events, all around the world.

The movement inspired several CMS student-athletes from Harvey Mudd to take action right here in Claremont, fulfilling the second part of the slogan.

The result of that inspiration is "Hack for Black Lives", a virtual hackathon which will take place from Feb. 19-21 and is open to the 7C community. All 7C students of any background who want to support the Black Lives Matter movement are encouraged to sign up.

The idea began as the brainchild of Ben Hinthorne (HMC '21), a former CMS baseball player who saw his athletic career sidetracked by an arm injury and who will begin work as a software engineer in September. Hinthorne watched the Black Lives Matter movement take hold, felt a desire to contribute, and began to ponder what sort of action he could take.

"The original thought process for the event started from the question of 'How can I use my skills and my training to best support the Black Lives Matter movement and practice anti-racism?" Hinthorne said. "For example, as a Computer Science major, I have been in school studying CS for almost 4 years now, and so I began to brainstorm ways to use my CS knowledge to create a project or something that might align with the Black Lives Matter movement."

Different ideas came to Hinthorne's mind, including perhaps writing software which could help fight algorithmic bias. He began to consider projects beyond his specific area of expertise, though, and he realized that the idea could be expanded to something even bigger.

"My thoughts evolved into a larger understanding that I, of course, am not the only one with a background that can be leveraged to support antiracism and the Black Lives Matter movement," he said. "So the question then became, 'How can we best inspire others to use their skills, passions, and backgrounds to create positive change for the Black Lives Matter movement?' And that is exactly what a hackathon is meant to do: be the tool that inspires people to use their skills and passions to create positive change. With so many uniquely talented people in the 7C community, not just in tech, we thought this would be the perfect place to host the event."

Hinthorne reached out to several of his friends for their input. One who jumped on board was former women's soccer player Kira Favakeh, who graduated from Harvey Mudd last spring with a degree in engineering and will begin working as a sensor engineer in Boulder, Colorado next month.

As the idea kept growing, Hinthorne contacted the two current co-presidents of Black Lives at Mudd (BLAM), Natasha Crepeau of the women's cross country/track and field teams, who will graduate this spring with a degree in mathematics, and Camille Simon of the women's golf team, who will also graduate this spring as a joint computer science/mathematics major.

Hinthorne, Favakeh, Crepeau and Simon evolved into the four-member organizing group of Hack for Black Lives, and have been coordinating the event since July, exhibiting some of the same teamwork they've developed through their CMS athletic careers, and their multi-student projects at Harvey Mudd.  

Once the idea was off the ground, the task of seeing it through had some challenges, especially in the COVID-19 era when coordination includes more remote Zoom meetings and group emails than conference room gatherings, where it's a little bit easier to brainstorm amongst each other. The foursome was also treading on some new territory personally, COVID or not, and had to figure out a lot of the organizing logistics on the fly.

"None of us have any experience putting on a hackathon, let alone hosting or organizing this large of an event at all, so there's a lot that we've learned along the way," they said. "The original idea for the event was that it would be open to anyone and everyone, since it's virtual we felt we had no limitations in that regard. However, we quickly realized we didn't have the workforce to handle that kind of an event. Instead, we're starting with this smaller event in our community filled with passionate people with diverse interests and skills that will highlight exactly what we're trying to get at: anyone can use their abilities to practice active antiracism."

The coordination also included a lot of outside help, including support all at the way at the top from Harvey Mudd President Maria Klawe and the college's Division of Student Affairs. In addition, the four student-athletes made a point to thank the other groups around the 7C community who helped turned their vision into a reality.

"We're grateful to our partners for offering support as we've organized this event," they said. "Specifically, Harvey Mudd's Office of Community Engagement (OCE) and Office of Institutional Diversity (OID), The Hive, and The Office of Black Student Affairs (OBSA) have been providing extra help over the last few months. We hope that if this event is successful, it can be replicated in other communities and at other schools in the future."

While hackathons are traditionally events for computer scientists or engineers, Hack for Black Lives is open for people of all skills and backgrounds to create projects from any discipline. Instead of being restricted to projects requiring technical training, hacking in this case can mean creating anything: a piece of software, an educational children's book, a social media campaign, a book club, or anything that supports the Black Lives Matter movement, according to the event's organizers.

"We hope that all participants have a chance to create tangible and impactful projects by practicing uniquely skilled active antiracism," they said. "That is, no matter your skills or abilities, you can apply your strengths to practice antiracism and actively support Black Lives."

The three-day event will begin on Friday at 5 p.m. with a keynote speaker and workshops, while Saturday and Sunday will allow the hackers to work on their projects before submitting them by Sunday at 5 p.m. Hack for Black Lives will also provide mentors to help guide hackers if they require assistance, as the quartet hopes to make participation feel less daunting for those who want to take part.

"One of the first things we did when we realized we were going to try and carry out Hack for Black Lives was set our objectives," they said. "Primarily, this event is about The Hackers (participants) and the projects they create. Through this event, we want participants to have a space to learn and create for the sake of supporting Black communities and fighting oppression and racism. The keynote speaker and workshops are aimed at educating hackers as to how to identify and understand a problem before creating a solution so that the impact of their work will best align with the intent."

The Hack for Black Lives also has different motives than many similar events. There's no fundraising figure or specific end goal or participation figure that they are targeting. Their goals are abstract, but powerful, and they hope, far-reaching.

"Overall, we hope that all participants have a chance to create tangible and impactful projects by practicing uniquely skilled active antiracism," they said. "No matter your skills or abilities, you can apply your strengths to practice antiracism and actively support Black Lives," they said. "We also hope to encourage continuation of these projects beyond the Hackathon but most importantly, we want people to walk away knowing that they can be the change, and they can utilize whatever skills and passions they have to support social justice and racial equity."

To learn more about Hack for Black Lives and the ways you can get involved, visit their website, Facebook page and Instagram page at the links below:

Instagram (@hack4blacklives):