Bridging Tech, Mobility, and Social Divides in Miami
The essential nature of the internet for America’s youth was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when schools all across the United States moved to so-called “distance learning” or “remote learning” programs, essentially, teaching lessons to students at home through online platforms.
While a commendable effort to keep students, faculty, and their families safer from the virus, the move to distance learning also put digital inequalities in the U.S. into stark focus. Many students lacked the computers and internet connections at home needed to access their lessons and schoolwork, especially in lower-income communities.
One person who understands the digital divide and how to help bridge it better than most is Tina Brown, CEO of the non-profit social assistance group Overtown Youth Center in Miami, Florida. She joins Ground Truth columnist and fellow Miamian Alex Roy on the latest episode of the No Parking Podcast to discuss exactly what she’s learned while leading this organization dedicated to empowering disadvantaged youth with new opportunities, specifically in the Overtown neighborhood.
“This was once a rich in culture, very vibrant community filled with African American businesses,” Overtown explains on the podcast. “Back in the day, this is where Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Muhammad Ali, and just a lot of Black entertainers would have to come and actually stay.”
However, as Brown explains, the construction of the I-395 expressway in the 1960s, seizure of local lands through eminent domain, and resulting demolitions to make way for the transportation project, all caused affluent members of the community to move out, and left behind conditions that created poverty and a dearth of opportunity marked by drugs, gangs, and violence.
But by 2002, local real estate developer Marty Margalese took it upon himself to create a “safe haven” for the area’s young people, and soon afterward, the Overtown Youth Center was established.
The Center now offers a range of programming at its facility in the neighborhood as well as out in the wider community, including helping to furnish gratis laptops and computing technology to students for remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As Brown explains: “Kids needed to do school virtually, but a lot of kids did not have laptops. And if they got access to a laptop, they didn’t have internet service. So we actually began to create a drive to collect laptops or get donations to purchase laptops. And we did that. And then we found funding to make sure that families in our community had access to internet service.”
Roy and Brown also discuss how autonomous vehicles, like the kind Argo AI is testing right now in Miami and using to provide autonomous ride-hail through Lyft and goods delivery in partnership with Walmart, could further help bridge some of the transportation and social divides in the Overtown area and wider Miami metropolitan area.
One of Brown’s key ideas: providing transportation for area children to schools outside of the area with programs that would further enrich them.
“We’ve had the opportunity, as the Overtown Youth Center, to actually get our students in some of the best schools here in Miami,” Brown explains. “But the problem has always been, the parents can’t get the kids to those schools…are there opportunities to create innovative ways for families to share autonomous vehicles to access better education?”
As Roy and Brown conclude, as the technology advances to a point where it is accessible to more cities and urban communities, the opportunities are myriad. Listen to the full episode now and be sure to subscribe to No Parking to for more insightful conversations about tech, self-driving, and artificial intelligence.