Elijah Cummings…Gateway to Success

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At a time when our economic recovery is just beginning to gain speed, it has become clearer than ever before that economic success truly requires a national effort.  The stimulus funding provided by the federal government has been essential – but so, too, have been the efforts in local communities all across our great country.

On Monday, April 19, I will again be sponsoring my Annual Job Fair at Baltimore’s 5th Regiment Armory off Howard Street from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. (Call 410-685-9199 for more information). Many of the employers participating have expressed special interest in job seekers with at least some computer training.

There is an important lesson for all of us in this fact. In this new information age, success is directly related to our ability to fully utilize computers and the Internet.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, Sen. Ben Cardin and I, along with our entire Maryland congressional delegation, are acutely aware of this reality. So is President Barack Obama and those who designed the {American Recovery and Reinvestment Act} (the “stimulus”).

We must not only provide and protect more jobs now. We also must create the new, high-technology jobs of this 21st century.

For the working families of our time, the Internet is indeed the “gateway to success.”

The president and Congress also realize, however, that the additional federal funding that we are providing must be in a form that local communities can utilize effectively.

For example, in the heart of West Baltimore, an urban university and its surrounding community are looking to the Internet as the path to greater economic prosperity.

Coppin State University is best known for producing world-class teachers and nurses, lifting up the young people of our city to the pinnacles of professional success. Now, under the leadership of President Reginald Avery and visionary colleagues like Dr. York Bradshaw, Coppin State is reaching out to directly empower our community.

In a partnership that includes Coppin State, neighborhood associations and the federal government, more than 12,000 adults and children from the Coppin Heights-Rosemont community and beyond will be provided with free access to the high-speed Internet.

Located on the campus, the Coppin Heights-Rosemont Family Computer Center will also provide the instruction that will make “broadband access” a meaningful contribution to the participants’ daily lives.

It is important for all of us to understand why this initiative is so important to the entire Baltimore region. As Chairman Julius Genachowski of the Federal Communications Commission acknowledged during his March 25 testimony in the House of Representatives:

“Broadband is the indispensable infrastructure of the digital age – the 21st century equivalent of what canals, railroads, highways, the telephone and electricity were for previous generations. Multiple studies tell us the same thing – even modest increases in broadband adoption can yield hundreds of thousands of new jobs.”

Like other predominantly minority communities throughout the country, many of our neighbors in the Coppin State area have not been keeping pace with the opportunities created by the broadband (high-speed Internet) revolution.  Fewer than 5 percent of the homes and businesses in the area subscribe to broadband service.

The reasons for this “digital divide” are clear. For some residents, the problem is the absence of a computer in their homes.  For others, the cost of broadband access is too expensive.

We must change this harsh equation.

For many residents of the 14 neighborhoods surrounding Coppin State, life is improving. Yet, for others, theirs is a daily struggle against poverty.

One in every 5 households is living below the poverty line. The unemployment rate is between 14 and 18 percent.

These are the challenges that the new Family Computer Center must help our community face and overcome. Their strategy is to provide free access to broadband services, educational courses and on-line resources.

The Center will have its own facility, computers, networks, and governing structure – directing its services to the entire community. As Dr. Bradshaw has observed, “Whether you need technical training for a job, help on your homework, or simply want to email your grandchildren, we can assist you.”

Featuring 60 state-of-the-art workstations, the Center will offer a total of 15 training and educational courses on a regular basis, providing entire families with computer and broadband instruction, job training (and creation), health information and other empowering knowledge.

Although focused on lifting up Coppin Heights-Rosemont residents, the Center will be open, on a  space-available basis, to the entire Baltimore community. Supported by $932,000 federal stimulus grant and $275,000 in Coppin State funding, the Center will be working to create, save or improve more than 5,500 jobs during the next three years.

Although it will be expanding during the next several months, the Computer Center will be open to assist young people in a matter of weeks. The Center will be offering a free Technology Camp for young people in the K-12 age bracket this summer.

They can call York Bradshaw and his staff at (410) 951-1288 for more information.
As Dr. Bradshaw has informed me, young people can begin to walk through the Internet gateway toward success almost immediately – and, in the future, they will be the job applicants that employers most want to hire.

This is President Barack Obama’s vision in action – and my own. We, ourselves, have the power to transform our lives.

The Internet can be that pathway. We need only have the determination to walk through this gateway to success.

Congressman Elijah E. Cummings represents Maryland’s Seventh Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives.