Chicago Faith-Based Community and Tech Community Come Together to Use Technology to Fight Poverty


August 11, 2014

Contact: Melia Carter –      708-224-1900

Emile Cambry – 773-882-2936

Chicago Faith-Based Community and Tech Community Come Together to Use Technology to Fight Poverty

 Chicago, IL The Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide (MAADD) and BLUE 1647 announced a revolutionary partnership that will bring together the Chicago tech community and the faith-based community to develop programs that will focus on Internet access and adoption, tech education and workforce development. These programs are designed to promote technology and 21st century skills in low income and minority communities across the city.

“What we are doing here is ground breaking,” said Emile Cambry, Founder and Managing Director of BLUE 1647. “Never before have the tech communities and faith-based communities come together in such a way to promote technological solutions that can help solve problems that many low income and minority communities struggle with. We are looking to promote solutions through the use of technology to lower the unemployment rate, crime rate and drop-out rate while providing people with useful skills to build a better future.”

 Recently, MAADD released a policy paper outlining how technology can be used to provide solutions to many of the societal problems that have created generational poverty in low income and minority communities. This partnership is a first step to implementing these recommendations.

“This partnership starts the beginning of an aggressive effort to promote technology as the means for our nation to win the War on Poverty,” said Reverend Roosevelt Watkins, National President of MAADD. “By providing people with Internet access and skills training for the jobs of tomorrow, we can bring opportunity to those in need.   But for us to fully utilize technology as a means to end poverty, it is critical that our nation transitions the historical analog telephone network to an all-digital IP-based broadband network. This will put opportunity within reach of people living in poverty by allowing continued broadband investment to flow into these neighborhoods.”

MAADD and BLUE 1647 have developed two new programs that will launch this partnership:

Tech Trybe – Tech Trybe is a “Geek Squad for the community”. The program is set up as a social enterprise where students and veterans learn to refurbish used devices, such as computers, and resell to the community. Proceeds from the sales will provide revenue for students to continue their education. Through this service, Tech Trybe will provide on-job technical training for BLUE 1647 trainees and provide low cost computers to the local community. Partner churches will be stationed on the south side and west side of the city to provide community members with locations to donate used technology and purchase low-cost, refurbished devices.

Community Hackathon – From October 17th to October 19th MAADD and BLUE 1647 will be hosting a community hackathon. The hackathon will be designed around the community issues identified in MAADD’s policy paper that contribute to poverty and economic inequality – Crime, Education, Healthcare, Jobs and Economic Development. Community organizations and government agencies will be asked to sponsor specific problems in these categories that the development of an application might be able to solve. Teams of participating coders will compete for prizes for the development of “best app” in each category. Winning apps will be promoted to be used by participating organizations and government agencies.

A copy of MAADD’s policy paper can be viewed at


The Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide (MAADD) is a 220,000+ member, next-generation civil rights organization led by ministers devoted to bridging the Digital Divide and promoting economic and individual empowerment in low income and minority communities across the country.


BLUE 1647 is an entrepreneurship and technology innovation center focused on education, workforce development and economic development in technology and 21st century skills.


Public-Private Partnership to Train Women, Minorities for Technology Jobs


CHICAGO; May 12, 2014—State officials today announced the start of a program to train women and minorities for jobs in high-demand technology fields. Called Creating IL Talent, the program will offer hands-on training in web and mobile app development and will make its graduates ready for immediate employment.

Creating IL Talent represents an innovative partnership between the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), software developer GeneXus USA, YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago and innovation hub Blue 1647. Students will be trained using GeneXus software, will attend career readiness workshops and receive job placement assistance.

“Our technology companies have become a growth leader in the Illinois economy and a source of new ideas,” said Governor Pat Quinn. “The state is happy to support a program that encourages diversity in this important base of jobs.”

The program’s pilot course began Saturday, May 10 and is designed for women aged 18 and over who wish to begin or advance a career in web and mobile applications. Subsequent classes are planned for minorities of either gender. Applicants should be at least 18, have a high school diploma or the equivalent and an interest in software development.

“Developing digital diversity is crucial to ensuring that Chicago communities thrive,” said Dorri McWhorter, chief executive officer of YWCA Metropolitan Chicago. “The YWCA is proud to be a partner in the launch of this very important program.”

Creating IL Talent is free to students. Participating organizations are donating their services and DCEO is providing $10,000 to cover marketing costs. Graduates will receive a free one-year Professional GeneXus License, valued at $4,500.

