In 2013, six black and brown kids from the Bronx Academy of Promise in New York City took on the odds, and more than 350 teams, and came out victorious after a math app they created for Google Play won Best in Nation at the Verizon Innovative App Challenge.
Now those six teens—who received national attention, fanfare, Samsung Galaxy tablets and money for their school—will star in two Verizon ads that will run during Black History Month.
Thirteen-year-olds Rokiatou “Rokia” Sissoko, Michael Bonnah, Samuel Owusu, Sherly Quezada, Jhony Flores and King Lewis were all part of a Greek mythology club they created when a teacher approached in 2012 to ask them to participate in the Verizon competition. The commitment meant staying after school to learn computer coding, not to mention coming up with a unique idea. The teens decided to merge their love of Greek mythology with math to help kids learn both. The result was Quest Math, an app that challenges the user’s basic math skills to progress past each Greek-themed level. As the user progresses, the math questions get tougher. Answer three questions incorrectly and a tutor jumps in to help.
“I was overwhelmed because I doubted that we would win. It was a long run,” Rokia told NBC News. “And when I found out that we won, I was happy because of all the work that we did—staying after school, coming to school early.”
According to NBC, “African Americans are greatly underrepresented in the STEM field (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), making up about 6 percent of STEM jobs in the United States. And women, despite making up half of the U.S. population, account for just 28 percent of all adults working in STEM.”
It is stats like these that pop up during one of the Verizon commercials starring the children. One of the kids’ voices can be heard saying, “We can’t sit back and watch history, we’ve got to create it.”
And that is just what these teens are doing, because it looks as if making the app and winning the challenge has changed the trajectory of the teens’ lives. According to NBC News, Rokia now wants to be a software engineer and not a knee surgeon. Michael no longer dreams of becoming a doctor but instead fancies himself as a bioenginee. And Samuel, well, he has switched gears from wanting to be a computer software technician to wanting to build the first functioning Tony Stark “Iron Man” suit.
“To see all the effort and all the hard work acknowledged was really wonderful for them,” school Principal Catherine Jackvony told NBC News. “To see how they blossomed from that point to now.”
Watch the commercials below: