I recently had an opportunity to participate on a panel during the Detroit Regional Chamber Of Commerce Policy Conference. The panel topic was, “Combating the digital divide: Detroit Disconnected.” Although that particular discussion has ended, it has not left my radar as this topic is very important and the solution is not “cookie cutter.” Nor do we want the digital divide to be the “flavor of the day,” or project of the month, it’s way too important.
According to the FCC 38% of Detroit residents don’t have broadband at home. For low-income households the percentage is a staggering 63%. This is where the cost of the digital divide becomes a greater conversation. Digital exclusion removes the option for people to fully participate in education, employment, health care, politics, business ventures, the economy and much more. Diversity and inclusion are often thrown into the conversation, but we have to be intentional. Diversity without inclusion means nothing. The population affected is diverse, however they must be included at the “decision making” table. The table should include diversity of thought, race, gender, socio-economic status, and people who personally understand how the lack of access to technology shows up in the neighborhood and how it ultimately affects the community.
Last year I helped to coach a middle school team as they were challenged to develop and code an educational solution related to homework. As I closed the door to speak with my team, it was evident that they were not familiar with the concept of coding and they felt very intimidated by the entire process. One student stated, “We’re not good at this, I feel dumb. The other kids are better than us.” After explaining the concept of coding, I spent about an hour working with them on self-esteem and dispelling the myth that they were less than. Interestingly, when I spoke with their teachers I found out that the students didn’t have a computer lab or a technology curriculum.
It was also very interesting how the embarrassment of not knowing showed up in student’s behavior. However I was very aware that the “acting out” showed up as a defense mechanism. These weren’t “bad inner city children” (sidebar: we must not be quick to stereotype and consciously challenge our unconscious bias), these were students who merely needed some insight and someone to convey that it’s OK not to know and that not knowing does not translate into being dumb! Once again, this drives home the importance of annihilating the digital divide. The aforementioned story spirals into so many tenets ranging from: confidence, self-esteem, the trajectory of a young life, and options which could be re-directed with access, exposure, education, behavioral misdiagnosis and the tools needed to succeed.
Often times we think we have to individually begin some huge movement to impact change, and that is not the case. There is power in the first step. As I have a seat at some “tech tables,” I NEVER forget from whence I came, I remember what it felt like to be educated in inadequate facilities, I’ve felt the embarrassment of “not knowing” as much as my peers as it related to technology, I will not belittle the feeling of sometimes being the only woman and woman of color with a seat at the tech table, I will continue to unapologetically defend women, ethnic minorities, the underserved community, and ANYONE when I’m privy to conversations that act as if the aforementioned groups aren’t real people with concerns that matter, all with the understanding that I too have a responsibility to effectuate change.
Although my circumstances have changed, I will continue to ask questions, start conversations, search for answers and implement things that will help and most of all remember that I am every day people here to empower and give voice to every day people.
No one should be left behind.
Marlin Page is a Globetrotting Speaker, Technology Strategist, Media Contributor, Entrepreneur and Author. As a former Coder, CIO, and Founder of Sisters Code, Marlin serves as a STEM Advocate and thought leader on bridging the gender gap in technology and eliminating the digital divide by engaging under served communities. Marlin’s book and music CD, “Always Believe.” empowers young girls to love themselves, believe in themselves, and celebrate their uniqueness.
Speaking and Media Requests: Sandra@sisters-code.org or call 313-575-4075