It's Time for a Digital Rights Movement

Too many African-American students lack basic access to the Internet and technology.

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As the mother of a doting 10 year old, I continue to be amazed by the differences between my daughter's educational experiences and my own. When school reports were due, I was forced to either check out books from the library or consult the family's encyclopedia collection. 

For this generation, the Internet means information on any subject is only a few seconds away.  

Almost weekly, I spend time in public schools like the one my daughter attends. Listening to young children share their future aspirations inspires me to ensure they are provided the same opportunities to succeed that I want for my own daughter.

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I can't fathom the thought that in the richest nation on earth, many young African-American children could be left behind because they lack basic access to the Internet and other technology. Add that to the number of hurdles black youth already face with the achievement gap and it can paint a pretty daunting picture.

The civil rights movement was fought in part to ensure our children had equal access to a quality education. We have made significant strides, but the achievement gap is still too wide and threatens to only grow if African-American youth can't access the technological resources for them to thrive.

recent study from the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project found 79 percent of students are regularly asked by teachers to access and download assignments online. When African-American youth aren't able to participate because their family or school lacks adequate access to the Internet, they can struggle in school and continue to fall behind. 

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With that in mind, I think it's time for a digital rights movement for African-American youth. 

During the Civil Rights movement, students were bravely on the front lines as a part of the Children's Crusade. Over four days of marching, hundreds of Birmingham, Ala., students left their schools to march downtown and talk to their mayor about the impacts of segregation. We can tap into the same spirit again and encourage more resources be directed into closing the digital divide. Just as during the Children's Crusade, young people can make the most compelling case for change.  

Corporate partners like Comcast have stepped up in a significant way. Through their Internet Essentials program, Comcast estimates that it has been able to connect more than 1 million low–income Americans to the internet.

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Mayors have also been on the front lines. In Baltimore, we have invested $2 million in an innovation fund to make the internet more accessible for vulnerable populations, including African-American youth. Baltimore is building our own fiber network and has made investments in our recreation centers and public libraries. Two of the recreation centers reopened with a technology focus thanks to public-private partnerships. Our libraries provide computer literacy courses in addition to free high speed internet access at their branches.

Baltimore was also able to secure a $1 billion investment in school construction funds over the next 10 years. We will maximize the impact of this historic investment by ensuring new schools are wired and ready to help combat the digital divide.

When more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies report they only take job applications online, it's critical to the overall health of the African-American community that we bridge the digital divide early in our children's development.