Black Pastors Praise Tinkering, Rally for Digital Equity

On Juneteenth, Rep. Rashida Tlaib scored loss of ACP, but praised potential open access network in Detroit.

Black Pastors Praise Tinkering, Rally for  Digital Equity
Screenshot of Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., at the rally for digital equity on Juneteenth

DETROIT, June 19, 2024 – Digital equity means more than access to high-speed internet, but requires familiarity with skills to adapt and thrive in a modern, digital age, preachers preached and speakers spoke here Wednesday.

At the inaugural digital equity bible study here on Juneteenth, the federal holiday celebrating the end of slavery in the United States, Rev. Dr. Renita Weems, co-pastor of the Ray of Hope Community Church in Nashville, Tenn., delivered a rousing sermon on the virtues of "tinkering."

Also speaking live at the in-person event was Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, who blasted Congressional leaders for letting the Affordable Connectivity Program lapse. But Tlaib praised a potential municipal open access network in Detroit, the community she serves as a member of Congress.

Virtues of tinkering as a digital skill

Weems compared people struggle to adapt to the digital age with the tinkerers of prior generations, including her father and others of her African-American ancestors.

These tinkerers made do, improved upon, and excelled in their use of mechanical and electrical technologies, she said.

Screenshot of Rev. Dr. Renita Weems on Juneteenth

As a preacher, Weems acknowledged her own technical challenges. She put a Biblical and Juneteenth frame on the struggle for digital equity by comparing the current moment to the role of Nehamiah, the Biblical prophet who supervised the rebuilding of Jerusalem in the mid-5th Century BC, after the Jews were released from the captivity of the Persian kings.

"It was during the pandemic that we had to stay in touch with our family members" though FaceTime and other video calling applications, Weems said.

That was a challenge "for those of us who are not [digital] natives," referring to younger technology users more adept at internet connectivity.

Here is her own explanation for why Black churches need to be involved in the struggle for digital equity:

“You have to be connected in order to get the services that are available. In the communities, the conversations that are going, the jobs, knowing about your finance, getting the health information you need and I want to enter into that area right now because I think that we tend to think of the broadband issue and why Black churches ought to be advocates and involved and invested because we’re online and we want our people to have access to us.”

Rep. Tlaib praises possible open access network in Detroit

Tlaib, the member of Congress speaking from the city, adopted a tone that was both defiant and triumphal.

Noting the theme of Juneteenth, she said, "We are not liberated until we break down policies that are keeping our communities held back," including policies bearing upon utilities like water and telecommunications.

She said that "half a million households [in Detroit] lack access to affordable, reliable internet access," and that "in my own district, 130,00 residents" received a total of $70 million in funds from the ACP.

"That the House and Senate leadership allowed it to expire is a shame," she said, because "access to the internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity." Tlaib is one of many co-sponsors of the still-lingering ACP Extension Act.

She was much more enthused about a potential city-owned open access network shepherded by the Detroit Office of Digital Equity and Inclusion.

