Fisk, Belmont Universities partner to address disparities in North Nashville
The Social Justice Hackathon will be hosted on Friday, March 24
Sixty years ago, North Nashville was a thriving cultural oasis. There were taverns, restaurants and ice cream parlors, boarding houses and nightclubs that drew the likes of Etta James and Jimi Hendrix.
Construction of Interstate 40 through North Nashville in the 1970s severed the historically Black neighborhood in two, displacing thousands of residents and destroying the once thriving businesses district assembled on Jefferson Street. Much of the Black middle class that had sustained North Nashville moved away, leading to years of neglect and disrepair.
Today, the 37208 zip code has one of the highest poverty rates in the state with a median household income of $22,535. All five of the area’s public schools have reported below average state testing scores and 85% of its children are on free or reduced lunch. It also lays claim to one of the highest hypertension rates in the state.
On Friday, March 24, Fisk University — an HBCU located in the heart of the blighted community — and Belmont University — a private Christian university nestled in one of Nashville’s most affluent neighborhoods — will host a Social Justice Hackathon to identify and address disparities within the 37208 zip code.
Though they are often thought of as coding events (and many are), hackathons, by definition, are high octane collaborative events that aim to solve problems and foster innovation.
“Data is a powerful tool in creating social change,” says Dr. Charles Apigian, Executive Director of the Belmont Data Collaborative. “We are excited to partner with Fisk to move the needle forward and show our students how to use data to solve real-world problems.”
During the hackathon, 100 Computer Science and Social Justice majors from Fisk and Belmont universities will be divided into teams of 10 to analyze data from the Black Wealth Data Center, Belmont Data Collaborative and the U.S. Department of Health to identify disparities and the social determinants — such as income, education, housing and access to medical care — that influence them. For example, a higher rate of hypertension is often linked to the inability to afford more nutritious food or access to proper medical care.
Using their newfound insights, the teams will develop solutions to tackle these issues.
Each team will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. State Senator Charlane Oliver (D-Nashville), Pearl Amanfu, the Digital Inclusion Officer for Metro Nashville, and representatives from Belmont and Fisk Universities will evaluate the presentations on innovation and practicality. Prizes will be awarded to members of the top team.
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The hackathon is a part of a broader initiative between the two institutions — the Fisk and Belmont Social Justice Collaborative — which aims to raise awareness around social justice causes in the greater Nashville area.
“It will be eye-opening for our students and our community,” says Lena Winfree, a fellow at Fisk University and Vice President of the Nashville chapter of Blacks in Technology. “Initiatives such as this, are how we affect real change and influence the leaders of tomorrow.”
The all-day event will begin at 8:00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m. Volunteers are needed to assist students with building their digital presentations. To sign up, visit https://bit.ly/40CT1kg.