Learn how we used $1.8 million in stimulus funds to seed a digital justice movement in Detroit

cross-posted from the AMP blog:

On Saturday Dec. 1, 2012 the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) and Detroit Future programs will celebrate two years of building a digital justice movement in Detroit. The Detroit Future celebration will mark the close of our Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant and will include a community report-back on how these federal funds were spent to benefit Detroit.

Detroit Future celebration flyer

With BTOP funds, DDJC member groups Allied Media Projects and East Michigan Environmental Action Council designed and implemented the Detroit Future Media, Detroit Future Schools and Detroit Future Youth programs. 12 DDJC organizations launched public computer centers in neighborhoods across Detroit, and the Open Technology Institute supported the deployment of community wireless networks in several of these neighborhoods and provided documentation and evaluation of all BTOP-funded programs.

Following the report-back, a special edition of the DDJC’s “DiscoTech” (Discovering Technology Fair) will allow community members to learn more about digital justice through hands-on media and technology stations. This event is free and open to the public. All ages are welcome and encouraged. It will take place from 1pm – 5pm on Saturday Dec. 1, 2012 at the offices of Allied Media Projects, 4126 Third Street in Detroit’s Cass Corridor.

Members of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition and Detroit Future programs have spent the past two years leading trainings, weaving networks, building transformative education practices and community organizing to bring about digital justice in Detroit. They started with the shared principles of access, participation, common ownership and healthy communities and designed the Detroit Future programs to put those principles directly into practice.

DDJC member and Co-Director of Allied Media Projects, Diana Nucera, says, “the work of the DDJC and Detroit Future is so expansive and diverse, but the digital justice principles are the common thread that holds them all together. It has been incredible to see how these seeds of ideas, planted two years ago, have grown into a full-blown forest of community activity.”

The Detroit Future Celebration will provide an orientation to the vast work of the DDJC and Detroit Future, as well as a report back on how the federal funds were spent. “We are accountable to the community” says DDJC member and Creative Director of 5E Gallery Car Insurance, Piper Carter. “Since this was a federal grant, we saw it as our community’s money to begin with. The Detroit Future celebration will provide a chance to demonstrate to our wider community how we put that money to work.”

The Detroit Future celebration will also extend an opportunity for new people to get involved. During the “DiscoTech” portion of the event, participants will travel through different stations hosted by members of the DDJC and Detroit Future Network, where they will learn hands-on media and technology skills while contributing their ideas to shape the next phase of Detroit Future.

“The grant period is over, but the work is just getting started,” says Detroit Future Youth network member, Marisol Teachworth, “In two years, we grew a network of hundreds of people and organizations using technology for social justice and transformation in Detroit. What can we do next?”


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Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age


Source Booksellers
Monday, October 22 5PM
4201 Cass Ave, Detroit


Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age
MIT Press, March 2011; Paperback October 2012
Virginia Eubanks

In 2001 Virginia Eubanks, along with several dozen collaborators, created
a technology training program for poor and working-class women at the YWCA
of Troy-Cohoes. This program challenged Eubanks’ conceptions of the
Digital Divide, and her experience over the next four years revolutionized
her thinking about access-or lack of access-to technology. In *Digital
Dead End*, Eubanks argues that information technology is not a miraculous
cure-all that will pave the road to prosperity, democracy and equality.
Rather than being technology “have-nots,” Eubanks found that her
collaborators at the YWCA had extensive interaction with IT, but they
often experienced it as a tool of surveillance and oppression rather than
a tool of economic and political liberation. Their stories challenged her
preconceptions, overturned the central tenets of digital divide policy,
and shattered the familiar delusion that low-income people are somehow
information or technology poor.

Despite the inequities they uncovered in the high-tech global economy,
optimism and innovation flourished when Eubanks and the women in the YWCA
community collaborated to make technology and cheap car insurance serve social justice. *Digital
Dead End describes a new approach to creating a broadly inclusive and
empowering “technology for people,” popular technology, which entails
shifting the focus from teaching technical skill to nurturing critical
technological citizenship, building resources for learning, and fostering
social movement.

Virginia Eubanks is the author of Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social
Justice in the Information Age, and the cofounder of two grassroots
community organizations focused on making technology serve social and
economic justice: Our Knowledge, Our Power: Surviving Welfare (OKOP) and
the Popular Technology Workshops. She teaches in the Department of Women’s
Studies at the University at Albany, SUNY. In past lives, she edited the
cyberfeminist ‘zine Brillo and was active in the community technology
center movements in the San Francisco Bay Area and Troy, NY.