Digital Equity & Inclusion | City of Detroit
section#block-views-block-news-events-block-4 h2.block-title, .btns-only .views-col.col-1, .btns-only .views-col.col-2 {width: 100% !important;} .content-refresh h2, .content-refresh h3 { border-bottom: 5px solid #feb70d; display: inline-block;} .btns-only .views-col.col-1, .btns-only .views-col.col-2 {width: 100% !important;} .refresh-social {display: flex;} .refresh-social a {border: none; font-size: 32px;} .refresh-social a i {padding: 0 20px;} .data-driven img {width: 100%;} .dt-yellow {background-color:#feb70d;} Are Your Data Speed up to Speed? Join the conversation in three easy steps. Learn More The Office of Digital Equity & Inclusion is committed to achieving equitable access to digital resources for all residents. Placing “Digital Equity” resources in the communities we serve across all seven districts. Understanding this is an ongoing conversation that will continue to develop as technology evolves. Placing a demand on municipalities across the country to develop citywide strategies focused on integrating the latest technological advancements socialized as common day-to-day digital services and tools. To bridge the digital divide will require a plan that will close the socioeconomic disadvantages directly impacting the digital divide. Our goal in the City of Detroit is to provide residents with digital equity tools, increasing access and long-term digital equality. By placing the resources in community-based organizations ensuring access to affordable high-speed internet, smart devices (laptops/tablets), digital literacy skills-building courses, and IT workforce training (apprenticeship, internship, and job placement) working collaboratively with internal and external stakeholders. City of Detroit Digital Equity Current State Digital inequalities have been an issue for decades in the City of Detroit. COVID-19 amplified the inequalities as well as the divide it placed amongst thousands of cities locally and nationally. The City of Detroit was not unlike other municipalities gaining a better understanding for the need to provide our residents with equitable access to affordable digital equity tools and resources. Rebuilding Detroit’s economy post-COVID-19 will require more attention focused on increasing racial equitable access for black and brown residents. The Office of Digital Equity & Inclusion has been tasked with creating the blueprint and leading this initiative. Working collaboratively with “Digital Equity Partners” in the community. From grassroots organizations, faith-based, community centers, and nonprofits to corporations. With a primary goal to deliver digital equity resources directly to the community we serve specifically residents at or below poverty, including but not limited to seniors, veterans, ESL communities, K12 students and parents, returning citizens and 25- to 45-year-olds. Resources Find Affordable High-Speed Internet Find Certified Tech Hub Near You Find Affordable Devices/Loaners Digital Literacy Tools & Resources Upcoming Basic Digital Literacy Training Senior Basic Digital Literacy Courses Signup How do You Connect To The Internet Feedback Survey What is basic digital literacy level? Digital Equity Neighborhood Demographic Data Interactive Map Can You Speak At Our Next Event? DEI YouTube Channel Watch Live What is The Digital Divide? Digital Divide: This is the gap between those who have affordable access, skills, and support to effectively engage online and those who do not. As technology constantly evolves, the digital divide prevents equitable participation and opportunity in all parts of life, disproportionately affecting people of color, Indigenous peoples, households with low incomes, people with disabilities, people in rural areas, and older adults. The Office of Digital Equity & Inclusion has identified the digital gaps we can provide solutions that will address over 80% of the obstacles clearly defined in the “digital divide”. Our office work is guided by the three DEI pilars. DEI Interactive Data State of Digital Equity in Detroit Use the “Digital Equity Neighborhood Demographic Data Interactive Map” to analyze the demographic data in your neighborhood. How To Use The Map: Click the picture below. A window will populate in a new browser window (tab). Select a district and/or neighborhood or click one of the circles. If you click on a circle the map color will align to that specific search. The map will populate the data aligned to the search you have chosen (by district or citywide). Use the ledger to the left (in gray) to select household type or district. Or you can place the cursor over the neighborhood on the map you are seeking demographic data. Use the back key to return to the home page on the map. Quality Affordable Connectivity WiFi connectivity options Access To Devices Loaner and affordable options Basic Digital Literacy Skills Basic Digital Literacy Skills Residents Check-In How Do You Connect? How Do You Connect to the Internet Resident Feedback Survey 23-25 Locate City of Detroit “Certified Tech Hub Near Me!” Use the map to find the closest tech hub near you with the available digital equity resources at that location. How To Use The Map: Click the picture below. A map will populate in a new browser window (tab). Start your search using the following steps: Place your cursor over the green dot to populate the information for that location. Filter by demographic group or by district, using the ledger to the left of the screen (gray) Filter by “Digital Equity Resources”, using the ledger to the left. Click on the icon you are seeking to find resources. The map will populate the locations where those specific resources are available (gray_. When you place your cursor over a “Green Dot” on the map the information for that location will populate. For more information double click the “Green Dot”, any “Digital Equity Resource” available at that location will populate. For more information for that specific location, click on the; Tech Hub Website Google Street View View Tech Hub Photos SIGN-UP TODAY To BE A City of Detroit Certified Tech Hub. Use the City of Detroit “Certified Tech Hub Near Me” seal below to access the application. 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Tlaib cited a 2018 survey by Harvard demonstrating lower costs and greater price transparency by city-owned municipal broadband networks. She said that municipal network promote self-determination.

"Community owned networks," she said, will provide "democratic control over basic infrastructure."

Gaps in equitable access to broadband for Black communities

The Black Churches 4 Digital Equity (BC4DE) group also released the Digital Equity Bible Study Toolkit, showing that digital disparities remain stark. Only 71% of Black adults have home broadband, compared to 80% of White adults. Just 69% of Black households own a computer.

The gaps are even wider in some states:

  • In Alabama, 17% lack any internet access. In rural Wilcox County, 55% have little to no broadband.
  • In Georgia, over 200,000 households are unserved by broadband, 90% in rural areas. Six in ten can't afford broadband under $60/month.
  • 23% of racial minorities in Virginia lack home broadband - nearly 730,000 people.
  • In Tennessee, 37% of residents have no internet. Six in ten can't access affordable broadband plans.
  • 40% of New York City's low-income and minority neighborhoods lack broadband subscriptions.
  • In New Jersey, broadband access ranges from 99% in wealthy counties to just 52% in less affluent areas.
Screenshot of Bishop Charles H. Ellis III of the Greater Grace Temple on Juneteenth

The disparities perpetuate systemic inequities, the toolkit said. Half of Black workers have limited digital skills. Black Americans are 35% less likely to use telehealth. In the rural Black South, 49% of children live in poverty.

Digital Equity Bible Study-2024 Juneteenth National Digital Equity Bible Study
Black Churches 4 Digital Equity presents the Inagural 2024 Juneteenth National Digital Equity Bible Study.

"You cannot live abundantly nor flourish as a human being, Black or otherwise, if you do not have connectivity," said Rev. William Lamar IV of DC's Metropolitan AME Church, in the toolkit. "We must mobilize so that Black people can participate, not be cut out of the digital economy."

The toolkit shared a Juneteenth liturgy, a Bible study, testimonies from pastors, and a roadmap for churches to assess their capacity and engage their communities.

"The fight for digital equity is intricately connected to the fight for recognition as a child of God," Dr. Fallon Wilson, vice president of policy for MMTC, said in the toolkit. She was also the curator of the BC4DE event, and a former student of Weems.

"Faith empowered actions for justice. We have a divine opportunity to embody faith and justice to create a technological society that uplifts, empowers and recognizes the richness of Black communities," said Wilson.

Broadband Breakfast was a Media Partner of the Inaugural Digital Equity Bible Study. The event was also livestreamed on Facebook.

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