Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, the Bronx was known to be home to some of New York City’s largest digital deserts, neighborhoods where many people do not have Internet access at home.
Like the Bronx Community Foundation reports:
- The Bronx has the lowest broadband usage in any borough, and the differences are even more pronounced at the neighborhood level, where 38% of the Bronx do not have access to broadband.
- Nearly 1 in 5 teens are unable to complete their homework due to the digital divide.
- About one-third of households with children ages 6-17, and whose annual income falls below $ 30,000 a year, do not have a high-speed Internet connection at home.
These already significant problems were exacerbated in the early days of the pandemic.
“Students could not learn from home, people could not do telework,” says Desmon Lewis, co-founder of The Bronx Community Foundation.
Desmon Lewis and his brother, Derrick Lewis, launched The Bronx Community Foundation in 2017. The sibling couple grew up in affordable housing in the South Bronx and formed the organization as a way to help support the many nonprofits already doing important work in that community. by promoting more collaboration and organization between them. The fund is designed to be flexible in relation to the needs of society. In the wake of the devastating Bronx fire that killed 17 people, the organization set up a page for donations.
Back in the spring of 2020, the organization shifted its focus to COVID relief, as the borough was particularly hard hit by the virus with New York City’s highest number of hospitalizations and deaths.
“We launched something called the Bronx Community Relief Effort,” says Desmon Lewis.
Irrigation of digital deserts
The Bronx Community Relief Efforts response to COVID included efforts to help facilitate Internet access for more students. “We encouraged a group of about 20 organizations from all areas of society, educational institutions, non-profit organizations, digital equity organizations, healthcare institutions, libraries,” says Lewis. “The Foundation brought them all under the umbrella of the Bronx Community Relief Effort. And we started hosting these meetings every Wednesday morning, and we all called, and we wanted to share the challenges we faced, and most importantly, everything, try to come up with solutions. ”
These meetings helped community members realize the significance of the challenges of digital deserts, and also helped various stakeholders work together to find solutions and deliver technology to students who needed it.
“We’ve distributed and acquired over 3,000 laptops, Chromebooks and MiFi devices. And we’ve also paid for the Internet to keep students learning,” says Desmon Lewis. “We worked with public schools and local private schools in the Bronx. to really get the technology in their hands. “
Attendance at the weekly meeting grew from representatives of 20 organizations to representatives from more than 60 organizations, and the work the group performed and continues to do was formalized to Bronx Digital Equity Coalition.
Overcoming the Digital Desert: The Next Step
Desmon Lewis says digital deserts in the Bronx are primarily formed by three factors, lack of accessibility, lack of affordability, and lack of training in using digital devices.
Many efforts were made by schools throughout the pandemic to solve the first two problems and get students without access to internet-ready devices. While these issues continue, a major concern for Lewis going forward is to make sure the training element is in place. “Getting students comfortable and learning about these technologies is part of the standard curriculum, and teaching students the benefits of learning these skills and where it can take them – I still think it’s a big gap,” he says.
He adds that part of overcoming this digital learning gap will be to promote better connections between colleges and K-12 schools in the Bronx, so that younger students are aware of the high school studies and jobs available, and the skills they must develop to pursue. the careers. The Bronx Community Foundation has a new president and CEO, Dr. Meisha Ross Porter, former school chancellor of New York City.
“After leading the largest school system in the country, she brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the table to help us sharpen our students’ needs,” says Lewis. “So we are extremely excited about what it can bring to society in 2022.”