BIPOC students gain web design skills while building sites for Black-owned businesses

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A student with the Youth Web Design program working on her website. (Image from Youth Web Design video)

Mama Sambusa Kitchen was recently saved from potential financial ruin by a high school student.

Through a new program offered by the Seattle Office of Economic Development and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, Mama Sambusa was matched with student Lucy Richardson who built the restaurant a website, providing the business — which has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic — with a means for selling its sambusas, gyros and cheesecake without giving a cut to an ordering or delivery platform.

“If it wasn’t for this program and this beautiful site, we would have had to shut down,” said Honey Mohammed.

Mohammed runs the restaurant with her mom, who opened the West Seattle business in 2009. Even beyond the financial help provided by the site, the project gave a much needed boost to Mohammed’s flagging morale during these difficult times.

The Youth Web Design pilot program recently completed its first six-week, virtual training program that matched 16 Garfield High School students who are Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) with 16 Black-owned businesses in the city. For participating in the project, students earned graduation credits, an industry-accredited website design certificate, and a $750 stipend.

The Mama Sambusa Kitchen homepage, which was created by Garfield High School student Lucy Richardson as part of the Youth Web Design pilot program.

The idea for the program came from the Office of Economic Development.

“We have always been interested in supporting small businesses and making sure they can survive and thrive, as well as connecting young people to our economy,” said Nancy Yamamoto, director of the office’s Workforce Development and Key Industries.

As the COVID pandemic unfolded and the economy slowed, restaurants and retail businesses were hit particularly hard. As the world moved online, students lost internships and educational opportunities.

“We wanted to create our own solutions to the problem, and married the needs of small businesses and workforce training,” said Sasha Gourevitch, the office’s youth employment development advisor.

The program cost the city $54,000 for the pilot year and the Urban League is supporting the effort with in-kind donations. Program leaders announced that two more sessions will run in summer and fall, pairing 30 BIPOC students with up to 60 Black-owned businesses. It will cost $56,000 for the two cohorts.

Business owners receive tutorials in how to maintain their sites and can get modifications to their pages for 30 days after they’re completed.

The Office of Economic Development and Urban League collaborated in developing the curriculum and the instructors included industry experts. Their plan is to expand into other areas of tech training. Another local area is interested in adopting the program and has reached out to the City of Seattle.

The program’s supporters are hopeful that the effort can help boost diversity in the tech sector. Nationwide, Black employees made up only 3.7% of web developers and 5.9% of web and digital interface designers, according to 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Web developers on average earn $73,760 annually and the number of jobs in this role are expected to grow by 8% over this decade.

At an online event last month celebrating the work of the first cohort, Garfield senior Brianna Smith shared her thoughts. Smith, who created a site for Agelgil Ethiopian Restaurant in the Central District, appreciated the opportunity for a hands-on experience to see if she really liked working in tech before going to college.

“Because of this program, it’s really helped me realize that computer science is 100% for me and I’m really thankful for that,” Smith said.

Here’s a list of the other businesses and their websites that were created by the project:

  • King Philly Cheesesteaks (7820 Rainier Ave. S.; Rainier Beach)
  • Drae’s Lake Route (9261 57th Ave. S.; Rainier Beach)
  • Seattle Chicken Express (3621 33rd Ave. S.; Rainier Valley)
  • Enat Ethiopian Restaurant (11546 15th Ave. N.E.; Northgate)
  • Yusra & Sabah Restaurant (7729 Rainier Ave. S.; Rainier Beach)
  • Soulful Dishes (1800 E. Yesler Way; Central District)
  • Safari Njema Restaurant (5041 Rainier Ave. S.; Columbia City)
  • Seattle Best BBQ (Food Truck)
  • Chef Café Ethiopian Restaurant (2200 S. Jackson St.; Central District)
  • Tres’ House of Cheesesteaks (Food Truck)
  • Queen Sheba Ethiopian (916 E. John St.; Capitol Hill)
  • The New You (1410 18th Ave.; Capitol Hill)
  • Fulfilled Needs (3100 S. Alaska St.; Columbia City)
  • NS With Beauty (5038 Wilson Ave. S., Seward Park)

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