African Americans have always had a hand in shaping the American sound. From gospel and Motown to bebop and blues, their story is bound up in the music they made -- songs of hurt and hardship, yearning and hope, and struggle for a better day. Those feelings speak to something common in all of us. With passion and creativity, African-American performers have done more than reinvent the musical styles they helped define; they have channeled their music into making change and advancing justice, from radio booths to the stage to our city streets.
That story is still unfolding today. We see it in the young poet putting his words to a beat; the conservatory student perfecting her technique; the jazz musician making old melodies new again. During African-American Music Appreciation Month, let us celebrate these artists and the generations who inspired them, and let us reflect on our heritage as a Nation forever enriched by the power of song.
Last weekend was the National Day of Civic Hacking, a two-day event that brought together technologists and subject matter experts “to create tools that make our city better.” I participated in the hackathon organized by TechnicallyPhilly.com and the City of Philadelphia at Drexel’s ExCITe Center.
I worked on a Code for Philly project with Chris Alfano and Jim Connor. We addressed the problem of the lack of a central source for information about after school and summer programs. There are a number of databases that compile information about out-of-school-time (OST) programs, but the information is not current. The demand for such programs will increase in the wake of the “doomsday” school budget recently approved by the School Reform Commission.
There’s no money and in nearly half of Philly households, no Internet access. So many parents and students will try to find out what’s going on at their local library or Keyspot public computer center. While Internet access is free, users are not free to sit there as long as it takes to find a suitable program.
So we built a mobile web app that empowers parents and students to quickly access current information about after school and summer programs.
Users are able to search for programs by grade level, season (summer or year-round) and subject. What’s Going On is at the intersection of technology, education and civic engagement. The public is invited to submit a program. We will verify the information before adding the program to our community wiki, Wikidelphia.
An asset map of OST programs in Philadelphia,
What’s Going On won first place. The project can serve as a national model for how developers, advocates, parents and community members can collaborate to expand access to programs that promote year-round learning and engagement.
FATE is changing the fate of underrepresented minorities by connecting the best STEM ideas to schools and students. And their ideas work. One of FATE’s students, Zora Ball, is the youngest computer programmer in the country.
At the First Anniversary FATE Bootstrap Expo, Philadelphia Deputy Mayor & Managing Director Richard Negrin gave keynote remarks.
Negrin said technology is key:
I love technology. I love innovation. But it’s not technology for technology’s sake. It’s empowering. It changes lives.
Negrin noted that 54 percent of Philly households do not have broadband Internet access at home. They live in “digital deserts” disconnected from the innovation economy and trapped in poverty:
Technology can break the cycle of poverty. Technology can empower all our children. It catapults their learning and thinking. That’s how we get out of this crisis in the education system.
Negrin observed that it is important to connect the dots on how STEM matters in students’ day-to-day lives. But we can’t show them what’s possible because no one knows what the future holds. Instead, we must show students the way, teach them the skills, and free their minds.