Enrollment is handled by the YWCA. Classes and workshops will be held at Blue 1647, 1647 S. Blue Island Ave. in Chicago.

“The technology sector desperately needs diversity,” said Veronica Buitron, chief technology officer and co-owner of GeneXus USA. “So we’re creating a more diverse talent pool by providing equal access to technical tools and training.”

The program consists of 52 hours of hands-on technical education, 18 hours of optional career-readiness support and a two-hour final exam. Technical education sessions will take place Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

“Chicago is full of talent that is just waiting to be nourished and cultivated,” said Emile Cambry Jr., chief excecutive officer of Blue 1647. “We are excited to play such a pivotal role in developing digital innovators and entrepreneurs with Creating IL Talent.”

Interested participants or supporters should visit

My 2013 Year In Review


In the spirit of my 2011 and 2012 Year in Review, I felt it was necessary to continue the tradition. My blog has emerged from my analysis of technology and entrepreneurship trends to more of a blog about what I’m passionate about and where I’m going. It only seems fitting to celebrate the wins, in hopes that we can continue the momentum. We have a considerable amount of work to do, to actualize our dreams. It’s amazing how many of the opportunities that were birthed in 2011 are starting to hit an inflection point. I won’t go as in depth into every opportunity as I used to, but I though links to the related information would be best.

In January 2013, I was appointed by City of Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel to the City of Chicago Technology Diversity Council, which was my first opportunity to bridge the gap between what we were doing with technology education and how to implement it on a city-wide level. Subsequent to that, I was appointed the Chair of Congresswoman Robin Kelly’s STEM Innovation Council, and recently appointed to Cook County’s New Media Council.

In February 2013, we filmed a short film, Ying and Yang in Brooklyn, New York. Our film screened at a dozen film festivals, and we won several awards, including Audience Choice, Best Short Film, among other awards. Our film screened on several continents. 

We birthed BLUE1647 in July (out of the ashes of a pivot in strategy), folding in many of the programs, projects, and companies all under one umbrella. This made it easy for me to leverage all that I’ve been working on, and housing it under one roof. We were able to ink partnerships with Groupon, the YWCA, and finally launch our Code Chicago program. We added board directors, Harper Reed and Dylan Richards to the mix, and we’re poised to make some noise in 2014.

2013 was also a year where I had a chance to speak at the Digital Undivided Focus100 conference in NYC (which was a blast), and join a couple of boards including the Illinois Technology Partnership and the Ministerial Alliance Against the Digital Divide. Additionally, I was awarded the Fred Hampton Image Award, by the Fred Hampton Scholarship Fund in it’s 46th year. 

We had a highly successful (and profitable) 2nd Annual Chicago International Social Change Film Festival, including selling out our opening night and I led a Youth Anti-violence Summit at Chicago State University for over 300, including city and state officials. 

We soft launched LeftForGood, which is Uber cab for perishable food and we kicked off our 1000strongForBLUE campaign. As my capstone for the year, I wrote an Op-Ed for Crains, almost two years to the date of my previous op-ed, as a call to action for the community to build new leadership and opportunities for those that need it the most. 

It was a great 2013, but 2014 will be even better. 




My Op-Ed for Crains Chicago Business: Black business is fading? Startups and collaboration can be the cure

Two years to the date of my first Opinion piece for a publication, I wrote a second piece in response to a Crains special report that I read about Black business in Chicago. The piece explains my frustration with the lack of collaboration, especially among generations and my hope that we can do something soon to change. There is so much power in our communities, and using the talent that’s eager and ready to make a difference, should be a priority. I tried to focus on solutions, because the problems are well-known, especially among those that are on the front lines affecting change. 

(Original Crains Article) 

Black business is fading? Startups and collaboration can be the cure

By: Emile Cambry Jr. December 09, 2013

In 2011, I wrote an op-ed for Crain’s asking African-American leaders to create an ecosystem that fosters more jobs, more startups and more opportunities for our communities. It’s still lacking.

According to Crain’s Nov. 22 in-depth report, “Why Chicago’s history of black business success is fading,” Chicago has its fair share of nationally recognized African-American politicians, entertainers, musicians and athletes. Despite that, the representation of high-growth minority entrepreneurs doesn’t mirror the diversity of the city. Meanwhile, Illinois ranks third in the nation for our disparity between the income of the top 5 percent and the bottom 20 percent of households. There is no evidence suggesting that gap is shrinking.

