Connecting the Dream

Observing Black History Month provides an opportunity to reflect and reimage what is possible for our community. While we celebrate how far the Black community has come, we must also acknowledge the road ahead and take the necessary steps to address the issues that continue to limit our advancement and long-term success. One of those barriers is the digital divide and its impact on educational attainment.

The digital divide, quite simply, is the gap between those who have the benefit of using online resources and those who don't, and it especially impacts families of color, people with disabilities, and residents of rural and systematically underserved communities. Imagine completing a job application, checking your bank account, or helping a family member through remote learning without access to and a familiarity with the internet.  These are the challenges facing millions of Americans today and it puts those affected at risk of falling behind in school and in life.

When it comes to education, data from Rice University's Houston Education Research Consortium shows that the digital divide has disproportionately affected access to education for Black children during the pandemic: while one in 10 white families reported challenges with internet and/or digital device access, about one in three Black families were impacted.

At AT&T we believe equipping communities with the right tools and resources empowers people to achieve their dreams. And through my work as part of the AT&T Believes team, a nationwide program driven primarily by employee volunteerism, I’ve seen a direct connection between providing economic opportunities in communities of color and addressing challenges in under-resourced neighborhoods.

My latest role has given me the opportunity to directly address the digital divide challenges holding back many of our students and their families from benefiting from an online world. As part of AT&T’s $2 billion commitment to bridge the digital divide, my team is helping to lead efforts to open more than 20 AT&T Connected Learning Centers in under-resourced communities across the U.S.

These centers will provide students and families free access to AT&T Fiber internet, Wi-Fi, and computers from Dell Technologies, as well as education, tutoring and mentoring resources. We want these centers to be education spaces where students and families can feel safe participating in online learning, look for jobs and more.

So far, we’ve opened centers in Dallas, Los Angeles, Cleveland and Houston. And just recently we opened our first center in Detroit at Jefferson East Inc. (JEI) Neighborhood Resource Hub. The JEI Hub, which launched in late 2021, provides its eastside community with several critical services and resources designed to help keep residents in their homes.

Through our Connected Learning Centers we not only have the opportunity to help close the digital divide, but also to reinforce our commitment to supporting diverse businesses. We selected Overland-Tandberg, a Black-owned, global IT firm, to direct the installation and configuration of the computers at the Connected Learning Centers. They are a natural fit for our efforts as they share the same vision for providing economic empowering opportunities and it’s important for our youth to see themselves represented in tech roles.

Learn more about our Connected Learning Centers, including our partnership with Overland Tandberg, here:  

We also continue to work to get devices into the hands of more students in underserved communities. Right here in AT&T’s hometown of Dallas, we recently announced that we are working together with United Way of Metropolitan Dallas (UWMD) to support underserved, K-12 students in southern Dallas, an area that has a predominately low-income population. We committed $1 million to provide 2,000 free laptops, digital literacy and tech support over two years, with the goal of setting up these students for success in today’s digital school and job environments.

Addressing the digital divide is a societal problem that will take all of us to solve.  At AT&T, we’re proud to be one of the world's largest broadband investors and providers helping to remove the barriers that impact education and connectivity, and we will continue to invest into the people and places that can benefit the most. We look forward to seeing the success and dreams achieved within Black communities and building educational excellence for the next generation.