Meet the College Student Who Learned to Code and Created an App Prioritizing Diversity

Kayla Thomas is a self-professed "nerdy black girl in high school" for her deep love of books.

Nalo Hopkinson's "The Chaos" and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "Purple Hibiscus" were two books that helped shape her life. Thomas credited books, in a 2015 blog post, to be there "no matter how old I was, what I was going through, how I felt in any moment," she wrote. "A book was always a means of escape. A way to dive into a new world and become a new character."

However, Thomas, began to realize that the characters in the books didn't look like her.

"Realizing that made me feel invisible," she blogged.

Now, a student at Dartmouth College, Thomas created an iPhone app functioning as a directory of 300 books showcasing characters of color and tackling her invisibility issue, The Huffington Post reports.

Compiling a list of books written by authors of color that put characters of color in primary storylines, Thomas learned to code her own app so that young readers wouldn’t have to feel the invisibility she once felt.

"Young people should be able to see themselves represented in literature, so they know that their stories are important and that there are authors who […] celebrate their background and show the real lives of people like them," Thomas said in an email to The Huffington Post.

Her app, We Read Too, launched in 2014 and includes over 600 relevant books with 15,000 iPhone users, and a suggested 1,600 titles to be added to the database, The Huffington Post reports.

"When young people don't see themselves represented positively in books, TV, movies, and other forms of media, that erasure really harms self-image and how you perceive yourself as you grow up."

Launching the Indiegogo campaign, Thomas hopes that she will surpass her $10,000 goal and hit $25,000 to hire a book reviewer to look into suggested books by app users and to grow the database to include 1,000 titles. Additionally, she hopes to introduce an Android version along with a UI redesign, and a website version of her directory.

"My goal for We Read Too is for it to be the primary directory that contains thousands of works by authors of color and various genres," she said. "I want to celebrate these authors and for them to always have a place where their work is celebrated and showcased."

The book guru wants to increase positivity in the book community and urges that there is a need for creativity from the artistic community in STEM fields.

"I knew that if my app had even helped one person feel represented and show them that their stories are being told too, I had done the right thing. This is why technology needs a diverse set of developers making software. We all have stories to tell and we all have communities we love, let’s make technology for us and for those communities."

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Photo Credit: Facebook/Black Excellence