On Monday, Elev8 Baltimore, Rowdy Orb.it and Internet Society DC Chapter collaborated to bring a Wi-Fi hotspot to the neighborhood surrounding a former elementary school in Cherry Hill. Residents within a two-block radius of the school will be able to use free Wi-Fi, and students that didn’t before will have access to distance learning.
“Here in Cherry Hill, we have a huge vacuum,” said Alexandria Warrick-Adams executive director of Elev8 Baltimore. She went on to explain that there aren’t many free Wi-Fi hotspots in the Cherry Hill area. When Enoch Pratt Free Library announced it would extend Wi-Fi from some of its buildings, the Cherry Hill branch wasn’t among the eight initially listed as a Drive-In Wi-Fi locations, so the library hasn’t been an option for internet access during the pandemic.
Warrick-Adams specifically wants students of the Cherry Hill area to be able to participate in The Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom School, their signature summer program that will be in its tenth year.
Elev8 Baltimore, like the Baltimore city and county library systems and dozens of other organizations working on digital equity, realize that there is a digital divide in Baltimore. According to a recent Abell Foundation report, about 60% of Baltimore households have wireline internet access and 40% are have nots. Without home connectivity, many rely on internet access from community centers like the library.
From seeing the need in the community to developing the solution and implementation for the community around the former Patapsco Elementary/Middle School site took Elev8 Baltimore less than a month. Warrick-Adams and Elev8 saw an opportunity to show the community that, “If they want something, we can figure it out together.”
“We function as an organization that’s reclaiming power for People of Color in the communities we serve,” said Warrick-Adams. “and it’s our obligation to reclaim the power around the digital divide.”
Elev8 Baltimore and Rowdy Orb.it both value sustainability in community development. They want a world where their job is obsolete, and the community is self-sufficient. Rowdy Orb.it trained community members Timothy Scurry Jr., 17, and Aaron Jones, 30, to install and maintain the Wi-Fi hotspot for the community in both a customer support and Wi-Fi tower maintenance capacity.
When Rowdy Orb.it works with organizations, they ask, “What is your vision? What is your priority? And how do we build around that, but also look at the future?” said Johnathan Moore, founder and CEO of Rowdy Orb.it, which has done this same project and expanded Wi-Fi in West Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester.
Looking to the future often means tech skills training for roles like data scientist in Rowdy Orb.it’s case. Tech skills build bridges over the digital divide of Black people’s representation in tech, which has remained stagnant despite efforts by major companies like Google and Microsoft.
“I’m excited about not only helping our community,” said Jones. “But they’re also teaching a skill — a skill that can be put on your resume that not a lot of people have. That’s also a big positive of this program.”Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
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