PORTLAND, Maine — When Janay Woodruff attended the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City back in 2019, she was utterly in awe.
"I got to work at the event as a small worker bee at someone else’s amazing thing and I was just blown away because it’s the best minds." Woodruff said.
While the event was memorable, Woodruff said something else stuck out to her. She didn't see any women of color represented at the festival.
Woodruff said she instantly started thinking about what she could do to change that.
"I just didn’t see anyone who looked like me," Woodruff said. "We weren’t in the stories and we weren’t the creators. We weren’t even working the event or attending the event."
So she did some research.
"I saw women of color make up less than 5% of the workforce, even though we consume this tech," Woodruff said. "We buy it for families we enjoy and I’m thinking, 'OK, I’m scrapping my plans for Janay Sounds to do her own thing and I’m going to make a nonprofit'."
That Portland-based nonprofit is Coding by Young Women of Color. Its goal is to educate, empower and engage young women of color in computer science and emerging tech. Woodruff officially got it off the ground during the pandemic.
"If you are curious at all about this field, come," she said. "We would like to be a part of your journey no matter where you’re at. We’ll teach you if you don’t know much. We’ll give you experience if that is what you need. We just really want to lift others and everyone is welcome."
The most recent fundraiser, "Exhibition A," featured a number of up-and-coming Maine musicians and artists. The experience is presented in VR, or virtual reality, and showcases Maine's growing music scene. Woodruff said that because this might be the first time a woman of color would experience VR, it was important to make sure they were represented in the experience.
"It’s an intimate, intimate concert shot here in Maine so you’re going to recognize the places inside the experience," she said. "Our friends at Storyboard let us use this really awesome 360 camera you can grab, so, that’s where you might feel like I’m giving you a hug or lifting you up. You won’t feel queasy though."
"I feel like the more perspectives we have the richer a story will be. I mean, we all can learn from each other. I think different faces, different perspectives actually let us know that there’s less differences and more similarities among all of us."
Woodruff was on to something.
Exhibition A debuted in New York City at the Tribeca Film Festival's Immersive Tribeca this week and received the Best of Season award.
Woodruff hopes those who see it are inspired to join her and her cause.
"I hope they say, 'Wow, this is cool. I want to build this,'" she said. "Give us a call and we can show them how. Or if they say, ‘I’m an artist and I want something like this for my music,' again, call us because we would love to make that for you. We just want to make art with good people and use the resources we have to lift everyone up."