Detroit Unveils First Eight “Certified Tech Hubs” to Bridge Digital Divide

Detroit is on the brink of a technological renaissance, with the recent unveiling of the city’s first eight “Certified Tech Hubs” signaling a bold step forward in closing the digital divide and cementing Detroit’s status as a growing hub for technology and innovation. This ambitious initiative, spearheaded by Deputy Mayor Todd Bettison, Digital Equity & Inclusion Director Christine Burkette, alongside City Council Members and pivotal community partners, was proudly announced amidst the community spirit and promise of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan (BGCSM) on Tireman Avenue, one of the esteemed inaugural certified locations.

“Equitable access to high-speed internet and digital literacy tools can mean the difference between success and failure for our residents, whether they’re working on schoolwork, finding a job, or navigating workforce training tools,” said Deputy Mayor Todd Bettison. “Ensuring our seniors have a place to go to learn how to use the tools they need to keep up in today’s world is also important to us. Director Burkette is doing a great job meeting Detroiters where they are.”

The genesis of this transformative move was catalyzed by Burkette’s insightful leadership upon her appointment at the City of Detroit’s Office of Digital Equity & Inclusion in the early part of 2023. Burkette’s deep dive into the city’s digital landscape revealed a concerning disparity in the availability and accessibility of critical digital tools and resources at local neighborhood spots, “Our goal is to register a minimum of 30 Certified Tech Hubs citywide to service the 220,000 residents currently at or below poverty here in the City of Detroit,” said  Burkette. “Closing the digital divide will require us to work in partnership with community stakeholders. We thank the partners like Comcast and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan, who have already stepped forward to provide these important tools and resources to our residents and are excited for this program to expand into even more neighborhoods across the city.” With an initial list exceeding 100 tech hubs, a closer examination unveiled a stark reality — not all were equipped to serve the community’s needs, with some not even open to the public.

Addressing this urgent need for equitable digital access, Burkette’s vision gave birth to the City of Detroit Certified Tech Hub initiative. This groundbreaking program is designed to streamline access to vital digital resources, providing Detroit residents with a reliable guide to the nearest Certified Tech Hub and a clear understanding of the unique offerings of each hub. To earn the coveted certification, hubs must not only offer free Wi-Fi and public access to devices but also provide essential digital literacy training within a secure environment. The certification process further delves into evaluating a host of digital equity resources and tools, including Device Loaner Programs, IT Workforce Training, Wheelchair Accessibility, Tech Support, and ESL Resources, ensuring each hub is tailored to meet the diverse needs of the community.

As the initiative took off, eight exemplary locations across Detroit distinguished themselves by meeting the rigorous standards required for certification. These pioneering Tech Hubs are now part of an interactive map available on the Office of Digital Equity and Inclusion’s website, marking the dawn of an inclusive digital era for Detroit. The initiative’s ambitious goal to establish a minimum of 30 Certified Tech Hubs citywide aims to address the digital needs of the 220,000 residents living at or below the poverty line, underscoring the city’s commitment to digital inclusivity and empowerment.

Partnerships have been instrumental in bringing this vision to life, with organizations like Comcast and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Southeastern Michigan stepping forward to lend their support. Comcast’s vice president of government & regulatory affairs, Craig D’Agostini, emphasized the synergy between Comcast’s decade-long efforts towards digital equity in Detroit and the Certified Tech Hub initiative, highlighting the Lift Zones as perfect embodiments of spaces designed to overcome digital inequities and connect Detroiters to essential resources and skills for success in a digital world.

Echoing the sentiment of collective effort and community impact, Shawn H. Wilson, president and CEO of BGCSM, highlighted the organization’s role in serving over 21,000 youth, families, and entrepreneurs. The BGCSM’s commitment to bridging the digital divide and empowering community members with the necessary resources and training underscores the broader mission of the Certified Tech Hub initiative — to forge a digitally inclusive future where every Detroiter has the tools and opportunities to thrive in the evolving digital landscape.

The journey to digital equity in Detroit is just beginning, with the Certified Tech Hub initiative laying a solid foundation for a future where technology serves as a bridge to opportunity, education, and empowerment for all Detroiters.

Comcast Lift Zones across the city make up three of the first eight Certified Tech Hubs. “Comcast is proud to partner with the City of Detroit, Human-I-T and our Lift Zone partners to provide Internet access and support for digital skills training across Detroit,” said Craig D’Agostini, Comcast vice president, government & regulatory affairs. “Comcast has been working to make digital equity a reality in Detroit for over a decade, and Lift Zones are a natural fit for the Certified Tech Hub initiative—spaces designed to combat digital inequities and connect Detroiters to the resources and skills they need to succeed in a digital world.”

“As an organization that services over 21,000 youth, families and entrepreneurs, it is important that we help them and other community members connect with the resources and training needed to make the most of their educational, professional and personal development,” said Shawn H. Wilson president and CEO of BGCSM. “As an early partner in bridging the digital divide since our first Lift Zones in 2020 here at our Clubs, we’re thrilled to be one of the first eight Certified Tech Hubs in Detroit.”

In the real Detroit, Black Detroit, the digital divide is an everyday reality for many. For the longest time, when residents in the city needed to get online, find a computer, or just print something out, the local public library was often their only bet. It wasn’t about the luxury of choice; it was about making do with what was available. This scarcity of digital resources meant that simple tasks like applying for a job, completing school assignments, or even staying in touch with distant family members could become significant hurdles.

Recognizing this gap, the move to establish Certified Tech Hubs across Detroit is more than just an upgrade; it’s a lifeline. It’s about leveling the playing field, especially for Black Detroiters who’ve historically been left on the fringes of the digital landscape. By providing accessible, safe spaces equipped with free Wi-Fi, computers, and digital literacy programs, it’s not just offering tools; it’s opening doors to opportunities.

As Detroit evolves into a real hotspot for tech, there’s genuine excitement about making sure everyone gets a piece of the digital pie. It feels like we’re on the cusp of something big, where innovation and new chances for folks in the community are becoming more accessible right in Detroit’s backyard.

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