We need to build an ecosystem if we want to shift the tide of unemployment and underemployment in minority communities, foster minority entrepreneur and unleash innovation.

The time has come for the formation of a minority-oriented Leadership Greater Chicago or New Leaders Council-type program to mold and cultivate future leaders. We need an Asian American Action Fund-like organization to fund, train and empower future public servants. We need an Emily’s List-type organization that holds current elected officials accountable for workforce development, job growth and ensuring that our children have access to a 21st-century education. We need our analogue to the New Orleans Startup Fund, targeting economic growth in communities that need it. Such pipeline programs would create the business climate necessary for the next generation of corporate leadership to better reflect the diversity of the city. The beauty is that we can do this ourselves.


We have all the tools to create those ecosystems and pipeline programs right now. Illinois features a bevy of elite minority talent. Now we need to put some muscle behind those who are eager and ready to lead. And I’m not referring just to recent graduates of good schools. I’m also referring to the men and women with a commitment to economically empowering our communities.

We live in Chicago, an international city with limitless potential. It’s also the city where 30-year-olds are working McJobs usually reserved for teenagers. A city where youth violence has garnered national attention. A Chicago where, according to Built In Chicago, $265 million in funding was raised in the third quarter of this year for digital startups, while there were $846 million in exits. Despite this inflow and outflow of capital, too few minorities are benefiting.


I am not just trying to identify a problem, I’m also trying to be a part of the solution. I foundedBLUE1647 and the 21st Century Youth Project to provide these very opportunities.

BLUE1647 is an innovation center where engineers and entrepreneurs build and accelerate their businesses, and the 21st Century Youth Project is a program that teaches technology classes on mobile and web development for youth. This sort of community economic development aims to open doors for those who would otherwise have them slammed in their face while also providing true alternatives to those who may otherwise get caught up in the violence going on in our communities.

We need a new breed of high-growth businesses founded by African-Americans to build a better Chicago. While it’s critical to acknowledge the accomplishments of current minority business owners, we should ensure more minority men and women can join their ranks.

We can do that by nurturing high-growth businesses like local manufacturing, 3D printing and rapid prototyping. We can do that by asking all of the leaders from Crain’s report to embrace intergenerational collaboration and be willing to meet with up-and-coming leaders. We can do that by creating the programs that allow Chicago’s most talented men and women to shine.


We talk about the work that needs to be done and only few respond. We’ve already established where we are. Yes, rhetoric fills part of the void, and is beneficial for inspiration, but we need the skill, passion and innovation of those willing to do the work required to pick up where others left off. To solve this problem and many others, it is going to take much more effort.

Let’s pair those who have amassed wealth and influence in Chicago with those who need mentorship. I’m envisioning public-private strategic partnerships and sponsorships, workforce development programs for 21st-century jobs and careers, inclusive events and awards ceremonies to celebrate young talent and established enterprises, and an impact fund utilizing those with resources and willingness to affect change.

Can this happen? I’m hopeful it will, and I’m willing to help any way I can.

1,000 Strong For BLUE Campaign

It all started when we were deciding what would make BLUE1647 powerful, not just from a monetary standpoint, but from stakeholders who were focused on making BLUE a place that we always dreamed of. With all of the bells and whistles an innovation center should have, with the people that are laser-focused on creating products and services to create jobs and opportunities for our communities. Collaboration and forming a coalition is the only way we change Chicago for a better Chicago, one where investment is tightly linked to outcomes, and on true metrics that impact lives, not vanity metrics. Below is some more information linking investment to outcomes, but we feel that the days of qualitative metrics are over, and by us showing everything that’s built out of our facility, we’ll differentiate ourselves from other organizations.

By joining our movement, these are the benefits:

  • Private newsletter with opportunities to vote and provide input on future programming and events
  • Adopt-an-entrepreneur program where we’ll provide a complimentary membership for an entrepreneur, and they’ll send you updates on their progress
  • Special social network to have access to content and programming within BLUE and our member companies.
  • First dibbs on any special products and services built from BLUE
  • Access to the space as a BLUE1647 member
  • And many, many more as we progress and hit our milestones.

Here’s more information, but join our campaign!


The Race to One Thousand Campaign is BLUE1647′s funding initiative. BLUE1647 is a next generation innovation center located in the heart of Chicago’s Pilsen community.

