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The Digital Revolution will be powered by Black Millennials

Marc H. Morial | 11/26/2017, 11:49 a.m.
The presence and influence of Black millennials on our shared digital frontier can neither be denied nor dismissed.
Marc H. Morial

“The internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity.” — President Barack Obama, Remarks at the Launch of the ConnectHome Initiative, July 15, 2015

The presence and influence of Black millennials on our shared digital frontier can neither be denied nor dismissed. From viral memes that catch celebrities at their best—and worst, to trending hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and #OscarsSoWhite with the power to spark social awareness and compel offline action, Black millennials are digital pioneers. They have eagerly and creatively adopted the medium, using its emerging technologies as a megaphone for justice, raising awareness and effecting change.

Statistically, Black families continue to remain less likely than white families to have dedicated internet access at home and are more likely to access the internet from their mobile phones. According to the latest Nielsen reporting on the online presence and participation of Black millennials, “Young, Connected and Black: African-American Millennials Are Driving Social Change and Leading Digital Advancement,” 91 percent of African Americans report owning a smartphone—this comes only second to Asian Americans who report 94 percent smartphone ownership—and 91 percent of African Americans also report that they access the internet through mobile devices.

Tech-savvy African Americans, particularly the more than 11 million identified as Black millennials are influential, leading users of mobile technology and platforms, and voracious consumers and creators of digital content. They are also uniquely positioned to usher the movement for social justice into the digital age and have done so one hashtag, meme and social campaign at a time. From Ferguson to the Oscars, we have witnessed the power of e-amplified activism and its ability to exert its influence and pressure to effect change beyond the World Wide Web. It is clear that civil rights, activism, and large-scale national conversations will exist more and more at the curve of technology. In comparison to previous generations, Black millennials earn more, spend more and are experiencing increased educational advancements. We must ensure that this progress and the narrowing of our nation’s digital divide continues unabated.

The National Urban League understands that our world is increasingly global and networked. We believe that being left out of the digital revolution, whether you are an activist fighting for equality or attempting to access employment opportunities, is a detriment to our communities and, ultimately, our nation. Committed to economic empowerment, we have consistently called for the expansion of high-speed broadband to urban and rural America, including as recently as in our Main Street Marshall Plan. At this year’s annual conference we convened a Hackathon, challenging participants to create apps that address racial and social justice. We also featured Tech Connect, a space to explore the complex intersections between tech, race and social change.

We have not only committed to talking about the digital economy, and the digital space as a tool in the fight for social justice, but we actively prepare people for it. As Black millennials forge ahead on the digital frontier, we acknowledge and celebrate their collective strength and power—and recognize the decidedly analog roots of their movement.

Despite attempts to restrict communication among enslaved Africans, these men and women used their ingenuity and creativity to communicate in the beat of a drum, the clap of roughened hands and the moans of spirituals. With these early tools they were able to communicate sorrow, joy and revolution. Today, the tools are different and more powerful, but the impulse to use what we have to raise awareness, evoke discussion and trigger action remains the same. To access the new digital economy and to take advantage of the power of technology to impact our lives, we must continue to ensure access and promote STEM education. We applaud those leaders and young professionals in our communities who are rising to the occasion and using digital advances to bring online pressure to bear on our offline realities.

Marc H. Morial is the President and CEO of the National Urban League.