Diversity & Inclusion
Education / Women in tech / Youth

How emoji helped girls start a conversation about bullying

At the first Decode Me Space event, participants created emoji to convey their feelings. Founder Kathleen Mazurek created the venture to help foster social and emotional learning.

Charlotte James talks mentorship with a #bmoretech panel. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

On Saturday afternoon, a group of women – some young, some adults – gathered at Open Works. They spent part of the morning creating emoji. Then, they heard from leaders in the Baltimore tech community including Shervonne Cherry of Spark Baltimore, Charlotte James of Code in the Schools and Crystal Coache of Allovue about mentoring. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby also stopped by to speak to the group.

The session was the first for Decode Me Space. It’s a startup founded by Kathleen Mazurek that’s designed to help girls get to the root of bullying. The project received a microgrant from SmartLogic’s Baltimore Women in Tech program.
As an artist and educator in Baltimore city over the last decade (including with tech community stalwarts like Liberty Elementary and Digital Harbor Foundation), Mazurek has seen how bullying doesn’t always fit into neatly defined definitions. In one reflection on Saturday, a participant wrote about how being bullied led her to become a bully, herself.
They’re also hard conversations that are often not out in the open. “We talk about it but we don’t,” she said.
That plays into the larger need to focus more on social and emotional learning, which doesn’t often get class time.
“Building in conversation to talk about hurt, being aware of your emotions and having that built into conversations everyday was always something I wanted to explore,” Mazurek said.

A reflection from Decode Me Space's first event.(Courtesy photo)

A reflection from Decode Me Space’s first event.(Courtesy photo)

With Decode Me Space, Mazurek is looking to help unpack those emotions. The workshop on Saturday where participants created emoji to address bullying was one example. Two more activities are planned in the coming weeks:

  • A songwriting workshop on Saturday, Sept 23, at Motor House with Eze Jackson, Unique Robinson from DewMore, and Kariz Marcel. (Registration info)
  • A workshop at GLCCB on Sept. 29 that will center on working with LGBT youth to build a YouTube channel. Going forward, they will meet on the fourth Friday every month.

Mazurek plans to create a website where the results of the workshop will be uploaded to provide a place to share it with the general public.
As the panel discussion on mentoring at Saturday’s session suggests, Mazurek also wants to encourage participants to collaborate with each other, and seek out others for support. Prior to the panel, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby spoke about leadership, shared advice about dealing with conflict and took questions.
“The Decode Me Space provides an amazing opportunity to young girls in our city by exposing them to technology and technical careers, where women are tremendously underrepresented, while reflecting on common experiences such as bullying,” Mosby said in a statement. “This innovative approach vastly helps their personal and professional development, and provides tools to deescalate situations that stem from bullying.”

Kathleen Mazurek (Courtesy photo)

Kathleen Mazurek (Courtesy photo)

As she moves forward, Mazurek said she wants the programs that the company creates that can fit alongside other programs, whether in school or outside at a variety of places. And she recognizes that her venture – as well as the issues it addresses – don’t happen on their own. So she wants to create space for other groups to cross-promote what they are doing.
“Hopefully this can be a good entry point, and be a conduit and something that could lock in with a lot of interesting projects,” she said.


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