BLUE1647 is already making meaningful differences in the lives of Chicago area people from grade school youth to seasoned business people embarking on entrepreneurial ventures. BLUE1647 needs your support to execute on the next phase of our strategic plan. With one thousand supporters, BLUE1647 will be able to provide educational and functional programming to under-served stakeholders. As a beacon of resource through physical space and curated programming, BLUE1647 is a place where diverse people working for a better world can quickly access relationships and support to bring their ideas to life.


Simply put, our staff and programming generates results, and promises to deliver higher and better returns with your support. Our unique educational background led to the development of a one-of-a-kind business model that promises to build lasting opportunities that you can see.

Here’s what we’ve done on a shoestring budget:

3,500+ hours of business and tech classes

6,000+ visitors to BLUE

Here’s our goals for 2014:

15,000 hours of instruction

1,000 digital or physical products created

100 internship and jobs created

For $25/month donation, we can provide a Chicago Public School’s student with the education and mentoring of a technological expert on a weekly basis. The student will learn the details of the application programming interface for the Apple and Google platforms, how to plan and design an application on various platforms, and how to move from concept to customers. For your contribution of $50.00 per month, we can provide a veteran with job training and relevant skills to jumpstart their career and avoid the common pitfalls of the reintegration process. For your contribution of $100.00 per month, you provide a budding entrepreneur with the resources to develop their idea and into a functioning business, and create job opportunities for the veterans and students who participate in the training and programming that you support. That includes coursework in business planning, marketing, accounting, and tax as well as the back office support staff to provide daily feedback and assistance to budding entrepreneurs at any stage of their business cycle.

Soft Launch of


It all happened at a hackathon we hosted in February. As with most hackathons, there are orders of magnitude more food than there are people. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a hackathon come remotely close to running out of food. The idea of all you can eat for a weekend while you code away is the only way it’s done.

We were left with a dilemma: throw the food away or find some way of donating it. None of the participants wanted to take it home and we were left with a stockpile of perishable food that needed a refrigerator. But, we ran out of space in our fridge and some of the food ended up spoiling and as we threw out the food, I couldn’t help feel irresponsible that we left perfectly good food go to waste.

On the second day of the hackathon, I was determined not to let the food waste. So after everyone ate, I took the remaining food to the a nearby homeless shelter and I instantly felt better. As with any moment where you have an idea, I immediately researched all avenues for donating perishable food. As with any food or clothing drive, we can all donate all of our goods and clothing every day of the week, the challenge was, it’s a pain to go through that process. Then I thought: can we make it easier? Can we make this process financially beneficial to donate? There are 190 million pounds of food that goes to waste every year that should have been consumed at our homes, restaurants, and other venues. There’s any opportunity to bridge that gap using technology. And that’s what I set out to do.

In my Code Chicago course, I decided to build an app to be an UBER for perishable foods. One button click to get someone to your door to pick up food and donate it to the individuals that need it the most. I built the MVP from scratch and after testing it out, I realized that it could be much better with the help of a very experienced coder. So Kenneth Watkins, a member of the BLUE1647 team jumped in and built the real-deal, LeftForGood, a platform that aims to solve the problem of hunger with food that’s good to eat. We’re starting with restaurants as a source of food and we’ll be updating you soon as we hit some key milestones on our way of putting a little dent in this growing problem. With the economy being so tough for so many, with very little signs of getting better any time soon, this is an opportunity to affect change and do our small part in impacting lives. If you know someone that owns a restaurant or anyone that runs a homeless shelter, please get in touch. The mobile apps will be in the app stores soon.

Expect many more of these in 2014: collaborations, companies, products, and services out of BLUE. It’s the kind of community that Chicago will be very proud of. Simple solutions to complex problems. We’ll start calling them “BLUE originals”.

Community Thanksgiving Dinner Recap at BLUE1647

Every time I write a new blog entry, I check out the previous entry and realize over and over again how infrequently I update my blog. Then I write a new entry and declare that I will write more often. This time, I mean it!

Yesterday, we hosted a thanksgiving dinner at BLUE1647 for the entire community of Pilsen. When I first developed this concept, I wanted it to be the exact opposite of a soupkitchen: the volunteers on one side serving the “people” on the other side. To me, it suggests we’re different, which is contrasts with the fact that we live different lives. I wanted rich and poor, old and young, unsheltered and sheltered to eat together at the same table, and serve themselves like a family. And that’s what we did, and we did it well for Version 1.0.

As with this Tribune article on BLUE1647 that was published last week, we could either be a gentrifying force, or be a part of the community. This year, we had our first community dinner and we expect to have many, many more! We had a great turnout from all walks of life, and the energy and love in the room was infectious.