Events held at this year’s Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s (CBCF) Annual Legislative Conference emphasized the need to engage more African Americans in the nation’s digital economy and encourage them to use technology for self-advancement.
“I believe that technology is one of the most dynamic tools for empowering individuals in society. Our economy and society are becoming increasingly digital,” said U.S. Rep. Henry C. “Hank” Johnson (D-GA), the honorary guest at the CBC panel “Beyond the Digital Divide: Capitalizing on the Technology Economy.”
“I think it’s important, particularly for this generation, for people need to really know and understand the power they have in their hands and their homes to change their lives,” said Jamal Simmons, moderator of the panel and co-chair of the Internet Innovation Alliance.
Simmons highlighted some of the ways technology is transforming society in the education, employment, healthcare, and small business sectors. He also spoke about how public policy and the high-tech industry are responding to the growing use of broadband technology by American consumers.
“In 2011, the President of the United States spoke at the state of the union and said he wanted next generation high-speed wireless Internet to cover 98 percent of the country over the next five years,” said Simmons. “We are on the path to getting that done. Last year you saw wireless carriers invest $27 billion in new infrastructure to make sure people have access to wireless.”
The panel also included technology activist and founding member of the seminal rap group Public Enemy Hank Shocklee; social media personality Stacey Ferguson; “Where Are the Blacks In Technology?” blog founder Kai Dupe, principal technology strategist at Microsoft US Public Sector Regiuel J. Days; Howard University School of Law Professor Lateef Mtima; and senior research specialist at the Pew American Life Project Aaron Smith, among others.
While several panelists acknowledged the digital divide, the comments of others seemed to underscore how the divide seemed to be narrowing as African Americans are becoming significant users of mobile wireless technology.
“What we’ve seen over [the] last several years [was the] digital divide get turned on his head,” said Smith. Smith stated that “over the last several years,” minorities have moved to the “forefront” of society in terms of using mobile broadband technology and social media applications.
But the panelists’ remarks emphasized that minorities should move beyond being strictly users of Internet technologies, to becoming more involved in tech ownership and innovation.
“What I’m seriously concerned about is us developing software – innovating software,” said Dupe. “We’re big on using, we use all day long, especially when it comes to social [media].”
The panelists spoke of the need to develop more entrepreneurs in the technology industry, and engage youth to prime them for opportunities in the industry. For example, Shocklee said that his current endeavors include helping expose youth to music production and technology.
Social media giant Facebook also hosted a session at the CBCF Conference that discussed how small businesses can grow by using its social network.
- Kenneth Mallory is an award-winning journalist and attorney who has freelanced for several publications, in addition to serving as a general assignment reporter for the Washington Afro-American Newspaper. He earned his B.A. magna cum laude from University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in addition to his J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law.