The police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson (which is a city located in the suburbs of St. Louis, Mo. ) was not just about the actions of the police but the response of local and statewide leaders who often over look frontline and impacted communities. Long before the tanks rolled in, black families in St. Louis have suffered from the systemic impacts of generational inequality. Historic inequities in the form of health and economic disparities created an environment that was ripe for civil unrest (https://news.stlpublicradio.org/health-science-environment/2014-09-09/analysis-ferguson-protests-are-about-justice-but-also-about-health-and-economic-disparities)
In many ways for those living in poverty, St. Louis was like a third world country in need of help, in order to access the technologies of the modern age for sustainability. So why Vibranium? Well Vibranium is the mythological energy source in the Marvel Universe that was able to transform a struggling African nation, Wakanda into a thriving resilient and sustainable community. Today in cities around the world the foundation to health, wealth and economic vitality is to have robust digital infrastructure, broadband technologies that are the backbone to any “smart city”. In order to start the process of restorative justice, Gaia Green Earth led by Daniel “Zip” Gould, a native of St. Louis decided to address these generational economic challenges and disparities by providing Digital Vibranium (technologies) to the communities that have been historically marginalized.
CHALLENGE AND OPPORTUNITY
“Growing up in North St. Louis as a black/ indigenous child we had every odd against us. I want to provide the communities I grew up in with resources to accelerate transformation for future children who come from where I’m from. Our role as guardians of the planet start with frontline communities” – Daniel Gould Principal/Managing Director Gaia Green Earth Tech
Historical challenges can also present tremendous opportunities for growth and positive change. The St. Louis Housing Authority (SLHA) and St. Louis-based Gaia Green Earth, LLC (Gaia) created a Public/Private LTE Network to bridge the digital divide for low to moderate income communities in St. Louis. The LTE Network provides free Wi-Fi to approximately 1,200 + families living in public housing during the first phase of deployment.
“When residents have the ability to cross the digital divide, educational, health and other social outcomes improve”, said Alana Green, SLHA Executive Director. “The COVID-19 pandemic further highlights the critical need for resident access to the Internet at home.”
“Nearly half of households in St. Louis City and County are affected by some
aspect of the digital divide and will require investment to ensure adequate longterm connectivity.
In order to fully participate in our economic, educational, and healthcare systems, residents need: • Consistent, reliable, and affordable access to high-speed broadband (HSBB) • Affordable devices capable of maintaining HSBB connection •Training and support to participate in this new virtual landscape” – The St. Louis Digital Divide report (Ernst & Young in collaboration with the Center for Civic Research and Innovation)
1 in 5 people in St. Louis live in poverty.
As of 2019, African Americans in St. Louis were more than three times as likely to be in poverty as White individuals. In 2019, 21.2 percent of Black individuals in St. Louis were in poverty compared to 7 percent of White individuals.
The issues of affordability of broadband and the devices needed to access the networks for low-income residents is one of the most significant challenges and opportunity to bridging the digital divide in St. Louis. The Ferguson Commission report provided a narrative of the disparities and injustice that have plagued St. Louis communities for decades.
THE JUSTICE PROCESS
Gaia in partnership with the St. Louis Housing Housing Authority identified 9 sites in which they could bridge the digital divide by providing free private LTE 5G services to those communities in need. In the build out of the digital infrastructure Gaia targeted employing formerly incarcerated individuals to help do the work, which gives them a second chance in society and access to the green economy with new skills. In the completion of phase 1, Gaia has already provided digital services to over 1200 families in need, which was necessary during the height of the Covid-19 helped with access to educational opportunities online.
Phase 2 begins in the Fall of 2022 with the expansion of services to new sites and the addition new services to create resilience hubs. VP and Chief Sustainability Officer for Gaia Green Earth, Tech says “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said a riot is the language of the unheard, therefore building on that understanding, we have to listen to the needs and issues of the community and do our best leading with empathy to bridge the gap. One of the ways we are addressing these systemic issues is by bringing Digital Vibranium to the hood and urban centers around the country.”