Muhammad Najee-Ullah has long been interested in technology, and he recognized the potential for art, tech and design to engage youth in Baltimore.
With Pop-Up Robotic Gaming Grounds (PURGG), Najee-Ullah introduces youth to STEAM. At after-school programs and events, PURGG lets students compete with teams of robots to gather items on a field. It’s also about learning what goes into designing and building the robots through educational “Design/Build/Compete” workshops that introduce coding, 3D printing, game design and plenty of other concepts.
And Najee-Ullah is always working to add new obstacles (like water), as well as new forms of technology (like drones) to the mix.
“There’s more and more tech every time we launch,” he said.
As a service provider for youth programs like the Holistic Life Foundation and Sisters Saving the City, Najee-Ullah said he is focused on reaching kids during after-school time. He’s working on creating a network of teams that elevates the robotics competitions into a full-on sport. The goal is to have a big influence on the city’s youth culture.
“I think you have to compete with popular culture for the minds and hearts of young people,” he said. “…Popular culture coming at them nonstop 24/7. If you want to combat the ill effects of that, you have to be just as effective.”
In Baltimore this week, he’s getting support for that effort from an international player. Najee-Ullah is one of the 14 social entrepreneurs from across the country taking part in the Red Bull Amaphiko Academy at Eubie Blake Cultural Center and other points around the city. (Here’s where to meet them this week). The program provides the kind of resources that a large organization can offer. Najee-Ullah also sees power in making connections with other entrepreneurs working to make change.
“This is a lot bigger than this 10 days,” he said. “This is really going to spark something.”