Connect 313 Funds Early STEM Camps for Detroit Middle Schoolers

Connect 313 Funds Early STEM Camps for Detroit Middle Schoolers

Just before the pandemic shut everything down in 2020, Cleary University’s Detroit Education Center launched a special STEM program for the area’s middle schoolers. The idea was to use LEGOs as literal building blocks to expose naturally curious fifth through eighth graders to the elements of basic robotics and computer coding.

“It’s important to Cleary University that it makes a difference in the communities it serves,” said Latasha Ellis, director at the DEC. “We started this program to provide STEM learning for students in underserved areas where there might not be exposure to this type of activity.”

Classes were online until 2021, and then schools across Michigan began returning to in-person teaching. But for Ellis, the program’s earlier switch to a virtual setting had revealed a gaping digital divide.

Understanding the value of STEM education in addressing the divide, Ellis contacted Connect 313 to request funding support. In response, Connect 313 provided a generous grant of $18,500, which Cleary was able to use for STEM camp scholarships, supplies, and the children’s lunchtime meals. Today, Critical Thinking with LEGO® is a popular program with two week-long camps in the summer and two six-week weekend programs throughout the winter. Since 2020, more than 100 children have participated.

Under the instruction of Cleary University professors, students use LEGO blocks to build robots or cars and then code them to move. Coding can include instructions to pickup a block, push a swing, cross a bridge, or even dance.

“Every child knows and loves LEGOs and that makes them a great way to introduce new concepts and ways of thinking,” Ellis said. “In this program, we’re exposing kids to coding, teamwork, problem-solving, conflict resolution, and a host of experiences that will help them be successful in just about every part of their lives.”

Both winter and summer camps are held at Cleary’s DEC location in the Durfee Innovation Society, next to Central High School where neighborhood children are given the first opportunity to enroll.

“We give kids in the Central High community the first chance to register so that if there is limited access to transportation, they can still participate,” Ellis explained.

And participation is what it’s all about for Ellis and the team at Cleary University. By providing Detroit middle school students with access to technology, Cleary, with the support of Connect 313, is fostering a digitally included community.


This summer, camps are June 26 – 30, and July 10 – 14, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Durfee Innovation Society, 2470 Collingwood St, Detroit, MI 48206. Lunch is provided. Call 800-686-1883 for more information or to register or use the QR codes below.

Read More

Closing the Digital Divide is Music to Alvin Lockett’s Ears

Closing the Digital Divide is Music to Alvin Lockett’s Ears

“There is no place like Detroit,” says Alvin Lockett, who is better known as “Aj.”

Aj is vice chair of the Devices and Connectivity Committee at Connect 313. He was born and raised in Detroit and has had a passion for technology for as long as he can remember. 

“So many people and organizations need access to technology, and I wanted to be part of the team that makes that possible. Lack of access is a barrier, and to be a solution to that problem is so enjoyable,” he says.

Aj is a Mosaic Youth Theater of Detroit alumnus, and executive director of RTTM Community Center, a Detroit nonprofit that builds hope and access through resident introductions to news industries, individuals and ideas. Additionally, Lockett leads Que Blackout, a youth theater nonprofit focusing on technical theater and content creation. 

“My love of technology and arts merged, and seeing young people create and find jobs in tech, theater and marketing makes my day.”

Lockett initially got involved with Connect 313 at Digital Inclusion Week. After learning more about the program’s mission to bridge the digital divide and connect people with the resources they need – he knew he wanted to play a more prominent role.

In his position at Connect 313, Aj helps grassroots connectivity efforts by ensuring funding goes to organizations that need it the most. 

“As much as I love my city, there can be a considerable gap between the haves and have-nots,” he says. “The Devices and Connectivity team’s goal is to help organizations that fall within the $50,000 to $100,000 range, that target families and communities that need extra help.” 

For Aj, it’s fulfilling work he wants everyone to be part of.

“My life’s mission is to provide hope and access. As part of this team, I can help more people have both,” he says. “I hope others find a way to get involved. Every action builds upon the next; we look up, and it’s a movement.”

Read More
Richard Ramirez

Policy and Advocacy Thrive with Partnerships Across the Community

Policy and Advocacy Thrive with Partnerships Across the Community

When Richard Ramirez isn’t serving as vice chair of Connect 313’s policy, advocacy and ecosystem committee, he’s busy at DTE Energy as head of innovation and technology, and IT corporate social responsibility activities. 

