Access to affordable smartphones has disrupted the extractive regimes of multinationals and oligarchies in many nations. Connected to the world and to each other, ordinary people can create their own production and exchange systems.  But technology can intimidate people who are unaccustomed to it; especially when they grow up without access.

Digital justice aims to provide access to the digisphere for those without it. With some support from government and local anchor institutions, ordinary citizens can self organize and address local needs.  The Detroit Community Technology Project fills this role in an impoverished community. This post features three of their endeavors.

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A Discotech (which is short for Discovering Technology) is a model for a community-based and community-organized multimedia, drop-in workshop fair.

At a Discotech, participants learn more about the impact and possibilities of technology within our communities and take part in fun, interactive and media-based workshops.

A Discotech utilizes the unique skills and expertise within each community and morphs to adapt to changing needs. Discotechs are constantly evolving, there are infinite ways of holding the event!

DDJC’s Discotechs have integrated the following core concepts: Internet, Computers + Electronics, Policy and Community Resources.

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The Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP) is excited to present the Teaching Community Technology Handbook. This 100+ page handbook will take you through the history of popular education while offering a step-by-step guide to developing community rooted technology workshops and curricula. The handbook introduces Community Technology as a series of educational practices, combining theories and methods by Paulo Freire, Myles Horton, Grace Lee Boggs, Bernice McCarthy, Susan Morris, Grant P Wiggins, and Jay McTighe.

Community technology is a method of teaching and learning about technology with the goal of restoring relationships and healing neighborhoods. Community technologists are those who have the desire to build, design and facilitate a healthy integration of technology into people’s lives and communities.

DCTP was commissioned to produce the book by New America’s Resilient Communities Program in partnership with New York Economic Development Corporation’s RISE NYC Program. DCTP launched the for public use internationally at the Mozilla Festival in Ravensbourne College, London in October.

Why Teach Community Technology?

“We never know how our small activities will affect others through the invisible fabric of our connectedness. In this exquisitely connected world, it’s never a question of ‘critical mass.’ It’s always about critical connections.” – Grace Lee Boggs

We produced this handbook because we recognized that having a particular skill doesn’t necessarily mean you are equipped to teach it to others. Community Technology focuses on teaching strategies that can be employed to make the process of learning how to use and create technology more accessible and relevant. We believe sharing these teaching practices has the potential to diversify and shape technology fields to be more community-oriented.

We’ve learned from Boggs, Horton and Freire that the way in which we teach, along with who is teaching, has a great impact on how people learn. The roots of teaching and learning with communities traces back to the citizenship schools of the Civil Rights Movement. In the 1960s, racist policies targeting marginalized communities in the South, such as voter literacy tests, prevented Black people from voting in order to shape the future they wanted to see. Through citizenship “schools” thousands of African Americans in the South trained thousands of others to read and write. In this context, the purpose of literacy was to build the power of disenfranchised communities to fundamentally transform the power structures of the country.

Today, we live in an era where technology is interwoven with government, healthcare, social services and education. Yet digital literacy inequality is high – Detroit has one of the lowest rates of Internet access with 40% of households lacking Internet. Digital literacy is essential for people to access basic life needs. As cities shift towards data-driven development and wireless infrastructures, it is important to build the digital capacity of neighborhoods. The more that people know about the technology around them, the more they will be able to participate in shaping their environment.

Whether you’re a novice technology user who is interested in facilitating sessions on how to use a smartphone, an intermediate technology user who wants to teach people how to use hashtags, or an advanced technology user who is interested in designing interactive maps for community empowerment, this handbook provides tools, strategies and hands-on activities to support you in facilitating accessible workshops and programming.

DCTP has used the handbook to help grow digital stewards programming in Detroit through the Equitable Internet Initiative, and in New York with the RISE – NYC Resilient Communities program. Through customized trainings with community partners, we use the handbook to help build capacity in neighborhoods for others to be able to teach the digital stewards program.

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The Equitable Internet Initiative is a collaboration between the Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP), Allied Media Projects (AMP), Grace in Action Collectives, WNUC Community Radio, and the Church of the Messiah’s Boulevard Harambe Program.

A group of around 10 people sitting at a table with books, with Diana standing next to the table teaching

From July, 2016 to January, 2018, we will work together to ensure that more Detroit residents have the ability to leverage digital technologies for social and economic development.

