A rendering of Apple’s Propel Center campus with lecture halls, learning labs, and on-site living for scholars-in-residence.
Image: Apple

Apple is backing up its commitment to its $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI) with a series of projects designed to provide training and educational resources for students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Propel Center

On Wednesday, the company announced a new innovation and learning hub called the Propel Center. Apple’s $25 million funding toward this hub aims to help HBCU students and teachers through a virtual platform, a physical campus at Atlanta University, and on-campus launches at participating partners.

The Propel Center will offer a variety of courses and training objectives, including AI and machine learning, agricultural technologies, social justice, entertainment arts, app development, augmented reality, design and creative arts, career preparation, and entrepreneurship. Apple said it will help design the courses and offer mentorship, learning support, and internships.

SEE: 10 ways to prevent developer burnout (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The Propel Center was designed by Ed Farm, an organization that tries to promote innovation and educational equity. The center is seen as the next step in Apple’s partnership with Ed Farm and a follow-up to previous efforts to bring coding and career opportunities to dozens of HBCUs.

In an interview with “CBS This Morning” broadcast Wednesday morning, Apple CEO Tim Cook said that the Propel Center would serve the 100 or so HBCUs across the US and the students who go to them.

“Think of it as an innovation hub,” Cook told “CBS This Morning” host Gayle King. “We’ll work on things from coding to machine learning to creativity to entertainment arts. It’s about giving people opportunity.”

In line with its work with HBCUs, Apple announced that it’s also setting up two new grants for engineering programs along with scholarships to 100 new Apple Scholars from underserved communities.

Developer Academy

As another step, Apple plans to open a Developer Academy in Detroit later in 2021. With Detroit home to a large Black entrepreneur and developer community, this academy will seek to train students in coding to prepare them for jobs in app development. The courses will be open to all qualifying students in Detroit, even those without previous coding experience.

Specifically, the academy plans to offer two training programs, according to Apple. One will be a 30-day introductory program for students thinking of app careers to help them understand the role of a developer. The other will be a more intensive 10- to 12-month program that will teach the necessary skills that aspiring developers will need to qualify for coding jobs and potentially launch their own businesses. The courses will include coding, design, marketing, and professional skills.

In the “CBS This Morning” interview, Apple Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives Lisa Jackson spoke about the new Detroit-based academy.

“Detroit has 50,000 small businesses owned by Black and Brown people,” Jackson said. “There is a concentration of strivers in Detroit trying to build their city back. So we decided to bring to that area the first ever in the United States app developer academy. We do want to give some extra lift to Black and Brown developers.”

Asked what aspiring students should stress in an application when applying to the academy, Cook mentioned such attributes as desire, creativity, and a level of interest.

“You want to feel that level of desire, of someone who really wants to make a go of this,” Cook added.

Entrepreneur funding

Further, Apple said it plans to invest in venture capital and banking projects to provide funding for minority-owned businesses. An investment of $10 million will go to New York-based VC firm Harlem Capital to help its support of 1,000 different startups founded by women or people of color over the next 20 years. Apple is also planning an investment of $25 million in Siebert Williams Shank’s Clear Vision Impact Fund, which provides money to small and midsize businesses, especially those that are minority owned.

Apple unveiled its REJI last June following Black Lives Matter protests over the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and many others. Led by Jackson, the REJI builds on Apple’s overall goals of advancing racial equity in education, the economy, and the criminal justice system.