“If we’re to move forward as a society we’ll need to abandon many of the
platitudes and utopian musings that characterize computerization and
actually start doing the work that needs doing. This is what Virginia
Eubanks lays out in Digital Dead End. Is she the Jane Addams of the
digital age?”

-Douglas Schuler, author of Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for
Communication Revolution and New Community Networks: Wired for Change

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DiscoTech zine out now!

Our newest zine is being distributed at the Allied Media Conference! You can download a copy here, check out the AMC to pick up printed copies or email us for more info!

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Documentation from the last DiscoTech / Get ready for the next: April 15

We’ve compiled some of the documentation coming out of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition‘s last DiscoTech (Discovering Technology Fair). Dig through this exciting collection of DiscoTech video, audio documentary, articles, and photos. Also, get ready because we are doing it again: the next DiscoTech will be held April 15, 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), 4454 Woodward Ave.

Detroit Future Media alumni Patrick Geans and Mike Polk worked with DFM Program Coordinator Imad Hassan to produce a sharp video recap of the DiscoTech which was held February 26 at the the Mt. Elliott Makerspace in the Church of the Messiah on Detroit’s eastside.

Jennifer Guerra produced an excellent radio segment on how Discotech uses technology to foster community. The segment was broadcast on Michigan Radio (91.7 FM Ann Arbor/Detroit). Listen here.

Leticia Miranda, research associate at the Open Technology Initiative, documented how DiscoTechs give Detroiters the opportunity to “take part in shaping the future of technology”:

At the fairs, participants take part in interactive workshops and explore the impact and possibilities of technology within their communities. …The fair attracted roughly 150 local residents while about 30 volunteers ran workshops, served food, and answered questions

DiscoTechs are not only innovative in their goal to maximize and expand Detroiters’ technological skills, but also in their structure. The fairs are organized with separate “stations” in a large room led by volunteers with expertise in different technologies and their applications. At the most recent DiscoTech, participants learned how to make stencils, use social media, and disassemble a desktop hard drive. In a corner of the room, participants watched and discussed The Internet Is Serious Business, a documentary produced in 2008 by the People’s Production House and Center for Urban Pedagogy, about the technologies and policies that shape the Internet. At another table, two volunteers hosted a consultation station on privacy and answered questions about how to protect yourself online.

The DiscoTech offers a vision of the city where people of color are encouraged to engage in technology on their own terms. The inter-generational room of mostly Black Detroit residents painted a stark contrast to the sobering statistics around the digital divide. Rather than allow themselves to be seen as victims of federal communication policies that limit their digital participation — or as passive recipients of more recent digital inclusion policies which can be alienating or condescending — people of color at the DiscoTech actively armed themselves with the technical skills to ensure they won’t be left behind in the digital age. At one station, a 10-year-old girl taught an elder how to solder electronic components to a circuit board.

Read the full blog post at the Open Technology Initiative.

Michigan Citizen columnist Shea Howell was inspired to write about “Digital Justice and our future” after participating at last month’s DiscoTech. Shea writes:

Last Sunday afternoon [Feb. 26], I watched the future take shape. I went to the third DiscoTech, put together by the Digital Justice Coalition. DiscoTech is short for Discovering Technology Fair. The fair includes more than a dozen hands-on stations where people can learn everything from how to set up an e-mail account to how to fix a computer. …[T]he fair attracted hundreds of people, mostly young, and all engaged.

The first thing I saw when I entered the bustling room was a group of young men working on windmills. Like everyone else, they were completely engrossed in their projects, testing out their design and construction of the blades.

Just past the windmills there was a table crowded with people. The table was heaped with blinking LED lights. Before long, it became clear the lights were being soldered to small battery discs, creating powered jewelry. The creators were mostly young women, learning about electricity, battery power and soldering irons. Over the course of the afternoon, most people managed to get a pin or two for shirts and caps.

In a far corner of the room, another group gathered to watch and discuss a short film called “The Internet is Serious Business.” The film gives people a good sense of what the Internet really is and the issues communities face in using it for positive change.

Read the full column in the Michigan Citizen.

Nina Bianchi has a collection of photos and video from the DiscoTech here.

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DiscoTech Video Recap

By Patrick Geans-Ali and Imad Hassan

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"DiscoTech uses technology to foster community"

By Jennifer Guerra for Michigan Radio.

Photo credit: Brian Short / Michigan Radio

Listen to the full segment here.

Urban neighborhood libraries are on the decline.

Detroit, Flint, Dearborn and other cities have recently had to close some of their library branches in order to save money, which means access to free computers and computer training is becoming more limited.