As such, he’s gotten a bird’s eye view of the benefits of digital access and connectivity and conversely, the significant challenges to neighborhoods and residents encountering digital gaps.  

In late 2021, a DTE colleague tapped Ramirez to gauge his interest in supporting Connect 313. She believed the organization’s mission to close Detroit’s digital divide aligned perfectly with Ramirez’s passion for tech equity. He agreed.

Now, Ramirez will lend his penchant for giving back to the community – something he learned from his parents while hopscotching across Texas – to support the efforts of the policy committee’s previous work and fully understand what’s happening at local, state and federal levels to address the digital divide.  

“It’s critical that we recognize the constructs supporting city, county and state organizations, and policies being enacted to help provide access to digital equipment, support digital literacy and enable digital connectivity. Then we can figure out where new policy is needed, or whether we augment and advocate for current policies to have broader and deeper impact here,” Ramirez said.

What’s more, Ramirez sees this role as an opportunity to help ensure activation happens outside of a vacuum and in the right places. 

“For me, this role is best approached collaboratively, both with partners in the community, and across other committees within Connect 313. In that way we can leverage opportunities and connect the dots for folks so that more people can achieve their maximum potential.” 

Ramirez says he will measure success by the degree to which he has motivated people to action, created change and positioned Connect 313 as a model for organizations pursuing similar goals. 

Detroit has been home to Ramirez and his family for nine years, after his wife’s career brought them to the city. But he fondly remembers his time camping as a child in Texas and his parents teaching him to always leave a place better than how he found it. That’s part of his impetus today. 

“That lesson has always resonated with me. Whether it’s the natural world or the community around me, finding ways in which to make people’s lives better and richer brings such joy to our own lives.”

Read More

“The Work that Connect 313 Does is One of a Kind”

“The Work that Connect 313 Does is One of a Kind”

As the new Vice Chair of Connect 313’s Digital Literacy & Skilling Committee, Asia Browner is helping Detroiters learn digital literacy skills to improve their everyday lives. 

“Digital Literacy & Skilling is very broad but encompasses everything,” she says. “Connect 313 wants every Detroiter to be fully digital.”

Asia is a native Detroiter and a graduate of Cass Tech High School. After Cass Tech, she attended Howard University, Wayne State, Walsh College, Wayne County Community College District, and the University of South Florida. Professionally, she has held various positions in Information Technology from help desk to network architecture to project manager. 

She considers herself a ‘solutions-oriented’ computer professional and has expertise in IT, information security, and relationship building. She currently works in Wayne County Community College District’s Student Success Center where she serves as an advisor, data analyst, and project manager. 

“Over the past 10 years I have been working with the youth in various programs getting them skilled and computer literate,” Asia says. “With my information technology background, I was usually one of the few persons of color in the room and usually none of those people were from Detroit.”

Asia joined Connect 313 in January after a friend recommended she get involved. Since joining, she has formed a committee and is excited to get to work.

“The work that Connect 313 does is one of a kind,” she says. “To mix government, the business community, and the philanthropic community speaks of the devotion that Connect 313 has in making Detroiters digital.”

As she steps into her new role, Asia hopes to expand Connect 313’s reach and exposure even more. 

“Detroit is very rich in history. I love the people of Detroit and their grit, drive, and tenacity,” she says. “[Connect 313] will help the quality of life for all the residents of Detroit.”

Outside of the digital world, Asia loves to bake cakes. She makes a mean German chocolate cake among many others.

For help with digital literacy, a great place to start is Connect 313’s Digital Literacy Playbook. You can access it free of charge by clicking here.

Read More

Meet Phyllis Edwards, An Advocate and Problem Solver

Meet Phyllis Edwards, An Advocate and Problem Solver

Phyllis Edwards makes no bones about her high-tech capabilities. Yes, she knows her way around an electronic device, and she can effectively use the internet, but she doesn’t consider herself “tech savvy.” That’s why she got involved with Connect 313.

Edwards is the 2023 chair of Connect 313’s Policy, Advocacy and Ecosystems committee. She brings to the role a lifetime of activity on behalf of people whose voices aren’t getting heard.

