What do I want to do with the rest of my life?
1. There have been times in your life when you knew you were at a turning point. That taking action could result in positive, far-reaching results. This is one of those times.
2. Most of us are aware of the effect the Digital Divide is having on young and elderly African-Americans and Hispanics. But it’s more than just access to a computer. The Digital Divide is a cultural issue. By addressing it, we:
a. Give people access to the Internet and its resources,
b. Help them use telecommunications/computers to better communicate and create,
c. Allow them to get the knowledge they need to find better jobs and effectively function in our society,
d. Raise their self esteem, and
e. Create better communities with a higher quality of life.
3. But this is not just an issue that affects minorities. It hamstrings the disabled, senior citizens and Native Americans. I truly believe the only way that the Digital Divide can be effectively addressed is if all of these groups work together on a grassroots level. That’s why I’ve changed how I invest my time.
4. Because they’ve already sown the seeds for change, organization like RainbowPush’s One Thousand Churches Connected program are making a difference in people’s lives. The information they have spread is helping many improve their financial and computer skills. My goal is to help take that model to the next level – and start setting up or assist existing community technology centers, to keep empowering people.
5. Here’s how the program works.
a. First, we send mentors (celebrities and minorities who work with technology) into the schools and senior citizen centers. They spread the word about free classes that teach people how to use computers and get on the Internet.
b. Second, we have trainers who conduct the classes. These people will keep an eye out for students who have a gift for computer work.
c. Third, a community liaison person will arrange for these students to get internships at local companies.
d. And fourth, once the community sees what a vital force the CTC is, we can create interest in other types of free classes to build job skills and self esteem.
6. Not only does this make sense on a people level, it’s smart money, too. The prison industry is one of the fastest growing in the U.S. It costs millions of dollars to build and operate prisons. It costs infinitely less to run CTC’s. A center that trains dozens of people to improve their lot in life – and avoid prison – is a much better use of capital than an inmate, who might end up incarcerated again.
7. CTC’s help people in their communities, but there are some barriers we need to overcome to make them work. First, of course, there are the physical assets: computers, printers and furniture. Second, there’s connecting to the Internet. And third, there’s training the mentors, the trainers, and the community liaison people who run the center. The good news is that there is a surplus of all of these resources today. We need a system to manage the moving and sharing of these resources.
8. That’s why I’m here – because I have a plan to overcome these barriers. I’ve developed it during part-time efforts the last four years, including the Englewood NET building, the Jim Mullen Foundation, One Economy Corporation, the Beaumont Foundation, etc.
9. While small successes are important, what you and I are after are the big changes. And although Rainbow Push and others, are powerful organizations, they can’t take on the Digital Divide alone. You need to partner with other organizations – such as Technology for Humanity -- to truly make a difference. And I can help there, too.
10. Networking is my thing. I’ve seen it work in my business and personal life. I love bringing people together to add value to them. If I look out for your interests, you’ll start looking out for mine. And together, we can accomplish much more than we could on our own. I believe that if you form a coalition, we can really connect the disconnected. A network of CTCs can really get resources – human and material – where they need to be. And since networking is my skill – and bridging the Digital Divide is my passion – I’m the man to make it happen.
11. It’s fair to ask: why do I want to do this?
a. First, it’s in my background. My parents were Holocaust survivors from Hungary. I see a lot of parallels between how the Jews were disenfranchised back then, and those who don’t have technology skills today. My personal mission is not to stand by and let an increasing number of people get marginalized. Instead of indifference, let’s make a difference!
b. Second, technology is my business. I know the ins and outs because I owned a regional Internet service provider business called Northshore InfoRamp. And I’m not doing this for any personal gain. All decisions will be based on what’s best for the CTCs – and no other agenda.
c. And finally, this is what I want to do with my life. I want to wind down the amount of time I spend on my business and devote the bulk of my time being a bridge on this issue between minorities and the disabled, the public and private sectors, faith-based and community-based organizations, and high-tech and low-tech organizations. I want to have regular visits with the CTCs to make sure they’re running well – and documenting the changes they’re making in people’s lives and their communities.
12. Now you know my idea:
a. To help grow a network of CTCs through 1,000 Churches Connected and other similar organizations;
b. Forge an alliance between RainbowPush with others that serve minorities, senior citizens and the disabled;
c. And test my theory on “stone soup.” [Recall the children’s story about England in Robin Hood’s time].
13. Here’s what I’m hoping to hear from you today: that you’re interested in further exploration of the CTC model, and will seriously consider a partnership with other organizations and companies so everyone can benefit. That you share our goals and want to participate and/or lead people in a positive direction.