Damon Packwood, founder of Gameheads has created a space for low-income youth to get training for IT, production, design and media skills through video games.
Damon Packwood, founder and executive director of Gameheads, a nonprofit teaching tech and video game design skills, is helping underserved youth gain the necessary tools to get jobs in the field. Packwood, 35, from a "working-class, low-income community" in San Francisco, was the first in his family to attend college via the Upward Bound program. He found himself doing college access and youth development work shortly after graduating but noticed that his students were tapping into media. "I started noticing that the students were different around 2007–2008. They were all on the computer. They were finishing assignments quicker and we realized that they were getting their resources from the computer," Packwood explains to CNBC Make It.
Packwood was a film study major, but he was not digitally savvy. He told his colleagues they needed to change whatever they were doing before becoming obsolete, but everybody said no. Packwood quit and went on to create a space that gives low-income youth and young people of color the training and resources to strengthen their IT, production, design and media skills through video games. Founded and based in Oakland, CA, in 2015, Gameheads has provided free classes, mentorship and equipment to hundreds of high school and college-aged students. When Packwood started graduate school at California State University, the tech diversity movement in California was still a very new thing, citing the launches of Black Girls Code, Van Jones’ #YesWeCode and Impact Oakland.
"Nobody was focused on video games," Packwood says. "And teaching game design to low-income students of color has value because when you break apart a video game, you get these different media. You get sound design, level design, architecture, coding, project management, art and animation and motion picture. When you look at the talent that people of color have, many of those are our natural talents." It was his professor who urged Packwood to start his own company and do "strength-based learning," which would help grab the attention of his students. To grow his business, Packwood has partnered with other brands like EA, Oculus and XBOX, which are all featured partners on the Gameheads website. Although these brands have helped with funding, there is more to business relationships than money, says Packwood.
He encourages fellow entrepreneurs to broaden their view of what these types of collaborations can look like, adding that companies sharing their time, insight and resources can also count as partnerships. "I would tell people to expand the way they think about partnerships. Most people just want a partner to write them a check or teach a class. If you expand, you’ll find yourself making more partnerships. And then that’s when the funding will start coming in because people now enjoy working with you. Because they see the impact." Packwood advises people to seek happiness in their professional lives and "do the thing that you’re just going to be doing anyway."
We are excited to announce our Creator & Executive Director @damonpackwood was selected as a #California100 commissioner, bringing his expertise in arts, culture & entertainment to advance @WeAreCa100‘s work to create a vision for CA's next century. https://t.co/f81K224NQi pic.twitter.com/xW45YxisKj— Gameheads (@WeAreGameheads) October 12, 2021
Gameheads is still a growing business and Packwood is not sure whether they have "made it" just yet, but there are a few announcements to come in 2023 and if they get made, "we will have established ourselves." "But, do I personally feel like I’ve made it? Yes. I’ve got an amazing family. I love my job. My wife is awesome. My daughter is the cutest thing in the world. I’ve got a video game center filled with toys that, when I was 10, I considered myself lucky if I had one of those things. And I get to see kids come in and have fun with all of these toys and other stuff that we have. So I can’t say Gameheads has made it, but I know I have."