Most recently the executive director of Bridging Communities, a Detroit nonprofit that supports equitable housing, Edwards now serves as a project development consultant focused on eldercare and community development.

“When COVID-19 hit, I realized that my senior citizens, thegrandparents, didn’t have connectivity to technology to help their grandchildren with homework,” Edwards shared. “I alsoknew that online access, and the right tech devices for telehealth,were not an option and that social isolation was going to be an issue.”

Always an advocate and problem solver, she began looking for a solution and knew she had to get involved.

Edwards first encountered Connect 313 early in its formation, learning more about the ambassador program, attending meetings and later, establishing a tech hub at Bridging Communities. When she participated in the 2022 Detroit Digital Inclusion Week, she was convinced the timing was right for a deeper engagement.

“I’m interested in systemic change, so when the policy and advocacy committee became available, I signed up and was elected to lead the group’s activities. I believe that people who want to make changes need to be at the table when those changes are being made. That’s what I’m working on at Connect 313,” Edwards said.

It’s no surprise that this energetic and passionate advocate raised her hand to volunteer. Her first career was in Michigan’s child protective services and its foster program. While there, and because she traveled throughout state, she served as a culture ambassador to help build inclusion and diversity across state employee ranks.

What’s more, Edwards understands the ever-shifting dynamics of policy and funding within the nonprofit space. While at Bridging Communities, she was able to align the organization with the credentials needed to be competitive for available fundsin the Detroit market.

Now, she gearing-up for her new role at Connect 313.

“I’m in the process of building our committee and ensuring there’s continuity between 2022 and 2023 goals. As important, I’m looking at the policies that are out there, whether state,federal or local, and communicating those policies, and identifying how they impact the people and communities we serve,” Edwards explained.

Edwards believes equality of the entire digital eco-system is critical and must be part of a long-term plan. Her vision is a system that embraces the physically challenged, seniors who don’t have technology, and people with devices who don’t know how to use them, then provides access, connectivity and the training people need to fully engage.

“We want to make sure that as we move forward in this new digital world, we don’t leave people behind as they have been left behind before. It’s simply too important that we bring everyone along.”

Detroit has many resources and opportunities for residents. Click here to learn more:

Read More

Angela Meyers on Being Part of the Solution

Angela Meyers on Being Part of the Solution

Angela Meyers experienced the digital divide in Detroit firsthand when she saw children and seniors in her own community struggling to access and use technology. That inspired her to join Connect 313. 

“The Wi-Fi connection in our area had the lowest speeds and the highest prices,” she says. “I wanted to be part of the solution.”

Today, Angela is helping to drive solutions as Connect 313’s Vice Chair of the Special Projects & Shared Resources Committee. In this role, she looks for creative ways to get involved with the community and finance digital inclusion initiatives.

“What interests me most about Connect 313 is the community involvement. It is a collective effort by the City of Detroit, local and national businesses, and the community,” she says. “The idea that we are all working together to reach one goal really grabbed my attention.”

By offering digital literacy programs, supplying devices, and increasing internet speeds for people across the city, Angela hopes to make the digital world accessible for everyone. 

“Our priority is the opening of our neighborhood tech hubs across the city and supplying the essential services Detroiters require for employment, healthcare, and education. Connect 313 is on the right track,” Angela says.

In addition to working at Connect 313, Angela is a Member Advocate with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She graduated from Henry Ford Community College in 2014 with an associate degree in general studies and is currently a senior at Wayne State University pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a marketing emphasis. 

Angela is also a deejay and owns Musical Dynasty Disc Jockey Services. Since 2016, her company has hosted Feeding Detroit’s Homeless, an event that provides Detroit shelters with hot meals and other necessities.

“By transforming Detroit into a digitally inclusive city, Connect 313 is closing the divide,” Angela says. “I want the people of Detroit to know that we are making a significant amount of effort on their behalf, we value their opinions, and we want them to be a part of the process and have their voices heard.”

Have a suggestion for closing the digital divide in Detroit? Submit it here:

Read More

Dr. JR Sledge is a Leader in IT Training

Dr. JR Sledge is a Leader in IT Training

Born and raised in Detroit, Dr. JR Sledge was taught early on to dream big. 

