IBIF Awardee Spotlight: 21st Century Youth Project


For Emile Cambry Jr., founder and CEO of the 21st Century Youth Project, it’s all about creating opportunities for youth growing up in Chicago neighborhoods where college is unlikely and landing a job is tough.

The free afterschool program instructs middle and high school students on creating mobile and web applications, while offering entrepreneurship training and working connections with top tech companies and organizations.

According to Cambry, the 21st Century Youth Project opens doors in the neighborhoods of Lawndale and Pilsen, where only about 6 percent of high school students go to college.

“When they think of a computer programmer, they don’t necessarily think of someone that looks like them,” Cambry said of his students.  “It’s an opportunity to create and institution that’s able to transform the community in being a place where students can go that is safe. It also enables them to learn a tremendous amount of skills as well.”

The 21st Century Youth Project was awarded $49,000 from the Illinois Broadband Innovation Fund to help develop an online platform where students can retrieve previous and future lessons.

“It’s an opportunity to take everything we do in the classroom and have it online so they can access it,” Cambry said. “The great thing about that is, for the students who are behind, they get to (see what they missed). What we’ve found is that for the students that’ve been behind in our program, many times they fall off  and they never come back because they’re a little nervous about the fact they they’re dragging behind everybody else. This was kind of our response to that.”

Additionally, students who excel can stay challenged by accessing future lessons, Cambry said.

The online platforms will be available in both English and Spanish to accommodate the demographics of Lawndale and Pilsen.


“We have two different demographics, but we’ll be able to reach them in similar ways and bring them together for different events, different projects and different programs,” Cambry said.

Into its second year, the 21st Century Youth Project has attracted plenty of recognition for its innovative educational standard. The program earned an Edison Award in 2012 and has been featured on nationwide news outlets, including CNN.

Recently, the program announced a partnership with Groupon, the online daily deals corporation. According to Cambry, students will work closely with Groupon’s software engineers.

“It’s about having the opportunity for the engineers to be able to work with the students,” Cambry said of the partnership.  “It’s one thing to take a class, but it’s another thing to actually do something as a group.”

Cambry said the most rewarding part of his project is seeing students grow into a future profession. 

“Some of the most exciting things about this program is to be able to take a student who knew nothing about computer programming,” he said. “We’ve had students who didn’t know they could make an app. They didn’t even know what goes into it.”

But just a few months later, Cambry said, the same student will be challenging seasoned engineers.

For more information on the 21st Century Project, visit www.21cyp.com.

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