Disrupting Place as a Proxy for Opportunity

Disrupting Place as a Proxy for Opportunity

As part of her keynote presentation at recent convening about improving outcomes for California’s boys and young men of color, PolicyLink CEO Angela Glover Blackwell told the gathered audience of community advocates, health service providers and policymakers, “Where you live is a proxy for opportunity.”

 If you know a person’s address, she explained, data can now tell how long that person will live, the access they will have to a high-quality education and whether they are likely to be connected to viable job networks and employment. Nowhere are these place-specific inequities in health, education and employment outcomes more starkly evident than in the urban core and rural locations where boys and young men of color live.

At the convening, which was co-hosted by the Alliance for Boys and Men of Color and The California Endowment, the Alliance discussed its upcoming launch this spring of a campaign entitled, “Make Health and Opportunity Happen for Boys and Young Men of Color (http://www.allianceforbmoc.org/#select-committee)." The statewide campaign seeks to ensure that the opportunities of our most vulnerable boys and young men of color are not constrained by their area codes. The campaign will support policies that enable boys and young men of color to live in safe and supportive neighborhoods, access quality health services, attend good schools and graduate college- and career-ready and have the opportunities to access career education and training.

As I let Angela Blackwell’s talk sink in a bit and listened to others discuss important place-based work in the following sessions, I started to wonder about the role of technology in disrupting the constraints of place as a barrier to opportunity. To “displace place” as a predictor of life outcomes through efforts designed to amplify voices, connect local and distant communities, expand learning and access networks and leverage opportunities for systemic change.

Over the past few years, ZeroDivide has evolved a practice that explores this notion in concert with place-based strategies. Our work conducted through the BTOP Fund in rural and remote settings is a notable example. In these areas, broadband literacy and infrastructure projects have been coupled with community organizing and advocacy efforts to raise awareness and promote action on a range of issues, such as the environment, positive youth development and social equity. Some of these community efforts have been able to align with statewide and national efforts.

I am reminded of an early site visit I made to Hana Youth Center in a poor and remote part of Maui County, in Hawaii. On the first day of class, the instructor explained to a group of native Hawaiian youth that the broadband technologies and civics education they would be spending the next several weeks studying and mastering was not something meant to take them “off island.” Too often, and to the dismay of these youth, “enrichment” programs in their area have been geared toward providing the youth with skills that would allow them to leave the island to live and find work in the larger cities or on the U.S. mainland. Rather, the instructor continued, the technology they would learn could be an expansive tool to ensure they could remain, live, work and prosper on their land with their family and kin. There was an audible sigh of relief from one of the youth and smiles all around the table.

Unarguably, place will remain significant in determining one’s prospects in the near term, but what if place were no longer a defining constraint and proxy for one’s opportunity and success? What if one’s access to digital technologies, connectivity and innovation was part of the equation? What would emerge as the best cultural practices? What would success look from place to place?

McCrae Parker is a Program Manager at ZeroDivide with 20 years of experience in the youth development, workforce development and media education fields.

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