In a society where technology is perhaps one of the most important factors of modern living and the future, Google Fiber is making a huge statement by ensuring computer and digital literacy is accessible to people everywhere – across socioeconomic and ethnic lines. To ensure a technology savvy world, Google Fiber supports PowerMyLearning. A national nonprofit, PowerMyLearning, is a part of the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a program funded by Google Fiber in partnership with the Nonprofit Technology Network (NTEN).
NTEN and Google Fiber developed the fellowship program in 2015 to bridge the digital divide in America, where an estimated 60 million people do not have Internet. Yet 62 percent of the country relies on this technology to do their jobs, 54 percent use it to find jobs and 45 percent use it to apply for jobs. Beyond that, the Internet is essential for completing homework assignments, connecting with family, paying bills and more.
A real-world problem, the digital divide is even more prominent among African-American households and denies lower-income citizens access and abilities necessary in today’s society. On average, 74.5 percent of non-African American households have a computer with Internet connectivity, yet only 61.3 percent of African American households are connected. This percentage places African-American households as the least connected in all of America, according to a U.S. Census Report.
That is why Google Fiber partnered with NTEN on the Digital Inclusion Fellowship. Today, Fellows offer classes at no cost to participants and help them learn basic computer and Internet skills as well as advanced certification in particular computer software. In total, nearly 200 adults have been trained in computer literacy. And across the country, Digital Inclusion Fellows have trained nearly 10,000 individuals.
Understanding the importance of community, the Digital Inclusion Fellowship program is fueled by 22 Fellows across the country, in cities like Atlanta, who teach computer and digital literacy programs to local learners. At the core of PowerMyLearning are individuals like Felicia Tillman, a 40 year old Atlanta resident, who left a successful career as a civil engineer to mentor young students at local Atlanta Public Schools. According to Felicia, “Sitting on the CTAE (Career, Technical, Arts & Education) Board, I noticed that complex youth traumas stifled learning well into adulthood. A former foster child myself, I was inspired to return to school and study resilience in underserved youth, so I earned a master’s degree in counseling and am now a Ph. D. candidate at Mercer studying counselor education and supervision. PowerMyLearning gives me the opportunity to make a meaningful change and sets the standard for community engagement and ensuring people everywhere have much needed access to technology.”
Digital literacy education helps individuals understand the relevance and benefits of Internet access, but reliable connectivity can propel them toward digital independence. In an effort to reach lesser-connected parts of Atlanta, Google Fiber is using existing infrastructure to connect apartment buildings in East Point and College Park and building infrastructure to serve homes in named “Fiberhoods” including Old Fourth Ward and Hapeville.
Through the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, Google Fiber and NTEN fund partnerships with retailers and community centers, such as the Kupcakerie in East Point which provides open lab space and connectivity for students in that community. And to ensure that literacy education has a lasting impact outside of the lab, PowerMyLearning provides graduates free or deeply discounted WiFi-enabled computers loaded with educational software. Through their work in Atlanta, Fellows have made an immediate impact on the lives of many. Take 22-year-old Atlanta resident Anthony Johnson. After serving a six-year prison sentence, Johnson was ready to take his life in a new direction and begin pursuing his lifelong dream of becoming a mechanical engineer. To get there, he needed to build a digital and computer literacy foundation.
He registered for Felicia’s digital literacy program and never missed a class. He used his new skills to find and apply for local jobs, allowing him to begin the path toward achieving his dream.
Then, there’s Lorraine Rodgers. Encouraged by future job security and aspirations for her family, she enrolled in Felicia’s program through PowerMyLearning to learn more about computers and Internet skills. Lorraine is a resident of City of Refuge, an Atlanta nonprofit committed to social transformation that provides housing for the homeless and victims of human trafficking.
Prior to enrolling in the program, Lorraine had never even touched a computer. Now, she’s well-versed in the basic skills required to use the Internet and is teaching these skills to others in her family.
These are just two examples of countless individuals the Digital Inclusion Fellowship has touched both in Atlanta and across the country. Since 2015, the program has provided Fellows for a number of Metro Atlanta organizations, including Literacy Action and PowerMyLearning. Google Fiber and NTEN recently announced funding for full-time Fellows to support six Atlanta-area African-American churches.
We certainly are not done yet and still have a ways to go. But one class, one community and one life at a time, these organizations are making a difference.
At a recent visit to a local grocery store, Felicia was grabbing a quick bite to eat when she heard someone call out, “Ms. Felicia!” She turned around to find Anthony Johnson, now embracing her, donning a Kroger blue polo and a grin from ear-to-ear.
That job he applied for after completing the program? He got it.