Empowering Atlanta and Beyond To Reach Unlimited Possibilities
By Broderick Johnson
Last year was full of hard work and dedication from my colleagues and our community partners to close the digital divide. I’m grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with people across the country who are passionate about an issue that’s persisted since I worked in the Clinton Administration. To close out my “digital equity tour” of 2022, I had the privilege of traveling to the great city of Atlanta to spend time with many of the city’s outstanding leaders and welcoming citizens.
One of my favorite things about traveling is connecting with people whose lives are being changed through our digital equity efforts. Atlanta had no shortage of these inspiring stories.
I met Shanard at a Digital Equity Summit, hosted by Inspiredu, a nonprofit that drives digital inclusion and literacy for Georgia families, communities, and schools. Shanard had recently been released from prison after having been incarcerated for more than 20 years. At first, he tried to succeed in his reentry journey without access to the Internet. But because the outside world had changed so much during his decades behind bars, he struggled.
Early in 2022, Inspiredu helped Shanard enroll in Comcast’s Internet Essentials program, which now provides free Internet service for millions when combined with the vouchers made available under the Federal Government’s Affordable Connectivity Program. It was a big deal for him, because it was the first time in his life that he has home-based Internet access. Shanard described his newfound access to me as a “game-changer” in his life’s prospects. Through the Internet, he has already obtained three educational certifications and even started his own home inspections company.
During the summit, I also participated in a fireside chat with Richard Hicks, President and CEO of Inspiredu. We discussed the importance of home-based broadband adoption, digital literacy, and digitally centered workforce development programs. We also talked about digital navigators, who are trusted individuals in the community who can help people get online and teach them digital skills. They can make a big difference in helping people, like Shanard, overcome some of the challenges of signing up for Internet service and the ACP. And we discussed how signing up isn’t all that’s to it; the magic of Internet access comes when people make the most of what the Internet has to offer.
Attendees to the summit also heard from local community organizations as well. Representatives from Atlanta-based nonprofits TechBridge, Urban League of Greater Atlanta, Westside Works, and Advocates for Kids all shared impactful stories about their efforts to increase digital adoption in the community one family at a time.
Sarah Winograd-Babayueski, Program Manager at Advocates for Children, shared an especially powerful story about a mother of two her organization is helping to get back on her feet. Hard times forced this mom and her kids to live in their car and in temporary motel housing. Despite all those harsh challenges, the family’s high school-aged daughter still somehow had the fortitude to complete her ACTs so she could apply for college. Sarah, and Advocates for Children, are currently working on finding permanent housing for the mom and her two children. On behalf of Comcast, I donated a free laptop to this family, and we also pledged to help them apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program once they’re established in a home.
Speaking of free laptops, my trip to Atlanta wouldn’t have been complete without a special holiday surprise! At KIPP Vision Primary and Academy School, we announced that all 500 students from grades three to seven were receiving free laptops courtesy of Comcast. Before the pandemic started, the students at KIPP Vision were ranked at the top of their district for academic achievement. However, since schools were shut down and the students were all sent home during the pandemic, many fell behind because they lacked the tools and technology necessary for remote learning. And, the school itself subsequently fell in its academic rankings. But now, with their new laptops, all those students can get online at home to do their homework and make up for some of the learning loss that they experienced.
At KIPP Vision, I also had the opportunity to meet Muhammad Yungai, a mural artist and parent of two KIPP alumni. He was so inspired by the learning environment KIPP Public Schools has created, that he decided to “give back” by designing striking murals in KIPP schools across the Atlanta area. His images help foster a culture of pride, a sense of belonging, and a dash of style. For example, in one of the hallways we toured, Muhammed had painted book spines to inspire children to grow up with a love of reading. He also painted portraits of students throughout the building so they could see themselves as the special children they are.
As a child, knowing you are valued and that your future matters to others can greatly impact your confidence and success throughout life. Growing up in Baltimore in the 1960’s and 1970’s, I faced challenges and experienced disparities comparable to other Black males of my generation, and even today. I was blessed by parents who refused to allow me to surrender to the obstacles. And, just as importantly, my mom and dad instilled in me the responsibility to give back and reach back. I’ve had unbelievable opportunities within my professional and personal life, but I’m always mindful about where I came from and how I can help create impactful change for others.
This personal mission is what drives my passion to expand digital equity for all, so everyone can use their individual talents to change their lives for the better. I know that closing the digital divide carries with it the capacity to close other divides as well – housing, educational gaps, economic and work skill disparities, food insecurity, health care inequities, and so much more.
I’m so proud of the work we at Comcast accomplished last year, and over the last decade. I look forward to 2023 and beyond as we travel to more cities and support more community partners in helping to get as many people connected to the Internet as possible so everyone can enjoy their own future of UNLIMITED POSSIBILITIES!
Broderick Johnson is Executive Vice President, Public Policy & Executive Vice President, Digital Equity