“I learned that I could achieve whatever I put my mind to,” he says. “This was instilled in me at home and within the Detroit Public School system. As a result, I’m compelled to pay it forward and help others reach their potential.”

Paying it forward is exactly what JR is doing. He’s Detroit’s Senior Managing Director at Per Scholas, a national nonprofit that aims to advance equity and diversity in the tech industry. He is also Connect 313’s newly elected chair of the Structure and Operations Committee and a Connect 313 board member. It’s a role he eagerly took on after connecting with former colleagues who suggested he participate in our election process. 

“My areas of focus are all things Detroit and all things equity,” he says. “As a leader in IT training and Workforce development, it’s my aim to facilitate, not only the closure of the digital divide, but also the closure of the economic divide as it relates to tech for people of color. For me, this work begins with structure, policy, and guidelines.”

JR earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at University of Detroit Mercy and a Doctor of Education degree from Wayne State University. He previously served as an adjunct professor for Wayne County Community College, assistant superintendent at Inkster Public Schools, and an employment outreach specialist in the Civil Rights Inclusion office of the City of Detroit. 

In his new role at Connect 313, JR is committed to making sure the voices, values, and needs of all Detroit residents come first – no matter their zip code. He’s using his knowledge and experience to ensure equitable opportunities for all with a focus on simplicity and efficiency.

“I love the pride of the people of Detroit. Our city’s ability to lead and set trends that the rest of the world follows is like no other place on the planet,” he says. “Together, we will close the digital divide in our region.”

Have an idea for bridging the digital divide in Detroit? Let us know on our suggestions page here:

Read More

Bartel Welch is Passionate About STEAM Education

Bartel Welch is Passionate About STEAM Education

Making STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) education fun, engaging, and thought provoking, especially for kids, is Bartel Welch’s passion. The founder and executive director of CODE313 is Connect 313’s newly elected chair of our Digital Literacy and Skilling committee. 

His nonprofit’s new 7,500 square foot STEAM eXperience Center at 2987 Franklin Street in Detroit’s Rivertown district is also one of Connect 313’s 22 Neighborhood Tech Hubs. In addition, CODE313 received our Youth Advocate award during Detroit Digital Inclusion Week last year for its dedication to creating learning opportunities and career pathways for young people.

“Connect 313 has helped connect us to other people and organizations, opening doors we may not have been able to open,” he says. “My goal as chair of the Digital Literacy and Skilling committee is continue to push the envelope of technology curriculum – getting it into more schools and organizations – and figuring out where the gaps are between school and the working world, so our students are ready for today’s high-tech workforce.”

Bartel was born and raised in Detroit. He attended Detroit Public Schools and graduated from Cass Tech high school. In college, he started out pursing medicine, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans, and attending medical school at Wayne State University. Along the way, he discovered his true passion is entrepreneurship.

“I started my own company doing web design, logos, branding, business cards and more,” he says. “In 2009, after Detroit’s bankruptcy, I worked for a marketing agency that worked with the auto industry and that role really opened my eyes. When I started to travel and go into boardrooms and see other people working in this field, I saw there were not many people who looked like me. I had to do my own research to find out why. That’s how CODE313 was born.”

CODE313 is dedicated to providing equitable access to STEAM education. Their facility in Rivertown features a drone cage, robotics, esports, 3D printing, laser cutting, classroom space for teaching coding and more. The center is expected to serve 2,000+ students per month.

“The digital divide is definitely solvable,” Bartel says. “It just takes a team effort and it’s a constant effort that needs to be applied. It’s not going to happen overnight. What’s rewarding to me is seeing the results, seeing the excitement on the youth’s faces, seeing people get jobs. With that, I see the future being much brighter.”Want to get involved? Learn more by visiting

Read More
Steven Henry

Steven Henry Takes on New Role as Manager of Connect 313’s Community Ambassador Program

Steven Henry Takes on New Role as Manager of Connect 313’s Community Ambassador Program


Throughout his career as a community advocate and grassroots organizer, Steven Henry has worked to build trust and engagement with Detroit residents. Affable and articulate, Henry will now bring his innate communication skills and programming acumen to his new role as manager of Connect 313’s community ambassador program

Deeply rooted in the city, Henry, who holds a master’s degree in social justice from Marygrove College in Detroit, is rolling-up his sleeves and getting to work doing what he’s passionate about and dedicated to: building digital equity across the neighborhoods of Detroit.

