What Rebrand Cities + A3 Has Taught Us About The Digital Divide, Privilege And Race

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Gary Mui and Alicia Sanchez Founders of Alma Kitchen in Detroit

When I set out to connect small businesses and tech opportunities across the country, I knew it would be a rewarding and equally eye-opening experience. I was ready for it. I expected to encounter gaps in the application of technology and resources. My journey thus far has solidified that the digital divide can and has indeed segmented our communities and the small businesses that comprise 54% of the fabric of the United States.

It has been almost 30 years since the Internet became a thing on March 12, 1989, however, this does not indicate an equal distribution of access throughout the last three decades. A look a the disparities in technology can be daunting, but programs like A3 and Rebrand Cities are addressing this gap in efforts to impact income inequality, resource distribution and overall opportunities for those on the outskirts of the resource pool. One would think that the high school students of John Maeda’s A3 program in Appalachia (Paintsville, KY) and Rebrand Cities business owner, Kaye Willingham of Art in Motion in Detroit may not be affected by the same challenge. My journey has taught me otherwise. There is a common thread between rural Appalachia (Paintsville, KY) and the entrepreneurs of color in urban cities — income inequality.

What Matters? In America, we are more divided today than ever before. Does gender matter? Sexual harassment cases, wage gaps between men and women and the like are glaring reminders that it does. Does race matter? When Barack Obama was elected we were supposedly in a Post-Racial America. The Trump era has made us realize this theoretical environment in which the United States is free from racial preference, discrimination, and prejudice doesn’t really exist. Does the technology gap matter? There is a digital gap between rural and non-rural America due to a lack of infrastructure for high-speed internet which impacts job creation and impacts the widening wealth gap. Does poverty matter? Today 1% of the U.S. population controls 36.8% of the wealth in the U.S. while the bottom 90% control 22.3% of the wealth in the U.S. Corporate welfare and public policy that favors the super wealthy has put a major strain on the lower and middle class.

Do small businesses and people in cities matter? We say yes. Rebrand Cities is a global civic design partnership with WordPress with the audacious goal to get 10,000 businesses online. It is fueled by a multi-disciplinary collaboration with business owners, community stakeholders, and local governments to eradicate the digital divide. Our goal is to tell the stories of cities with stories of small business owners in cities across America. Our work with WordPress.com has allowed us to explore cities and connect with communities of entrepreneurs that don’t get much coverage…mompreneurs, entrepreneurs in churches in inner cities, tight-knit Spanish speaking business communities, entrepreneurs of color in a predominantly white city and more.

Here is a snapshot of entrepreneurs we have engaged with so far…

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One of our great Rebrand Cities stories was birthed from a recent trip to Miami where we met Dr. Abraham O. Hollist and Kristen Hollist Founders of Optimal Health! Their son had Sickle Cell and they exhausted traditional means without successfully finding a solution. Through a holistic approach and a ton of research, their son is cured of this disease that plagues approximately 100,000 people in the United States. In January 2018 they are scheduled to open Optimal Health medical center and Rebrand Cities is launching their website with WordPress.com.

The internet isn’t a luxury, it is a necessity for full participation in American society. Rebrand Cities is a storytelling platform helping to provide a voice for the small business owners in urban cities in America that don’t get covered. Urban cities like Detroit, Miami, Philadelphia, Portland and beyond are being gentrified as they transform into new shiny cities but are they building a city for all people? The fight for the small business owner is never-ending, their rent is on the rise and the critical, yet difficult task of sustainability is paramount to their success.

Watching the work that John Maeda is doing in Appalachia is inspiring and has helped me to realize there is a common denominator between Rebrand Cities and A3 and it is income inequality which has been called the defining challenge of our time by Barack Obama. It’s a refreshing reminder that we are on the right track. As stories are discovered, businesses are trained and digital footprints are planted we can attack the divide in our country.

Written by

Human Brand Design. I humanize People, Brands & Cities. Founder of @BrandCampU & @RebrandCities. Alum: @Knightfdn #KnightCities & @CNN Black In America

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