From DTE to Connect 313, How David Underwood Helps Detroiters

From DTE to Connect 313, How David Underwood Helps Detroiters

“I worked in Detroit, I play in Detroit, I worship and go to church in Detroit,” says David Underwood, chair of Connect 313’s Devices and Connectivity committee. “I care a lot about the city, and I care a lot about its people, and I want to make a difference.”

David Underwood has spent nearly four decades in Detroit. For 38 of those years, he worked with DTE Energy, most recently as a principal account manager. He retired in 2021, but these days he’s busier than ever. With Connect 313, David is focused on activating the community and making sure residents have the resources and devices they need to access the internet.

“I consider myself a change agent and a champion for the underdog. I’m trying to make a difference out here,” he says. “Those who don’t have access to tech are finding themselves at a risk and that needs to change.”

Since starting with Connect 313, David has helped to coordinate computer giveaways and has worked to connect people with subsidized internet access funded by the federal government. However, he says there’s still work to be done.

“We’re looking forward to building an open-access fiber optic infrastructure in Detroit, beginning in the Hope Village neighborhood,” he says. “It’s also crucial that we get more community engagement and get more residents involved.”

David is working to do just that by connecting with corporate partners and community-based organizations, spreading the word on billboards, and creating campaigns that people without internet access will see.

In addition to his work with Connect 313, David is the managing director for Detroit Community Care Network, a position he’s held since 2017. The faith-based organization serves people and families by connecting them to programs, services, resources, and information.

In so many ways, he is proud to be a champion for the underserved in the Motor City.

To reach David, email dunderwood@tnhccn.com.

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Kaleena Louis’s Detroit Legacy

Kaleena Louis’s Detroit Legacy

Kaleena Louis proudly calls herself a ‘legacy Detroiter.’ As Connect 313’s Policy, Advocacy, and Ecosystem vice chair, she supports the city where she was born and raised by connecting people to digital resources.

“A big portion is connecting with the community where they are. You can’t assume that people know what’s out there,” Kaleena says. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much is out there today and how accessible things are, people just don’t know.”

One way Kaleena is helping Connect 313 spread the message is through Digital Inclusion Week, which will be held Oct. 3 – 7, 2022. The annual event promotes digital equity in Detroit by raising awareness about home internet access, devices, technology training programs, and many important topics and issues.

“Last year was my first year with Digital Inclusion Week,” she recalls. “This year, we’re looking forward to putting on an amazing week for the city that will be more inclusive and have more in-person engagement, while remaining COVID safe.”

In addition to her work with Connect 313, Kaleena serves as program director for NPower where she helps launch digital careers for underrepresented and underserved youth, military veterans, and their spouses.

According to NPower, today more than 50% of all jobs require some degree of technology and skill. Kaleena says that number will increase to more than 70% by 2030.

“The jobs are quickly growing, but there are certain people in our community who aren’t necessarily ready because of the barriers they face. Connect 313 navigates those barriers, and bridges the gap to help people overcome those barriers,” she says. “If people can’t afford internet, we have plans for that. There are parts of the city where fiber is being infused. People don’t know what they don’t know, and we need to be that voice to spread the word.”

As a lifelong Detroiter, Kaleena feels a special connection to the Motor City and wants to do everything she can to advocate for technology access and education, especially for Detroit youth.

“It means something to me to know that for my children and their peers, if they want to get into tech, they don’t have to go to Silicon Valley. They can get the skills and training and jobs right here in Detroit,” Kaleena says.

 

You can reach Kaleena by emailing Kaleena.Louis@npower.org.

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Shadora Ford Asks, “What is the Barrier?”

Shadora Ford Asks, “What is the Barrier?”

Shadora Ford wants to help families not just survive but thrive. As Connect 313’s Special Projects and Shared Resources chair she provides education, training, and resources to connect the public with essential technology to help bridge the digital divide.

In 2010, at just 19 years old, Shadora founded Destined for Greatness, a Detroit-based organization that educates, encourages, and empowers young women to become strong leaders. To date, Destined for Greatness has helped more than 5,000 young women and served more than 10,000 families through mentoring, job training, food drives, and more.

“In order for a house to stand you have to fix the foundation,” said Shadora. “We’re helping fulfill the destiny of households, not just women, but all families and people.”

A few years ago, Shadora began conducting research studies to learn more about Detroit’s digital divide. “Is the barrier the devices, the connectivity, or is it the literacy of the individual?” she said. “Research shows it’s a mix.”

Which meant the approach had to be multifaceted. She’s teaching students Microsoft Office, showing seniors how to utilize technology to take part in telehealth appointments and send emails, and connecting veterans to digital resources.

“Some people say they don’t want to use digital technology because it’s too much, but that’s fear. I want people to get over the fear by teaching them and finding creative ways to do that,” said Shadora.

Looking ahead, Shadora wants to see all seven districts thrive with digital literacy programs. She plans to expand her research and outreach to ensure Detroiters know tech assistance is available.

“Being here for the past 30 years and loving the community made me want to be an ambassador,” said Shadora. “I want Detroiters to love Detroit and take care of Detroit, love the place they live and be connected.”

To reach Shadora, email dfgmentoring@yahoo.com or call 313-414-3680.

