More than 50 D.C. youth last week built computers they can use at home to mark the one year anniversary of ConnectHome, a federal initiative to bridge the digital divide.
The initiative from President Barack Obama through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is bringing low-cost internet to HUD-assisted communities. The initiative is also connecting 1.5 million school children to the World Wide Web. HUD and the District of Columbia Housing Authority have worked with public and private sector organizations, including national stakeholder Best Buy, to provide tools and digital literacy training.
For last week’s event DCHA, Office of the Senior Advisor to Mayor Muriel Bowser, U.S. HUD ConnectHome, Best Buy, Boys and Girls Club, EveryoneOn, GitHub, and Kano teamed together. The event was held at the Best Buy Teen Tech Center within the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Washington’s FBR Branch at THEARC.
“I know that in this room there are folks who have big dreams and are going to do big things with their lives,” U.S. HUD Secretary Julian Castro told the teenagers. “We are making sure you have every single tool at your disposal” to achieve those dreams.
“The key to the 21st century economy is technology,” said Castro, who added that nationally ConnectHome has far exceeded its goal of connecting 200,000 children and expanded the goal to 1.5 million in 40 states.
The District of Columbia is one of 28 communities nationwide selected by HUD to participate in the ConnectHome initiative. The local program, dcConnectHome, uses a holistic approach based on the belief that effective, sustainable digital inclusion includes the entire family. DC’s approach casts a wide net that includes in-home/community space Wi-Fi connectivity, early childhood education content, college preparation, workforce development, and STEM educational opportunities for youth.
DCHA Executive Director Adrianne Todman told attendees that each person in that room can make positive changes in the world. As part of its goal to help inspire young minds and prepare them for their futures, DCHA will connect 1,500 households to high speed internet by July 31.
“It takes everybody up here and each one of you to activate your own change in this sometimes crazy world,” she said.
Chike Aguh, CEO from EveryoneOn, agreed and said, “You can’t connect to the American Dream if you can’t connect to the internet.”
Danilo Campus, social impact technical director from GitHub, called computers a “jet pack for the mind,” and told the youth that they serve as “your passport to the future and to the rest of the world.”
A rising sophomore at Johnson C. Smith University Devonte Gooding told the teens that his work at the Best Buy Teen Tech Center sparked his interest in digital photography, editing, and design. Now he is working as an intern with the U.S. Department of Energy’s photography and design team.
He then emphasized the importance of access to opportunity by saying, “You open the door and I’ll make my way through. That is what the Teen Tech Center did for me, opened the door and I’m making my way through,” a take on a James Brown quote.
Broadband adoption rates differ significantly along socio-economic, geographic and ethnic or racial lines. President Barack Obama started the ConnectHome initiative to increase connectivity. In the District of Columbia, while the broadband adoption rate has increased to over 75% in recent years, adoption rates in low-income communities lag behind.