“I live and breathe Detroit,” Henry said. “And COVID 19 exposed all the negative consequences to residents who are not fully connected in the 21st century. In my experience at the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance (ONA), I found homes without high-speed internet, and people without the appropriate devices not able to access healthcare, education, and work during lockdowns. These folks are disadvantaged and that has to change.”

Communities often have more agency than they think, Henry says, and there are options and resources to be leveraged. He believes that’s where Connect 313’s community ambassadors can be most effective. 

In his new role, he plans to build visibility for each ambassador within his or her designated district through participation in community events, neighborhood fairs and within existing outreach services. The challenge and the reward, he says, is educating ambassadors new to grassroots organizing.

“My goal as manager is to grow the team’s skills and knowledge and elevate the ambassador function to a higher level as we more fully flesh-out this program,” he explains. “We’ll take what we’ve learned and move to greater things while expanding our reach to deliver more resources.”

Along the way, Henry will continue building on the trust Connect 313 and its partners have earned among Detroiters while working on greater buy-in from the public he serves. 

“That makes the difference,” Henry said. “And that’s what Connect 313 is all about – how the community ambassadors will effectively carry out the organization’s mission of a fully digitally inclusive city.”

He fondly recalls the first computer classes offered at the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance, which also serves as a Connect 313 Tech Hub and is where Henry served as an early community ambassador. 

“Initially, there were just one or two people participating. But as we spread the word, more and more students engaged. Today, classes are typically full and there is sometimes a waiting list,” Henry said.

He credits ONA’s success to both programming quality and consistency, along with responsiveness to the community’s needs.   

Henry’s first brush with community outreach was in the healthcare field, where he collaborated with a variety of organizations focused on wellness initiatives. 

“I quickly learned the value of visibility and transparency when engaging fellow city residents,” Henry explained. “It’s essential to build trust and deliver on promises among people who are often underserved and, sometimes, under-delivered to.”

Now, as Henry marshals a team of ambassadors across each of the city’s seven districts, he’ll be striving to link Detroiters to available digital resources while demonstrating to participants the power of advocating for themselves. 

“With oversight of the entire city, I will be working to create this wingspan of inclusive options across all of Detroit’s districts,” he says. “I see the community ambassador role as a key element of Connect 313’s mission to bridge the digital divide.”

Read More
Autumn Evans

Autumn Evans is the Detroit Native Helping to Lead Connect 313

Autumn Evans is the Detroit Native Helping to Lead Connect 313

As Detroit’s Deputy Director of Digital Inclusion and Connect 313’s Operations Director, Autumn Evans is on the front lines of ongoing efforts to bridge the digital divide in Detroit. And she’s making an impact and helping to change the course of history in the city where she was born and raised.

“Being a native Detroiter brings value to the work that we do,” Autumn says. “To see Detroit go from being the least connected city in the country to being the lighthouse for digital inclusion work, I think that only happens when you are pushing to be innovative and think outside of the box to solve problems experienced by family and friends.”

In 2020, Autumn was helping Focus:HOPE connect homebound and low-income seniors to devices and services and that’s when she got a firsthand look at the impact of the digital divide. Not long after, she began working for the city and helping to lead the data-driven digital inclusion effort that is Connect 313.

In her role, she works tirelessly to ensure processes are developed and followed, strategic partnerships are formed, knowledge and information is shared, and that Connect 313 reaches its goals and continues to evolve.

“I’m very proud of our ability to execute at a high level and bring to life scalable solutions and operations that can help bridge the digital divide,” Autumn says. “I believe the framework can be used to tackle other big issues such as food insecurity or the way the criminal justice system interacts with the community.”

Connect 313’s structure is a proven success. This summer, 17 new tech hubs were funded, bringing the total to 22 citywide. A number of sites received free devices thanks to a partnership with DELL Technologies. Autumn also works to ensure Detroiters have a voice in policy – assisting with the creation of a community organizing model that gives residents a greater say in the digital decisions being made.

“Having that resident-first lens as a city has made Connect 313 high value to the work that we’re doing,” Autumn says. “These big issues are not something a government entity can solve by itself; it takes all of us working together and setting common goals and turning our values into action to see change and make all of our efforts worthwhile.”

Read More