Why Red Hook Initiative is heading to Technical.ly's 'Rise' conference - Technical.ly Brooklyn

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Oct. 10, 2014 2:07 pm

Why Red Hook Initiative is heading to Technical.ly’s ‘Rise’ conference

Anthony Schloss and a team of RHI's "Digital Stewards" will gather with civic leaders in Philadelphia later this month to discuss how technology can make cities better. Here's a preview of what their presentation will focus on.
Red Hook WiFi Project fellows, from the Red Hook Initiative.

Red Hook WiFi Project fellows, from the Red Hook Initiative.

(Photo by Brady Dale)

Later this month, technologists, civic leaders, activists and civic hackers will gather in Philadelphia to discuss ways that technology can make cities better, stronger, more fair and dynamic.

The gathering is called Rise. Its tagline: “How Communities Are Being Changed By Civic Innovation.”

Learn more about Rise

Tucker Reed of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership will take part in the “Public-Private Partnerships of the Future” panel. We’ll also hear from Red Hook Initiative, which will contribute to the “Engaging Diverse Communities” panel. We’ve covered the group’s work a few times. Anthony Schloss will be speaking alongside some members of the Digital Stewards, the team of young people who are building and maintaining a mesh Internet network throughout the neighborhood.

We reached out to Schloss about what to look forward to from his presentation at the event.

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You’re on the “Engaging Diverse Communities” panel, where each of the presenters will be giving a case study. What aspect of the Red Hook Initiative’s work do you plan to talk about? Why did you choose it?

We will speak about the last two years of building the community network and the Digital Stewards program and the ways that our network of collaborators, both local and otherwise made it possible.

We will show how we can develop a technologist in one year, giving them career options and increasing the technological capacity in our neighborhood. Hopefully our presentation will also evidence the benefits of locally governed and maintained technology solutions for communities. Our Digital Stewards (young adults from Red Hook) will be doing the presentation, so hearing about their work from them should hopefully drive our points home.

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One way in which the Red Hook Initiative’s work has been unique, from our view, is its focus on slightly older young people. You have a big apprenticeship project for young adults that are past high-school age but not really at the full career phase. What made it possible for RHI?

RHI has a pipeline of programs to support middle school, high school and young adults who live in the Red Hook Houses. We have seen that this consistent engagement is the best way to help young people combat the social inequities that face residents of public housing. Young adults in Red Hook face an especially difficult road — 50 percent have not completed high school, and 75 percent are unemployed.

Helping them find their way into a meaningful and financially secure career is a challenge that we welcome, and the tech sector is a great place to make this happen. It is also made possible by the leadership and resource development of our executive director, Jill Eisenhard, and the development team, as well as RHI’s focus on community hiring.

What drew you to want to participate in the Rise conference?

I really, really enjoy traveling with the Digital Stewards outside of Red Hook and presenting our work. People are consistently impressed with the young people and the work they are accomplishing. It also has a great benefit for the Digital Stewards themselves — they see how their work is connected to a larger movement of social innovation, they get to network with potential employers, and they see themselves as something different from the representation that society tends to portray of young people of color.

A big point we like to make at Technical.ly is that the Internet may have flattened the world, but place still matters. So the innovation economy tends to cluster in certain cities. Not just that, though, it tends to cluster in certain neighborhoods of those cities. How can we get more startups to take root in more parts of a booming tech city? How long till Red Hook gets its VC-funded success story?

It might be a long time, but only because the story that is coming out of Red Hook is one of technology being used for specific community benefit.

All too often startups are focusing on some form of global innovation or commerce, and we want to develop solutions for very locally focused community solutions. But then again, we have lots of beautiful loft spaces in Red Hook, and I know how tech startups need space for their ping pong tables and slides. Perhaps cities can develop geographical areas of focus for startups, and Red Hook can become a locus of technology startups aimed at community benefit. I would certainly welcome that.

Is there a panel at Rise that you are looking forward to listening in on?

Probably “Inspire the Creative Class for Retention.” My previous career was as a recording engineer and producer, and I started as a volunteer at RHI leading a teen online radio program. Young people have innate skills as media producers, and I would like to see those skills developed to provide meaningful career opportunities. Especially for groups who generally have been left out of the creative class.

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