Black History Month: Looking at the Past, Acting on the Present, Building for the Future

Michael Givens, CEO, The NETwork Employee Resource Group – AT&T Illinois
February 27, 2024
Community Impact

Black History Month: Looking at the Past, Acting on the Present, Building for the Future

As we commemorate Black History Month, it is important to reflect not only on the struggles and triumphs of the past but also to address the challenges of the present. By taking action to improve our present, Black History Month offers an opportunity to continue to inspire our community to work towards a brighter future for the next generation.

As we contemplate the path forward, three impactful considerations come to mind as vital guideposts for our collective journey.

Supporting the young members of our community

In the journey towards progress, education plays a pivotal role. We can all do our part in helping young members of our community seek opportunities that support their educational goals. There are several mentorship and scholarship opportunities available for Black students that can support their academic journey. Taking advantage of these opportunities can offset the cost of education but also facilitate access to mentors that can help them successfully navigate through their academic journey.

AT&T, for example, offers mentorship and monetary support to students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities through the Rising Future Makers program. In 2023, the program awarded $5,000 to 25 Black students from across the country. Additionally, many nonprofit organizations like The NETwork, AT&T’s Black employee resource group, also offer mentorship and financial support to college students. Last year, the group awarded scholarships to ten deserving students from across Illinois.

Empowering young members of our community to explore scholarship opportunities like these is crucial in fostering education equity and provide them with the resources and support need to unlock their full potential.

Establishing a strong network

Having a strong support system is the cornerstone of success. In times of challenge, it provides the motivation to persevere, and during moments of triumph, it amplifies the joy of achievement. Surrounding yourself with a network of encouragement, guidance and trust nurtures personal growth.

I joined The NETwork in 1998 looking to connect with other Black professionals in my community. Today, as president of the Illinois Chapter my goal is to support other Black professionals by providing access to professional and personal development opportunities. I also encourage my chapter members to come together to give back to the community we live in.

We know that access to job opportunities, career advancement, and economic mobility are all tied to someone’s access to digital resources like internet and computers. That’s why we proudly participate in various efforts across the state focused on helping bridge the digital divide and digital literacy. Our group even offers a six-week summer camp that teaches students from under-served communities about the innovation process and introduces them to computer-aided design and manufacturing technology. Volunteering gives us an opportunity to connect with each other and a sense of purpose.

Influencing real change

The digital divide, the gap between those who have access to the internet and online resources and those who don’t, disproportionately impacts communities of color. To change this, there is a need for public-private collaboration to ensure equitable and affordable access to broadband internet. This also includes investments from both sectors in community-based programs that provide digital literacy training and technology adoption resources. Partnerships with community organizations, investments in infrastructure, and initiatives to provide affordable technology solutions can all contribute to a more inclusive digital landscape.

Here in Chicago, AT&T has partnered with local organizations to open two Connected Learning Centers. The centers help bridge the digital divide by providing access to education, mentoring and tutoring resources, as well as Wi-Fi and computers. Education resources are available within the center to help students and families participate in digital engagement. This includes The Achievery, a free digital learning platform created by AT&T, and free digital literacy courses and workshops created with the Public Library Association.

This Black History Month, let’s not only celebrate the achievements and resilience of the Black community, but also commit to addressing the disparities in our community. By taking action, we not only honor the legacy of those who have paved the way for us but also lay the groundwork for a future where every member of the Black community has equal access to opportunities.

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