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Connect 313’s Jamie Harris has 3 Main Goals

Connect 313’s Jamie Harris has 3 Main Goals

Connect 313’s co-chair of Digital Literacy & Skilling, Jamie Harris, has spent more than a decade connecting the community to career opportunities, including many in the tech industry. Her three main goals are to train, empower, and employ. Jamie is the founder and CEO of DSDT a Detroit School for Digital Technology. The state licensed technology trade school offers nationally accredited programs designed for the world of entertainment, media, and technology.

“It’s about believing in your community,” she says. “When I started this school people thought I was crazy.”

She has certainly proven them wrong. Her hard work and experience paired perfectly with Connect 313’s mission to bridge the digital divide.

“We’re all really dedicated to the mission of serving our community,” she says. “If we see a need, we get on it and make it happen. It’s not for the faint of heart and it takes a team with passion.”

Last year, Jamie served as Connect 313’s chair for Special Projects and Shared Resources where she helped with the budget and spearheaded strategies that introduced construction workers to digital architecture.

“You can drive around anywhere and see building after building going up,” Jamie says. “We’re innovative, there are so many ideas and city initiatives, as well as new entrepreneurs, black owned businesses, and women-owned businesses that are popping up everywhere around here.”

As the demand for information technology grows, Jamie and the Connect 313 team are working to advance digital equity by creating neighborhood tech hubs Detroiters can use to access computers and the internet.

“There is such a huge demand and the greater we evolve as a community and as a city, the greater the community thrives,” she explains.

Jamie is proud to call Detroit home and eager to continue her work connecting community members to resources, education, and support that will set them up for success in the ever-evolving digital world.

“Detroit has been looked at as an underperformer in the past and it’s great to see Detroit expanding and innovating,” she says. “Our city is now back on the map. We’re

all stronger together. It’s rewarding to see what we’ve done and to be a part of that growth and that history.”

To reach Jamie, email jamie@dsdt.tech.

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How Lashawna Manigault Works With Connect 313

How Lashawna Manigault Works With Connect 313

Lashawna Manigault knows firsthand how difficult it is to own a small business and how crucial internet access and connectivity can be. That’s why she’s supporting small business owners across Detroit as Connect 313’s chair of Policy, Advocacy & Ecosystem.

“If COVID showed us nothing else, it’s that people need to be on the cutting edge of technology. Businesses have had to pivot their business models, taking COVID into consideration,” she says.

During the pandemic, Lashawna discovered the digital technology learning curve was leaving numerous small business owners behind. Without computers and internet access, many were missing out on grants and financial opportunities.

“Businesses, like hair salons and barbers, have had to put COVID safety plans in place and do new things, like create new platforms for calendars and scheduling, connect through Zoom, and utilize online platforms to connect to the resources available to help their businesses stay upright,” she says.

Lashawna learned about Connect 313 while on a digital divide committee. She knew Connect 313’s mission would pair perfectly with the work she’d been doing as the Director of Small Business Retention & Expansion for the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation.

“Being able to bridge the work I’ve done with one committee and make sure small businesses are a focus and initiative within Connect 313 is a very important objective of mine,” she says.

Lashawna is currently working hard behind the scenes, planning for Detroit’s annual Digital Inclusion Week, which will be held the first full week of October. The multi-day event educates and connects Detroiters by offering tools and platforms for small businesses, digital literacy training for seniors, hands-on activities for students, and more.

As a native Detroiter, Lashawna is proud to help empower small businesses in our community by advocating for policy change, creating digital resources, and ensuring residents have affordable, reliable internet access.

“It’s a privilege and it keeps me going to be able to help people be their best selves and do their best work in this city,” Lashawna says. “It’s a collaborative effort.”

To reach Lashawna, email manigaultinc@gmail.com.

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Meet Connect 313’s TeQuion Brookins

Meet Connect 313’s TeQuion Brookins

TeQuion Brookins is passionate about setting people up for success. And that’s exactly what she does in her role as the 2022 chair of the Structure & Operations Committee for Connect 313. TeQuion helps develop processes and policies that clarify and streamline Connect 313’s work that aims to end Detroit’s digital divide.

“Our committee is filled with passionate Detroiters who are equally committed to removing barriers and ensuring fidelity to our purpose,” she says. “The work we’ve done has had a visible impact on the operations of Connect 313 and that’s been fulfilling to witness.”

Over the last year, TeQuion has helped establish systems for committees to review community suggestions, created presentation guidelines to ensure suggestions get publicized equitably, and constructed a conflict-of-interest policy to support trust-building and transparency.

This year, her team is focused on reaching even more digitally disconnected Detroiters and she encourages everyone to take part.

A native Detroiter, TeQuion is also the founder and COO of the Minority Freedom Community Fund, a national nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of African Americans through economic support, social programs, and holistic wellness.

After learning about the technological struggles many Detroit students were facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, she knew something needed to be done.

“We were hearing stories of blocks of students sharing one neighbor’s computer to access the then new virtual learning offerings. We heard even more stories of students who just couldn’t attend school for weeks due to not having access to digital devices or internet,” she said.

TeQuion was just beginning to work on developing a solution when she discovered Connect 313 and began serving on early workgroups to help organize the initiative.

“Detroit has always been home for me. I love how real the people are, our style, our culture,” said TeQuion. “I hope people feel empowered to get involved and share their ideas… We want to hear from you about what we can do to end the digital divide.”

To reach TeQuion, email: Tequion@mifreedomcf.org.

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