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Think Globally, Act Locally: This Mom's Fight for Digital Equity Is a Lesson for Us All

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Image: Tanesha Grant (left), founder of the digital equity nonprofit Parents Supporting Parents NYC, and PSPNY Senior Advisor Elzora Cleveland at a recent technology giveaway event at the PC Richard & Son Harlem Superstore in New York.

“I’m not supposed to be here,” says Tanesha Grant, founder of Parents Supporting Parents NYC, a nonprofit aiming to help New York City kids bridge the digital divide. “I was supposed to be that left-behind child, a foster child, but I’m here, lifting my voice and lending my experience with school as a Black woman in this country.”

Although digital equity was an issue long before COVID-19, the pandemic and the forced shift to online schooling made the impacts of the digital divide on children more apparent. When Grant saw how children in her community of Harlem, New York, were being affected, she decided to take action.

A mom’s fight to bring the right tools to every child

Growing up in the foster system and the child of a closed adoption, Grant felt left behind on many levels. In school, she says she was taught that Black people didn’t do anything of importance in history, but when she started to educate herself on Black leadership, a world of opportunity opened. 

Seeing Black and Brown children in her community, including her 13-year-old son, suffer from digital inequity in their education brought those memories to the surface. “I see the digital divide as the new textbook,” she told TriplePundit. “We are denying our children the right learning tools.” According to recent Pew Research findings, 41 percent of low-income U.S. households do not have a computer in the home, compared with 8 to 16 percent of homes with incomes over $30,000. Schoolchildren in New York City alone are estimated to need more than 77,000 devices, not to mention internet access.

In September 2020, Grant launched a fundraiser with teachers, educators and educational justice advocates in her neighborhood, and she started giving away her first laptops a month later. To date, she has gifted $87,000 in laptops to children without a computer at home, about 300 devices in all. 

Similar to the divide between those who have a computer at home and those who don’t, Pew found that 43 percent of low-income households do not have access to broadband internet. While typically thought of as a rural issue, major cities also suffer from lack of or intermittent internet access. And what is available is sometimes out of reach for low-income households. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, for example, “set up $15 a month internet, saying that was affordable,” Grant told 3p. “But for a lot of families, that $15 is the choice between internet and groceries. That’s privilege to think that’s affordable.”

Expanding access to inclusive curriculum

Hardware and connectivity are only the beginning, Grant said: “The digital divide also means access to accurate curriculum.” Learning about leadership and success in Black communities across the country, and from powerful Black voices like Toni Morrison, empowered Grant to find the confidence to speak up where she sees inequity. “Lived experience in our own voices makes a difference in the curriculum,” she said. 

“A lot of times, non-white people are written out of the curriculum, or only taught from a place of despair,” putting Black children at a disadvantage and leading them to think both the past and the future are inaccessible for them. “Black children need to know the success stories,” Grant explained. To that end, Grant scores curriculum using the Culturally Responsive Curriculum Scorecards developed by New York University’s Metro Center. The scorecards help parents, teachers, students and community members evaluate the extent to which non-white narratives are taught to schoolchildren in districts around the country. In the future, she hopes to act as a facilitator to help school systems better integrate appropriate curricula. 

Curriculum that fails to truly resonate with kids is hardly unique to the United States. Globally, an estimated 250 million children leave school without being able to read, often because they lack reading materials they can relate to, or even understand. “Globally, children don’t actually have sufficient access to reading materials either at home or at school,” Tanyella Evans, executive director and co-creator of NABU, said during an event co-hosted by 3BL Media and HP last month. “Reading materials that do exist are often not in children's mother tongue, so they’re not in a language that they speak or understand.”

NABU is one of the only publishers of culturally appropriate early-grade books in mother tongue languages. It works with creators around the world to provide reading materials in local languages, which it then shares via a free, low-bandwidth reading app. “Cultural relevancy is a critical part of the conversation around digital equity,” Evans said. “It’s very powerful for children to be able to see themselves in a story.”  

How companies can support local leaders in the push for digital equity

Even with national coverage of her work, Grant struggles to draw the attention of local and statewide leaders and major funders. To commemorate Juneteenth this year, she took 10 laptops to Portland, Oregon, where she gave them to five Black girls and five Black boys, but she wasn’t able to break even after paying for the travel costs herself. Her frustration is palpable. “We run on donations. If I don’t get donations, I don’t have the funds,” she told us.

That’s where large companies with equity goals can help bridge the divide. HP is working to accelerate digital equity for 150 million people by 2030 through its newly announced Partnership and Technology for Humanity (PATH) initiative, an accelerator for programs that address the digital divide in the U.S. and around the world. The tech giant is supporting Grant’s Parents Supporting Parents NYC as part of this work, donating more than 300 laptops and printers, along with paper, HP Instant Ink subscriptions, and access to quality learning and skill-building content. 

HP is also donating $1 for every attendee (live or on-demand, up to $20,000 total) of an upcoming LinkedIn Live event with Alex Cho, president of HP Personal Systems, Alex Amouyel, executive director of MIT Solve, and Sarah Brown, executive chair of the Global Business Coalition for Education and chair of Theirworld. 

HP also supports NABU and dozens of other organizations including Girl Rising, which works to improve girls’ access to education in 12 countries and reached 5 million people in 2020 alone with support from HP.

“Education is a human right, and we must ensure that every student has access to the resources they need to excel. Far too many people are unable to access the technology, connectivity, skills and quality content needed to thrive,” Cho said. “That’s why HP is working to activate innovative solutions and services with a bold ambition to accelerate digital equity for millions.

“Yet we know closing the digital divide will take trillions of dollars and no one company can solve it alone,” he continued. “It requires action across the entire ecosystem: government, private sector, non-governmental organizations — along with passionate, committed individuals, like Tanesha Grant. Together, we can break down the barriers and achieve digital equity for all.”

“I know what it’s like to be left behind…”

In addition to government investment, the digital divide will continue to require private funds and advocacy. People like Tanesha Grant, with a passionate drive to see that every child has the opportunity to succeed, will be key to success. 

When asked why she does this work, Grant replied: “I do what I do because I know how it feels to be left behind. I’m here to support Black children, empower them, and give them the self-confidence that they can do anything they want to do with one piece of technology. The kids don’t think they deserve for someone to care about them, but they deserve every opportunity. If you give them opportunities, they will take care of everything else.” 

This article series is sponsored by HP and produced by the TriplePundit editorial team.

Image courtesy of Tanesha Grant and Parents Supporting Parents NYC

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