Resilient Neighborhoods: Quincy Jones speaks up about bridging the digital divide in Osborn

This is part of a series of Q&A interviews with Detroit nonprofit directors connected to our Resilient Neighborhoods series. Quincy Jones is the executive director of the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance

Model D: First off, can you tell us a little about the Osborn Neighborhood Alliance (ONA)?

Quincy Jones: We're a community group on the East Side of Detroit. We're an advocate for residents in the areas of housing development, youth development, and business development.  And [we offer] resources and information that residents can come to help navigate through the Osborn community. Even if we don't have the answer, we can help them navigate to the correct resource.

Model D: What can you tell me about the digital divide and the need for digital access in the Osborn neighborhood?

QJ: One [aspect] is really around access. [We hear questions like:] I don't have a computer. I don't have a printer. Can I use your equipment? I don't have internet. I don't have the equipment. Two, just navigating the systems. What is [MIcrosoft] Word? What is PowerPoint? How do you do research? The last [element] is really around cost. I think fiber-optic internet is a new term to many people that they are trying to understand and learn. What does the infrastructure look like and who is responsible for it? In my opinion, the city is responsible [for helping establish that infrastructure], because it's such a cost for the average resident or even organization that it's hard to tackle. So our organization, we're working in parallel with the businesses, the residents, and the city on the bigger system issue, which is infrastructure for fiber-optic.

Model D: With that in mind, could you tell us about the programing ONA is offering to help bridge this divide?

QJ: This whole digital divide, when I talk about Osborn, my understanding of it in the very beginning was just having access. Individuals didn't have laptops or kids didn't have access to WiFi. That was my understanding of it in the very beginning. 

But when the pandemic happened. Everything kind of switched to digital. So people didn't have proper WiFi or they didn't have the right equipment to upload their documents or to do Zoom or social media. So what [our business director] Paul Garrison did for the businesses was create this workshop where businesses that want to elevate themselves to have a social media presence and internet presence.  It's called the Technologies Training Program. It's a six-week course. The workshops are conducted by various experts in the field for businesses to get them prepared and close that digital divide that gap. The businesses are getting access and [help] making sure they have internet [access] and digital payment like PayPal, learn how to upload documents, and [can set up] websites. We're making sure their presence is known in the digital world. 

That's one aspect of what we're doing. But then there's another avenue that's more about the digital divide for residents. On the resident side of things, it's training them on the basics of computers. How to do basic research. And this is done by Steven Henry, he's our Connect 313 ambassador for the residents. [It's about] making sure they know the basic stuff like how to do your research, along with having [better access to] the internet and equipment.

Model D: Is Connect 313 an ONA-led program or is it part of a bigger initiative?
It's funded by Rocket Mortgage and [other partners] and the United Way for Southeast Michigan [administers] the program. Then there's a larger committee that meets. Right now there are several ambassadors working in various communities [in Detroit], and one is in Osborn. Steve works for us and he's dedicated to the Osborn neighborhood. We're really on the grassroots level on the resident level to help people understand [and address] this digital divide. 

Model D: And how does this relate to the new community hub you're building?

QJ: As far as our hub, we really wanted to bring in technology companies. It will be a space where they can test their technology. And residents will [have an opportunity] not to just be end-users, but be part of the idea, the focus groups. Our thought was that by having this in the hub, if a company wants to come, they can test out some of their new technologies and have [access] to diverse ideas and opinions to help shape those emerging technologies.

Model D: How did ONA first get interested in digital access and technology?

QJ: So the hub that we're creating, the idea came about years ago. There's a nonprofit over by TechTown Detroit. It's called NextEnergy. So a few years ago, when I went to their building, they had tech companies there and this innovative technology model that was so digital. And I was thinking to myself, why don't more individuals know about this? How can we bring more tech companies, not just to Downtown and Midtown, but right in the neighborhoods? What do we have to do as a neighborhood to attract them? So that kind of sparked my interest in that. And it just grew from there. 

Model D: What can you tell me about the efforts that you mentioned to get the city to install fiber-optic internet infrastructure?

QJ: Downtown has fiber-optic. It's very expensive, because it means digging up the ground and putting in all of the infrastructure, so that all of the providers can come. Now the city has a plan. They're going to be doing a pilot program over in Hope Village. The goal is to expand it all over the city to then provide a more affordable option. There was a meeting back a couple of weeks ago at the Focus:HOPE center to talk about this fiber-optic piece and what it means for the city. One of our goals is to be the next pilot [community] when it comes. After Focus:HOPE, we'll be advocating to have it come to the Osborn.

Model D: What are you doing to help make that happen?

QJ: We're collaborating with the city to help promote bringing in fiber-optic. They're going to need some political support from Lansing. We held a meeting back in May and invited 
 Joshua Edmonds, Detroit’s Director of Digital Inclusion, and businesses and residents. We talked about technology and their experiences during the pandemic. What techniques did they use to navigate through it? The next meeting is going to be with the churches and coming up soon. 

Model D: What sort of impact do you think fiber-optic internet would have in Osborn?

QJ: So one, it would help to reduce the costs for the internet. Two, it would provide options. Right now there's really no options. Three, it would provide job opportunities. Right now, with the American Rescue Plan Act and federal infrastructure dollars, people are getting trained. So how can residents in this neighborhood be a part of this change? I have never seen so many resources in the community right now. So the whole goal is really to get in front of it. Be a beta test for a lot of things that we've talked about for years and now the resources are there to make some of those things happen. 

Model D: Are there any other digital access efforts happening in Osborn?

QJ: One of the projects that we're working on with the Park Grove block club is a wellness center. We're thinking about having WiFi outside so residents can have access to WiFi. Steve is working with the block club to get the wellness center up and running.

Model D: Anything else you want our readers to know? 

QJ: Osborn is open for business. And we're here and we're ready for beta testing, piloting any program to make our community better. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Resilient Neighborhoods is a reporting and engagement series that examines how Detroit residents and community development organizations are working together to strengthen local neighborhoods. It's made possible with funding from the Kresge Foundation.

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Read more articles by David Sands.

David Sands is a Detroit-based freelance writer. He's covered the news for Huffington Post Detroit as an assistant editor and worked as a staff writer for the transportation news site Mode Shift. Follow him on Twitter @dsandsdetroit.