CLEVELAND — Together in a virtual town hall, young Clevelanders explained the very real impact the digital divide has on their lives.
Treyah Gray, a high school student, says the thought of not having internet access is terrifying.
“If I don’t have a way to communicate or have wifi, then I’m not going to be able to do anything, like at all,” says Gray.
The digital divide is also having a significant impact on students. All Cleveland Metropolitan School District students are learning virtually the first quarter. That means all lessons, presentations, and turning in work has to be done over the internet. Virtual school directly links academic success to the ability to access and use the internet for class. Ethan Khorana, the young founder of the Minorities Together Movement says beyond school, a lack of digital access will have a devastating impact on kids’ futures.
“The digital divide stops people from having access to online healthcare, job applications, college applications or even zoom calls,” says Khorana.
Through the non-profit EYEJ, Empowering Youth, Exploring Justice, young people together with community leaders spoke with urgency about the need to fix the digital divide now. Jessica Chang says the digital divide is sending the wrong message to young people.
“The message is you don’t matter. And it’s not even you don’t matter cause of something you’ve done, it’s you don’t matter because of the circumstances you were born into,” says Chang.
In the presentation, Khorana highlights a map showing the overlap between discriminatory geographic housing practices from decades ago, redlining, and the current areas with significant lack of internet access.
“As we fight other standpoints of racism and suppression, this is the new redlining and the new form of oppression 15-100 years from now,” says Khorana.
Students say having internet access is a necessary factor to being successful.
“I would definitely pick internet over having food cause I’d rather have my grades up than eat,” says Gray. She goes on to explain that if you have a device you can order food, and have the ability to complete your work, apply for a job, stay informed on your community etc.
EYEJ members implored community leaders taking part in the call to take immediate action.
“The intent has been great and the intent of politicians and people hearing us out is great, but it’s time for them to make an impact,” says Khorana.
The goal is to close the gap now, so the next generation doesn’t have to fight this same societal inequality in the future.
“If we don’t fix the digital divide now I kind of worry that the gap is going to get too big by the time we're adults,” says Chang.
For more information on EYEJ, click here.