One of my favorite quotes is “education is the great equalizer.” It resonates with me as Charlene Lake, our chief sustainability officer, leads our company on its journey toward opening more than 50 AT&T Connected Learning Centers across the country.

We’re about halfway there as we celebrate our 25th Connected Learning Center opening today in my home city at the Indianapolis Urban League, not far from the Haughville neighborhood where I grew up. This is what I call a full circle moment.

My story is similar to many of the students who will walk through the doors of our Connected Learning Centers.  As the youngest of seven children from Black working-class parents, I grew up in an underserved neighborhood in Indianapolis, with limited opportunities for growth. However, like many Black families in similar situations, my parents worked hard and stressed the value of education.

My mom took a job driving the school bus and working in the kitchen of an all-White, private school in the suburbs. As a result, I got to attend the school for free. This experience influenced me to think about how academic achievement can open doors to a better life. But it also made me question why I had to leave my community to receive a good education?

That’s why we open our centers within local nonprofit organizations that support underserved populations within their community. I know supporting students in this way   –   giving them free access to computers, high-speed connectivity and education, tutoring and mentoring resources – can change the trajectory of their life, putting them on a clearer path toward greater possibility.  And we couldn’t do it without support from our collaborators, Dell Technologies, who donates computers with integrated audio and webcams to support digital learning, and World Wide Technology, a Black-owned company and the largest minority supplier of IT services globally, who donates its configuration and installation services for all AT&T Connected Learning Centers.

Connectivity is vital to bridging people to greater possibility. It provides the opportunity to achieve academic success, economic advancement and stability. And it’s the driving force behind our 3-year, $2 billion commitment made in 2021 to help narrow the digital divide.

During my 31 years here at AT&T, my work with AT&T Believes and thousands of volunteers has driven real impact in communities just like mine. Now, as senior vice president of Connected Solutions, I’m even more committed to helping provide even greater opportunities for others to access a brighter future.

Currently, millions of Americans are affected by the digital divide, which has been exacerbated by the pandemic and disproportionally impacts communities of color.

Students who attend programs at the Indianapolis Urban League will now have that connection. We also have centers in Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Houston. We’ll soon open in Miami and St. Louis and are focused on opening centers in Boys & Girls Clubs, other Urban League locations and on tribal land.

Closing the digital divide is one of the great undertakings of our time. And for millions of children, like those who will utilize our centers across the country, their futures are dependent on what we do today. Together, we can change the future. Our 25th AT&T Connected Learning Center is already taking us halfway there.

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Hardmon Williams
Hardmon Williams Senior Vice President – Connected Solutions

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