Why I’m Here-My Road to Internet for All
In the almost two years that I have been with EveryoneOn and more than year serving as our CEO, many people have asked me: “Why are you here?” The answer to that question lies from whence I have come.
In the words of a great author: we are prisoners of biography and I have no desire or ability to escape mine. My parents (both from large families, with my dad being one of nine children and mom one of eleven) are from a small village in rural Nigeria that most Nigerians themselves will never see or visit. None of my grandparents went past middle school and my parents themselves literally grew up with Peace Corps volunteers as teachers in their classrooms.
The moment that changed my parents’ lives, and by extension my own, was when they both got a chance to come study here in the United States, where they got married and had my siblings and me. My dad is a physician today and my mom is accountant. I say to people all the time that without American education and opportunity, I literally would not be here.
For all its challenges and imperfections, America has given my family more than I can ever repay but I resolved a long time ago to spend the rest of my life trying. Whether it was working as education official in the country’s largest school system, a second grade teacher and Teach For America corps member in New York City, a Fulbright Scholar teacher in rural Thailand, or a director at a technology company working to use big data and analytics to aid at-risk students graduate on time, I have always tried to turn around some bit of the good fortune that I have received back to others.
I can think of few better ways to do that than by closing this country’s digital divide. The United States as a whole still has a long way to go in making sure that all people have access to the life-altering power of the Internet. According to the American Community Survey, more than 60 million people are currently living on the wrong side of the digital divide. This divide affects both rural and urban residents, but disproportionately those that are poor and minority. This lack of access and use of the Internet impacts almost every aspect of daily lives. For example, Pew Research has found that approximately 80 percent of students need the Internet to complete their homework, and that the vast majority of people have used the Internet to research and apply for jobs. If you have the Internet at home, high school graduation is more likely, which can lead to $2 million more in lifetime earnings.
Every one of those 60 million people represent a child who is forced to their homework on their iPhone in a McDonald’s, or community college students forced to write papers sitting in the parking lot of a shopping mall or a young man who desperately wants a job but must cram all his job search activities into the 45 minutes a day that he can get on a library computer. We should not let a $10 per month Internet connection stand between these Americans and the sacred dream for which my parents came to this country.
To that end, what brought me here was EveryoneOn’s amazing record of connecting more than 400,000 people since 2012 or its audacious goal of connecting a total million by the end of 2020. What brought me was the biography to which I am so proudly bound. When I was deciding whether to join EveryoneOn, I had a casual conversation with my dad to whom I am very close. I talked to him about EveryoneOn, the prospective job, and our mission to close the digital divide. After hearing what I had to say, my dad said the words to me that made my decision:“You know, son. If today I came to this country, like I did in the 1970s, and didn’t have the Internet there is no way I would have been able to make something of myself what I did. Without it, I don’t think you and your siblings would have the lives you have.”
This is what is at stake in this work to connect everyone everywhere to the Internet and the American Dream itself. At EveryoneOn, we intend to keep fighting for it, one Internet connection at a time.