By Marcella McCarthy
When Gregory Johnson, a "self-taught" Miami-based coder, witnessed the catastrophic launch of Healthcare.gov and later its reboot by private-sector engineers, he realized that when exceptional problem solvers come together, tech can be used to do a lot of good.
It was then and there that he decided he wanted to combine his love of tech with his passion for social impact, a value he developed while growing up in a tight-knit Caribbean community in Miami Gardens. He was born in the Bahamas to Jamaican parents and moved to Miami when he was 2 years old.
Today, Johnson, and the organization he founded -- Code for South Florida, which, with a network of volunteers, builds tech products to improve our community -- were awarded a $1,000 #Tech4Good grant from the Awesome Foundation in partnership with Refresh Miami. The project he pitched is called BadgeWatch, a web app (and soon to be a website) that allows people to type in a police officer’s badge number or name, and pull-up the officer’s disciplinary history. [Read more about Code for South Florida here.]
“It took us less than 48 hours to build the prototype. All the data we pulled is public, but we just made it accessible,” Johnson said. What took longer though, were the conversations and planning to figure out what exactly to build and how to build it. “Empathy is our [Code for South Florida’s ] operating system,” he said, adding that they always build products with the input from those the tool is meant to serve.
Code for South Florida will use the money to keep the product alive. “Starting things is easy. Sustaining things is hard,” Johnson said.
Maria Derchi Russo, the Executive Director of Refresh Miami, shared why they chose BadgeWatch as the winner.
“We’re very excited about the potential for BadgeWatch to leverage data in a way that makes our community safer and more transparent. We hope this grant helps expand the reach and capability of this important initiative,” said Derchi Russo.
“Liberty City VR is an interactive experience allowing audiences to interact with and learn about Miami’s historic Liberty City by traveling in time through various historical periods and events taking place from the 1940s to the 1980s,” said Esson in her pitch.
“STEM Access For Girls, Youth Enrichment and Development (YED) program will provide science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) industry-focused learning opportunities to girls in the Greater Miami community for the purpose of preparing youth for personal, professional, and economic success,” said Gourdet in her pitch.
Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, who founded the Miami chapter of Awesome Foundation, has a passion for social impact, exemplified by her various endeavors from the opening of the foundation’s chapter in Miami, to launching and running CIC Miami for several years.
“It is clear enough that we are living in an exponentially digital age, and we see daily how much technology can act as an accelerant for purposeful impact. Separately, at Awesome Foundation, we believe that those closest to a given context have the most relevant perspective on what is happening and how, which is why we are so passionate about funding small, local, grassroots ideas. At the intersection of these two realities, it seemed exciting to revisit the #Tech4Good grant we first did in 2014 and support local ideas that apply technological solutions to community challenges or opportunities. We believe that bridging these perspectives has the potential to move the needle in inspiring ways for Miami, and we hope to do it more often,” said Martinez-Kalinina.