By Janice Hayes Kyser
LOS ANGELES — As the votes were still being counted to determine the city’s next leader, outgoing Mayor Eric Garcetti announced he was launching a 12-week initiative to provide Black and brown businesses and students with the access, skills and resources needed to thrive in a digital world.
“We’re committed to closing the digital divide in Los Angeles because everyone deserves equal opportunity to grow, thrive, and succeed,” Garcetti said. “Vision Lab harnesses the talent and creativity of our city to ensure that students have access to reliable internet, local businesses can take their businesses online and no one is left behind in our connected world.”
Local leaders applaud the announcement and say it is a much needed and long overdue first step towards addressing a vexing issue that isolates people of color and makes it difficult for them to access the knowledge needed to get ahead in an increasingly high-tech world.
“The digital divide between poor, mostly Black and Hispanic underserved communities, has been well documented,” said author, activist and president of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, Earl Ofari Hutchinson. “It has been a gaping sore spot in providing poor communities with equitable access to information, commerce and opportunities.
“Any effort by public agencies will be a help, but it will take a massive, long-term concentration of resources, expertise and information to seriously dent the gap,” Hutchison added. “This is a baby step, but hopefully it will be a beginning, a template for expansion and a wakeup call for other public and private funders to start similar programs.”
“Closing the digital divide in South L.A. positions youth for the next generation of tech jobs and expands opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses to thrive in the tech sector,” said Carolyn Hull, general manager of the city’s Economic and Workforce Development Department.
Vision Lab is a partnership of the Mayor’s Office, the City’s Economic and Workforce Development Department, Brotherhood Crusade YouthSource Center, UCLA Extension, and other public and private partners.
“Our collaboration with the city of L.A. Vision Lab offers a way to engage the diverse communities we serve in Los Angeles,” said Eric A. Bullard, dean of Continuing Education and UCLA Extension.
“UCLA Extension intends to leverage the resources and expertise in our continuing education division to contribute to the viability and long-term success of local entrepreneurs.”
Gene Hale, chairman of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce, says the Vision Lab is a much-needed investment in South Los Angeles at a time when the area is growing.
“As the leader of a business chamber with more than 200 members, I see this initiative as a step in the right direction to putting resources back into a business community that has, in my opinion yet to fully recover from the 1992 civil unrest.”
Vision Lab is funded through Mayor Garcetti’s 2021-22 Justice Budget, which allocates $17 million to digital inclusion, including expanded access to public WiFi and the modernization of public computer labs, as well as an expansion of Los Angeles Public Library’s Tech2Go program, greater access to low-cost internet for Angelenos, and other digital inclusion programs across city departments.