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.”

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“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.

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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.”

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