But in Detroit, there’s a group working to close the digital divide.

Discothèque vs. Discotech

This story takes place at a “discotech.”

Not the kind of discotheque where you flaunt your best dance moves in platform shoes, but the kind of discotech where Google, Twitter and Facebook are center stage.

Here, discotech stands for DISCOvering TECHnology.

It’s a traveling technology workshop that looks a lot like a pop-up science fair, with laptops, poster boards, wires and circuits all around the room.

Diana Nucera, one of the Discotech organizers, says the event is about “showing the possibility of technology to make our personal connections stronger.”

Google apps, windmills and soldering…oh my!

Nucera’s group, the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition, has opened 13 public computing labs around the city to help fill the gap left by shuttered libraries, and they throw these discotechs a few times a year at the various labs – each one a little different than the last.

The most recent discotech was at the Mt. Elliott Makerspace, which is located in the basement of the Church of the Messiah on Detroit’s eastside.

There were stations that focused on Google apps, social media, and internet privacy.

There was also a big emphasis on do-it-yourself projects: visitors could learn about alternative energy by creating a small windmill; a precocious 10 year old named Raven Holsten taught folks how to solder; a create-your-own mini synthesizer station to teach people about basic electronics.

Each station is run by a volunteer, so it costs next to nothing to put on the event.

The DDJC hopes to eventually create a How-To guide, so any computer lab from Ste Saint Marie to Southfield could put one on.

Social media as neighborhood watch device

56-year old Sheree Walton dropped by Discotech to figure out how to set up a twitter account so she could “tweet things that would help keep children safe.”

For more than 20 years, Walton has lived on Detroit’s east side, one of the most violent parts of the city. She says often, she and her neighbors feel “abandoned” by the city.

“We need to be a part of the solution because no one else is paying attention to us, so we’ll do it ourselves,” explains Walton. Asked if she thinks social media will help, Walton says “I hope so, I hope so. I think that if you can get a group together, who knows where it can go.”

Walton calls herself and her neighbors “quiet foot soldiers” – they’re working hard to keep their little corner of the city clean and safe.

Now they’re quiet foot soldiers armed with a twitter handle and a keyboard.

Support for arts and cultural reporting on Michigan Radio comes in part from a grant from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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"Digital Justice and Our Future"

Originally published Sunday March 2, 2012 in the Michigan Citizen.

By: Shea Howell
Photo credit: Nina Bianchi

Last Sunday afternoon [Feb. 26], I watched the future take shape. I went to the third DiscoTech, put together by the Digital Justice Coalition. DiscoTech is short for Discovering Technology Fair. The fair includes more than a dozen hands-on stations where people can learn everything from how to set up an e-mail account to how to fix a computer. Held at the Makerspace at the Church of the Messiah, 231 E. Grand Blvd., the fair attracted hundreds of people, mostly young, and all engaged.

The first thing I saw when I entered the bustling room was a group of young men working on windmills. Like everyone else, they were completely engrossed in their projects, testing out their design and construction of the blades.

Just past the windmills there was a table crowded with people. The table was heaped with blinking LED lights. Before long, it became clear the lights were being soldered to small battery discs, creating powered jewelry. The creators were mostly young women, learning about electricity, battery power and soldering irons. Over the course of the afternoon, most people managed to get a pin or two for shirts and caps.

In a far corner of the room, another group gathered to watch and discuss a short film called “The Internet is Serious Business.” The film gives people a good sense of what the Internet really is and the issues communities face in using it for positive change. You can check it out at www.vimeo.com/13830730.

The Digital Justice Coalition will work with you if you want to arrange a screening and discussion.

The center of the room was dominated by three bicycles brought by the East Side Riders. They use materials reclaimed from old couches to refashion bikes, using battery power to run lights and sound, custom-designed by and for the rider. On any given weekend as many as 400 folks ride the streets, offering a new vision of travel in the motor city.

I spent a while at the Twitter station, learning how to set up an account. In the course of the mechanics of the process, Lottie Spady, associate director of Eastern Michigan Environmental Action Council, introduced questions about privacy, responsibility and values, saying: “We don’t really have answers, yet. So much of this is new. Our thinking and our principles are behind where the technology is right now.”

Next to me was an older woman learning about Gmail (Google’s e-mail service). Everywhere you looked, people were in small clusters, talking, looking, doing, imagining.

