When I was a child, there was no internet. We all had access to the same library for information — as long as we could walk to it and enter safely, that resource in our community was not an exclusive one.
Fast forward to today, and we have so many brilliant children who don’t get recognized because they don’t have access to assets and resources necessary to showcase their talents in a 21st-century world. Unless you’ve lived the experience of having no access, you don’t realize how many people do.
Last week, at Mountain Connect in Denver, I had another opportunity: To see firsthand how the sheer number of audiences invested in a deeper understanding of digital equity have grown. And I had the privilege of sharing a wide range of lessons learned alongside some incredible colleagues.
Until the pandemic, we as a society were largely blind to the experiences that meant so many students were attempting to do homework in McDonald’s parking lots. As a former middle school principal, these were student struggles I was personally all-too-familiar with, but recognized the majority of our country could not see or understand.
Now, state broadband offices across the country are in a delicate dance; challenged to both deepen their community support while attempting to capitalize on a never-before-seen amount of federal funds available to address the inherent inequities experienced by families across the country.
Mountain Connect and the other incredible conferences like it have all scaled exponentially over the past few years. To see more than 700 other elected leaders, industry professionals, and decision makers at this year’s event was to come away with a renewed appreciation of this pivotal moment in time for digital equity and the platform the pandemic inadvertently provided. The horrible circumstances of the last several years have shifted the understanding of these barriers and these inequities forever. They’ve shed light on a generational struggle.
At conferences, I often think about the level of discernment required for all those communities who are new to addressing the challenges surrounding digital equity and inclusion.
In 1999, when Tech Goes Home began in Boston, reaching those who are disconnected was difficult work. In 2023 in Chattanooga, that remains true. At The Enterprise Center we rely on partnerships and connect (whenever possible) with existing community pipelines in order to maximize both our efficacy and the success of individual outcomes by prioritizing our efforts in channels where community trust already exists.
I imagined I’d be working on getting attention for this community-centric digital inclusion work my whole life. Now, I don’t have to be so loud. It is the longest-term overnight success of any project I’ve ever been involved in, and I’ve never been more hopeful.