The goals of this initiative are to:

  • increase Internet access through the distribution of shared Gigabit Internet connections in three underserved neighborhoods;
  • increase Internet adoption through a Digital Stewards training program that prepares residents of those same neighborhoods with the skills necessary to bring their communities online; and
  •  increase pathways for youth into the opportunities of Detroit’s burgeoning Innovation District through intermediate and advanced digital literacy trainings.

Through the Equitable Internet Initiative (EII), DCTP will accelerate outreach, training and wireless broadband sharing on the neighborhood level in Detroit. The EII will serve residents in Detroit’s Southeast, Southwest, and North End neighborhoods, which were selected based on their comparatively low income and educational levels in contrast to the Greater Downtown area, and based on their proximity to existing DCTP hubs, whose support can be leveraged.

Community Anchor Organizations

Three community anchor organizations will implement the EII programs in their respective neighborhoods:

  •  Grace in Action (Vernor/Lawndale in Southwest Detroit)
  •  Church of the Messiah (Islandview in Southeast Detroit)
  •  WNUC Community Radio (North End)

The EII will build upon existing community technology programs at each site, which include a community makerspace, a youth-run technology collective, and a community radio station that focuses on developing local storytelling and journalism. Through their participation in the EII, these community anchor organizations will grow their capacities to respond to rapidly changing digital opportunities and threats in Detroit.

The Equitable Internet Initiative will accelerate outreach, training and wireless broadband Internet sharing on the neighborhood level in Detroit. Led by the Detroit Community Technology project of Allied Media Projects, the Equitable Internet Initiative will ensure that more Detroit residents.

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Detroit Music Box is a community radio application that broadcasts stories and media from people living in the Cass Corridor. It is currently accessible on the CassCo community wireless network as a “local application” which means it can be accessed without using the Internet through the CassCo wireless network. The Detroit Community Technology Project (DCTP) has been collecting stories for Detroit Music Box since launching it over a year ago. We are excited to share that you can now download and install Music Box for your own neighborhood! Read on to learn more about Detroit Music Box, how you can access it in the Cass Corridor, and how you can set up this storytelling application in your community.

Why We Started Music Box

In 2016, Detroit has become a perceived mecca of possibility, a “comeback city.” On the surface, that’s a great thing. Unfortunately, the comeback narrative does not encompass the full story of Detroit, including the the voices of the predominantly black residents of the city, who have been largely misrepresented or not represented at all in these narratives.

Without knowing the stories of longtime residents of Detroit, most people would believe that the “comeback city” narrative was the full story. Capturing the stories of residents who never left – the residents who are creatively reimagining their neighborhoods despite decades of neglect – is crucial in portraying a counter-narrative about Detroit that shares the city’s rich history and uplifts the voices of marginalized communities.

Detroit Music Box makes it easy to collect and preserve the stories of residents and community members so that they can build a community-generated history of their neighborhoods, create alternatives to mainstream narratives about Detroit and educate people who are new to the city.

Detroit Music Box in the Cass Corridor

Detroit Music Box is currently available on the CassCo community wireless network, maintained by DCTP with support from the  Detroit Digital Stewards Network. CassCo is a community wireless network that allows communities to distribute and share Internet connections.  Every community wireless network has an “intranet,” a local network in which users can send and receive information wirelessly without connecting to the Internet. Because Music Box is housed on an intranet, it is available and accessible to a wider audience, including users whose Internet goes down and those without access to Internet, which is roughly 40% of Detroiters.

“CassCo” represents Cass Corridor, a neighborhood in Detroit that has seen rapid gentrification. This area has since been renamed as Midtown, but for many Detroiters who have lived in this neighborhood for decades, it will always be Cass Corridor. The implementation of CassCo and Detroit Music Box in an area like Midtown is significant because much of what once was is no longer there. Storytelling is a participatory way to preserve the past and archive the people’s history of Detroit.

DCTP launched Detroit Music Box in the Cass Corridor by asking the question “Do you remember the Cass Corridor?” DCTP gathered stories from residents in the Cass Corridor neighborhood by posting a public call online, putting up flyers in the neighborhood, doing door-to-door outreach and interviews, and hosting an event at Allied Media Projects called “Remembering the Cass Corridor,” which brought  together longtime and existing residents, business owners, and artists from the Cass Corridor to share their stories. At the event, each story was recorded live and archived on the Detroit Music Box radio application.


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