As impressive as I found each station, the overall buzz was what really amazed me. There were hundreds of people moving through the space, but no one was “in charge.” No one was telling people where to go or what to do. Although I heard lots of laughter, I never heard a raised voice or a directive. Other than the use of a microphone for the raffle, the whole experience flowed from an internal, organic logic.

Diana Nucera of Allied Media explained the organization of space in her article “Tactics on Setting up Amazing Learning Spaces.” She wrote, “Learning spaces should be constructed in a thoughtful and intentional way that promotes collaboration and creativity.”

The Digital Justice Coalition says it “prioritizes the participation of people who have been traditionally excluded from and attacked by media and technology. It advances our ability to tell our own stories, as individuals and communities” because they believe “communication is a fundamental human right.” Their first principle says, “We are securing that right for the digital age by promoting access, participation, common ownership and healthy communities.”

Through their efforts, Detroit is creating a new grassroots web of imaginative, collaborative and more just possibilities for our future.

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Detroit Digital Justice Events in February

The Detroit Digital Justice Coalition is happy to announce the following two events for February! We’ve been collaborating with organizations like ArtServe, Emergence Media and the international openFrameworks community to organize a blended Discotech / openFrameworks workshop and open conversation / lecture event. You can download a full color PDF poster here, an image for social media here or a letter-sized, black and white flyer here to distribute in your community.

SATURDAY, 2/25, 5-9:30 PM
LOCATION: MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit)
Initiate will explore creative uses of primarily open source technology and open source approaches to creating art and social change. Join us for short presentations and open dialogue featuring local, national and international artists, technologists and community organizers.
RSVP via Facebook here.

SUNDAY, 2/26, 1:30 – 4:30 PM
Discotech (Discovering Technology) is a multimedia mobile neighborhood workshop fair. Participants will learn more about the impact and possibilities of technology within our communities and take part in interactive, multimedia workshops. This will include a workshop introduction to openFrameworks, a cross-platform C++ library for creative coding. It will be a chance to experiment with building new systems for interaction that move away from the screen and into physical space.
RSVP via Facebook here.

Technology can be used to transform communities, empower people and create innovative works of art. This week long event series will explore how open source technology can be used to do that work within Detroit. This program features members of openFrameworks which is hosting their annual worldwide developers conference in Detroit. openFrameworks is an open source C++ toolkit designed to assist the creative process by providing a simple and intuitive framework for experimentation.

Featuring openFrameworks in partnership with Emergence Media, rootoftwo, Artserve Michigan, Allied Media Projects, Work Department, MOCAD (Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit) and the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition.

For more info email info (at) emergencemedia.org

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DDJC computer labs build intergenerational relationships

Dr. Delores Leonard speaks to community members at the opening of the Kemeny Rec Centers Reading Corner Community Computer Lab on November 2 in Southwest Detroit

DETROIT – One of the guiding principles of the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) is: “Digital justice integrates media and technology into education in order to transform teaching and learning, to value multiple learning styles and to expand the process of learning beyond the classroom and across the lifespan.”

The two most recent computer labs to open within the DDJC network are fostering intergenerational knowledge exchange that puts this principle into practice.

The Kemeny Reading Corner’s Computer Center in Detroit’s 48217 neighborhood and the Hannan House Community Computer Center in the Woodward Corridor both celebrated grand openings within the last month. A primary function of both centers will be bringing seniors and youth together around technology and communication.

The Hannan House computer lab’s primary goal is to help seniors learn how to utilize the enhanced communication technologies that computer access allows. It is staffed by trained volunteer mentors and student interns, who are available to help their fellow seniors become more comfortable with use of the computers.

“Some things you can answer straight away and some things may take a little more time than that,” said Hannan CCC Mentor Lydia Gambrell. “I find that it’s not about giving them the answers that I have, it’s about sitting down and listening to them. Sometimes when I sit down and talk to them, I find that they need other resources as well. So, it’s a matter of me connecting them to the right resources in order to meet their needs.”

Bridging the Generational Divide

“That’s my whole objective,” said fellow Mentor Christine Buck. “We’ve had some training programs on basic things you need to know. Seniors want to learn the basics so they can communicate with other family members. All of the younger generation are on the computers, so they want to be able to communicate with them.”

From working with seniors and their guests at Hannan House, the mentors and interns have become familiar with a range of computer needs. Those needs include everything from job searches, business opportunities, artwork, research, writing or enjoying their favorite entertainment shows from the past. But whether at Hannan or Kemeny, a common need for seniors seems to be using the technology to keep in touch with younger family members. Where the younger generation has taken to social media as a fundamental way of communicating with each other, seniors often feel left out and are coming to understand its value in keeping in touch with their children and grandchildren.

