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August 31, 2017

Digital literacy and technology education push uptown

NY Daily News
By Jay Mwamba
Instant audio and video communication, real-time media access and paperless transactions are realities uptown and worldwide. And as technology rapidly advances, Harlem’s residents — young and older — institutions and businesses are embracing the changes and the challenges. With institutions and partners such as Silicon Harlem, New York City Council Member Mark Levine tech, entrepreneur Nicole Valentine and the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce, the community is working to keep abreast of the nation in digital literacy.

From K-12 to seniors, there’s a push to empower Harlemites with the tech skills they need to be successful in the digital age.

“The whole nation needs digital literacy, so this is not a phenomenon [relevant only] to Harlem,” said Clayton Banks, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Harlem. “It is a country issue.”

Harlem, however, has a little catching up to do when it comes to internet access. In its latest report on internet inequality, the N.Y.C. Controller’s Office estimates that only 62.9% of residents in Central Harlem and 59.6% of those in East Harlem have broadband access at home. Access exceeds 80% in the rest of Manhattan, with the exception of Inwood (74.4 %) and the Lower East Side (62%). Across New York, unfortunately, seniors are the most disadvantaged when it comes to broadband access: citywide, 42% of residents age 65 and older do not have access to broadband at home. Enter Silicon Harlem and the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce’s Harlem Week. Silicon Harlem’s Gigabit Harlem project offers affordable broadband in collaboration with providers.

And through events such as its “Demystifying Technology” conference series, Silicon Harlem is addressing digital literacy among seniors. Other Silicon Harlem/Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce digital literacy initiatives this year include the "Hackathon and Youth Education and Career Conference" at the Intrepid SeaAirSpace Museum on Aug. 1, part of Harlem Week's STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) initiative. And there was the "Silicon Harlem Tech Meetup" at Columbia University during Harlem Week's Economic Development Day. Held annually during Harlem Week's NYC Senior Citizens Day, the series introduces participants to the digital realm, teaching them about computers and internet safety.

Ghanaian immigrant Marzuk Guira, 62. credits the “Demystifying Technology” conference series with teaching him skills that enable him to keep in regular contact with relatives in West Africa, and even monitor his health.

“Through email and WhatsApp, I am able to communicate with my family. I am also able to check my medical information when it’s sent online,” said Guira.

Banks says that the increasing need to obtain personal medical information online is a compelling reason for seniors to be digitally literate. “Health records are all going online; they are being digitized," he warned. “If they don’t have a level of digital literacy, they are compromising their own health.”  

Aiding older New Yorkers, Councilmember Levine — who represents northern Manhattan’s 7th Council District — has funded digital literacy programs for Harlem seniors. They are run by the Older Adults Technology Services and Sage, which provides services and advocacy for older members of the LGBT community.
Because Harlem is a burgeoning business hub, entrepreneurs there are also directing their efforts to the digital space. For business owners focused on growth, there’s the app Winly, created by Nicole Valentine, CEO of Synergy Business Development, in 2014. It allows users to easily manage, track and communicate business strategy.

Local artist Dianne Smith, who has roots in Belize, says she used Winly to grow her business “significantly.” “It was a natural progression to keep my business organized,” she said.

Silicon Harlem also has business plans. The firm is working to establish an innovation center to support the development of tech companies as part of its core mission to transform Harlem into a technology and innovation hub.

The tech-reliant Harlem Film Company — whose debut feature, “Chapter & Verse,” premiered last February, executively produced by Antoine Fuqua. And the venture is indebted to Silicon Harlem. Film company co-founder and a “Chapter & Verse” producer Cheryl Hill thanked Silicon Harlem for its tech support and for finding office space for the company.

There are also Silicon Harlem digital literacy initiatives for young people – the demographic that is perhaps most proficient with technology. Jessica Flores is a regular participant in Silicon’s Apps Youth Leadership Academy, a seven-week summer course that teaches students app development, technological skills related to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and nurtures entrepreneurial skills.
Flores, who will enter John Jay College of Criminal Justice this fall, said, “I want to become a software engineer, and I’ve learned a lot of things in the academy that will help me.”

“We approach [digital literacy] as an intergenerational issue,” said Banks. “We want our kids, from preschool through college, to have the appropriate education that makes them digitally literate.”
For information on Harlem's digital literacty efforts, visit Silicon Harlem at www.siliconharlem.net.

Read the original article online here.

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Christina DaCosta
Director of Communications
917-553-3328
cdacosta@sageusa.org

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