Closing the tech gap with Delete the Divide

(News4usonline) – Los Angeles County Internal Services (ISD) Director Selwyn Hollins always knew a technology gap existed. His thoughts bore into fruition when George Floyd died at the hands (knee) of former Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin in 2020.

Floyd’s videotaped murder set off massive protests here in the United States and around the world. The publicity around the killing of Floyd would galvanize the Black Lives Matter movement and force many long-ignored racial inequities to be addressed.

One area of those inequities is technology. Hollins saw this need when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and wanted to do something about it. The Floyd murder seemed to put more glare on this discrepancy.

Hollins came up with a plan and submitted a proposal to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to see if they would bite.

Not only did they bite, but the board of supervisors also passed a bill to address the discrepancies in the county when it comes to computer literacy and households having access to the Internet.              

“There were issues we knew but it just got exacerbated,” Hollins said. “And then to be honest with you, the George Floyd incident occurred and there was an even bigger push to….there were a lot of demonstrations, there was a lot of things being written, a lot of voices. I just felt there was a need to put something into action.”      

In this Sept. 8 2020 file photo, Naomi Osaka, of Japan, wears a protective mask due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, featuring the name “George Floyd”, while arriving on court to face Shelby Rogers, of the United States, during the quarterfinal round of the US Open tennis championships, in New York. Osaka and Simone Biles are prominent young Black women under the pressure of a global Olympic spotlight that few human beings ever face. But being a young Black woman — which, in American life, comes with its own built-in pressure to perform — entails much more than meets the eye. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II

Having internet access is almost a mandate in order to live and maneuver during this age of technology. And yet 13 percent of the people who live in Los Angeles County do not have access to internet broadband connection, according to a U.S. Census report.

Even more startling is the fact that there are individuals or households existing without having a computer in the home. As of the last count from the U.S. Census, seven percent of the county’s more than 10 million residents live without a computer.

“In LA County, we know that there are generations that have not had a computer or had access to the internet,” Hollins said in a 2021 interview. “Even if we got one person in that household, our efforts and our intent is to get everyone in that household aboard, not just the one person.          

“So what you will find is that programs today support K-12, but the parents, the older siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles in those same households, may not have the access and the opportunities the K-12 student is getting,” Hollins added.

Delete the Divide, a program that Hollins and his ISD team lead, is a game-changer in addressing the technology disenfranchisement that many have experienced.

“Technology is everything that you touch and see,” remarked Hollins. “Technology is in everything. So there’s probably something that is for each individual that they may or may not see. That’s another thing that we’re trying to expose them to; it’s more than just taking a course. It’s working with these companies, working with them, bringing them into the communities. It’s a very comprehensive approach that we’re taking to really fill those gaps.”

Filling those gaps means introducing and helping young people earn program certificates from Google and Facebook. Through Delete the Divide, Google is offering certificates in data analytics, IT support, project management, and UX Design. Facebook has come on board by offering a program in social media marketing.

Google employees at work. Photo courtesy of Google

Earning these certificates comes at no cost to participants. The goal for Delete the Divide is to reach 1,000 young people and adults or more to help bridge this disparity. What Hollins and ISD team members Jamel Thomas, Christine Juarez, and Felicia Divinity want to do is make working in technology a relatable experience.   

For instance, if working with animals floats your boat, an individual can apply what they’ve learned in the Google and Facebook programs and go to work for a company like National Geographic, Thomas said.  

“I watch National Geographic and a lot of times they’re out there capturing animals and they’re putting tracking devices on them,” Thomas said. “But that tracking device is connected to technology. It sends back data. It’s in the databases that then has to be analyzed.”

Thomas continued, “So if you really want to do something with National Geographic, the animals you want to help preserve and to protect…if you’re on that technology thing, you can do so for a whole species of animals through tracking and migration tracking.”       

January 22, 2013. Washington, DC –Former U.S. Secretary of Labor and current Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis. In this photo, Solis, a staunch supporter of Delete the Divide, was greeted by hundreds of DOL employees to bid her farewell as she departs as Secretary of Labor. Solis represents the county’s First District. Photo courtesy of U.S. Department of Labor

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chair Hilda L. Solis sees the Delete the Divide initiative as a way to equip those left behind in this space. 

In a statement released in the spring of 2021, Solis, the county’s First District representative, said it’s time for everyone to get on board the technology train.    

“The world is increasingly moving online,” Solis said. “Much of our news and information, opportunities and resources, are accessible online, and yet, so many of our residents and small businesses do not have access – especially those in Black and Latinx communities.”

“The Delete The Divide initiative pulls all of the county’s services, and those of our partners, to provide a centralized resource for free opportunities in technology,” added Solis. “I hope all of our residents take advantage of these benefits and engage in exciting opportunities.”

Going dark is no longer an option for residents living within the borders of Los Angeles County. At least that is the intent of the board of supervisors and ISD.

Taking a lead from its ISD unit, Solis and the rest of the county board of supervisors took up and adopted a motion to try to do something about communities that are continuing to go through a minefield of darkness when it comes to having access to the internet and computer technology.

Maxine Williams is the Chief Diversity Officer at Facebook (Meta). Williams is part of the senior executive leadership team at the company. Photo courtesy of Facebook/Meta

The numbers speak for themselves initially in this regard. According to the Delete the Divide website, there are still at least as many as 365,000 households in the county that do not have internet service. Surprisingly, at least 182,000 households do not have a home computer.

Even with more than 10 million living in Los Angeles County, those numbers are quite staggering. Those hardest hit by the divide are also individuals or households struggling on the socio-economic level.

Statistics show that 13 percent of the population in the county lives in poverty.

That number coincides with the number of people who do not have any type of internet or broadband connection, according to the U.S. Census. Only time will tell when and if the digital divide can be narrowed.

The one positive is that a more younger and technology-savvy generation may be able to shrink that gap considerably. Juarez sees the division losing fast. That’s because younger people are thriving in this environment. 

“I think just with Gen Z in general, I think technology… it encompasses everything that we touch, [what] we do, we see, especially with social media,” Jaurez said. “I think, especially Gen Z or younger generations, we have babies that know how to use a cell phone by six months or younger. I think that it’s extremely important. I feel like people don’t know life without technology, especially our younger generations.” 

Featured Image Caption: L-R: Jamel Thomas, Christine Juarez, Selwyn Hollins, Felicia Divinity, and Mark Colton. Photo courtesy of Delete the Divide/Los Angeles County Internal Services Department