“A lot of times I think they are intimidated by that technology,” said Sandra Padilla, a Hannan CCC intern by way of Marygrove College. “Some of the things that we give them they could easily find online if they googled it, but they have to know that technology. They have to know the right words to search up, so it’s a matter of them learning what they can do with this technology. To some of them, it is really new.”

The Kemeny Reading Corner Computer Lab, is taking a more direct approach to bridging the digital divide among generations. Dr. Delores Leonard, who established the Reading Corner inside of Kemeny last summer in order to give area youth greater access to books and other reading material, has been leading that charge. By establishing a computer lab in the same space, Leonard envisions bringing the generations closer together around learning from one another.

“There is such a generational gap and I want to do better with that,” said Leonard “Hopefully by introducing the seniors to the computers, the children will ultimately be able to help the seniors.

“Right now, we don’t have a library in our neighborhood. Our children have to take three buses to get to the nearest public library. That was an impetus for getting these books here and getting them free to our children. We want the children to appreciate what they have and what they don’t have. We want them to be able to appreciate their community.”

Expanding the educational opportunities through the use of computer technology is another primary goal for community members old and young. Where traditional institutions like the school system or media may fall short, community computer labs such as these can help fill the void.

“People don’t want to be left out and just know the news from what they see on television compared to the news you can get on the internet,” said Kemeny Director Robert Donaldson. “It’s an entirely different thing. You only get sound bites on television, but through the internet you can sometimes get the whole entire story.

“What we are trying to accomplish more than anything is to bring to the public’s attention the free access to the computers and we’d like to introduce them to a lot of the things that they can do on the computer that they don’t have access to or may not have tried.”

Preserving History

The preservation of history is another way both computers centers envision bringing the generations together. Hannan has a project to do so through a series of oral history interviews with its Gardening Angels Program, in conjunction with the Greener School’s Senior Engagement Program of the East Michigan Environmental Action Council (EMEAC).

“The next step after all of that is trying to incorporate our media and get the seniors to start telling their life stories,” Padilla said.

“It may be something where they create their own website so they can pass on their stories with the next generation. Anytime you listen to someone else’s story, you learn just as much about yourself as the other person. We haven’t gotten into that phase yet because it’s been all logistics so far, but I’m excited about moving on into that phase.”

Meanwhile at Kemeny the plan is to have youth and seniors come together to preserve their histories using photos from family albums.

“In teaching, you take people from the known to the unknown,” said Leonard, a retired educator. “I’m starting with the known, talking about family and the kinds of things we want to give to our families and our children.

“Eventually I’ll have to get them to the other equipment like the scanner by getting them to preserve their family history. A lot of community members here are in their 80’s and some of them are not accepting of new ideas but some will. Those who will may be able to help the others by bringing their pictures in and scanning them.”

This all fits into the DDJC’s goal democratizing media and technology to strengthen the fabric of local communities in the city.

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The Hannan House Celebrates Grand Opening of its Community Computer Center

Hannan House CCC Mentor Christine Buck works with a member during the opening in September

DETROIT – The Hannan Center for Senior Learning’s Community Computer Center (CCC) is one of 13 labs created by the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition (DDJC) with support from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP).

“We wanted to start by mainly serving some of the patrons of the center who come for other purposes” said Rachel Jacobson of Hannan House. “For example, members of the Hannaan Center for Senior Learning who might be in a writing class, a poetry class or a spoken word class can use the lab to help disseminate the creative works of the seniors here at Hanaan house.”

Hannan’s CCC is a membership-based public computer center. Membership is free, but patrons need to apply at the front reception desk. Though the CCC is open to all, it specifically promotes computer literacy for adults and older adults. Adults 40 and over are encouraged to become members while guest memberships are also available for adults ages 18-39 when accompanied by a member.

The CCC is staffed by senior volunteers or “mentors” in addition to Hanan House interns. CCC mentors and interns were trained by Operation ABLE, American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) and the Luella Hannan Memorial Foundation.

The CCC is open Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. During each day, there is at least one mentor available to help members and guests for two-hour shifts.

The Hannan CCC is equipped with a total of nine personal computers running off the Windows Operating Systems and loaded with the Microsoft Office 2010 Suite of software. One computer will be equipped with the JAWS software and a reading lens for patrons who are visually impaired.

Operation ABLE, the AARP, NPSERV and the Hannan Foundation collaborate together to over see the daily operations of the CCC.

For questions about using Hannan’s CCC call Nancy O’Malley at 313 832-0922.

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