There's an extraordinary transformation happening in the heart of South Minneapolis. Two blocks from George Floyd Square, nestled within the welcoming walls of the Sabathani Community Center, young minds gather to not just imagine, but to shape their future. This is the story of Smart North, a beacon of hope and innovation, born from the tragedies of 2020, and a testament to the resilient spirit of Minneapolis.
In the aftermath of George Floyd's murder, we felt a call to action.Technology holds immense promise for breaking the chains of generational poverty and oppression, yet it's a glaring paradox that Minnesota, a state known for its economic prosperity, finds itself at the bottom of the nation in tech education. Smart North was born to solve this problem of Digital Equity. After 2 years of development, our first tech hub was set up at the Sabathani Community Center, open weekdays from 3-8 PM, equipped with VR headsets, 3D printers, computers, video games, and even a music studio. The tech hub is more than just a space – it's a safe, inclusive, and joyful ecosystem for innovation and a glimpse into the abundant future!
Smart North is more than just an organization. It's a movement towards digital equity and access to technology for our youth. In a state like Minnesota, where the racial wealth gap is the third worst in the nation, our mission is not just crucial, it's necessary. We envision a future where opportunities and access in technology are not just for the privileged few, but for every child who dares to dream, innovate, and create. The founders, some of whom call South Minneapolis home, saw a need to create generational opportunities in technology for those who have historically been left out. Our mission is to democratize the tools of the future, ensuring that every child has the ability to shape their destiny and their community, thereby playing a part in closing this gap.
"The first day that [the tech hub] opened was one of the most exciting days for me. At first I was very shy, but after that I got more comfortable. I feel very comfortable here. I like the people the come here and getting to know them." - Sunny, age 12
Our initiatives don't just stop at providing access to technology. We run programs in partnership with industry leaders, offering 'learn and earn' courses where kids acquire skills in emerging tech, all the while being paid for their time. We believe in making these programs fun, engaging, and culturally relevant. We offer hot meals, mentorship, life coaching, and a wide array of services to ensure that our young innovators have the support they need to succeed. We also extend our reach to rural communities, with a sister tech hub in Deer River, MN.
Currently, our two tech hubs serve 15-20 youth each, each day, functioning as a nexus of technology and personal support within their communities. In collaboration with local youth organizations and schools in South Minneapolis, we are building a comprehensive ecosystem of support or ‘corridors of learning and opportunities. This system doesn't stop at technology—it also includes mentorship and guidance along different career pathways. Our hub coordinator and her team, Petra, is a pivotal part of this equation, always ready to lend a listening ear, provide career advice, or share a comforting meal, helping to shape a future where our youth are technologically adept and career-ready.
Our Deer River Tech Hub is deeply embedded in a community where nearly 45% of the students in the local school system are Native American, primarily from the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. With 90% of its youth visitors identifying as Native American, the hub fosters a powerful community bond. In tandem, our hubs in Deer River and South Minneapolis provide both a rural and urban blueprint for advancing digital equity, illustrating Smart North's dedication to expanding tech access across Minnesota's diverse communities.
“In the 21st century digital economy, digital equity is the next great equalizer. We have a responsibility to create a level playing field for our historically marginalized urban and rural communities. The time is now!” - Sabina Saksena, Founding Board Member, Smart North
As we forge ahead, we are acutely aware of the challenges and opportunities that emerging technologies, particularly Artificial Intelligence (AI), bring. Will AI be a tool for creating abundance, or will it further increase the wealth and equity gap? The answer to this question is largely dependent on who gets to shape the future of AI.
Technology is, after all, a reflection of the people who create it. If AI is shaping the future of humanity, we need diverse minds at its helm. We need creators of all skin colors, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds contributing to its development. Our future should not be exclusively designed by a privileged few; it should echo the voices of many.
At Smart North, we understand this. We're committed to fostering a diverse generation of tech leaders who will bring a wide array of perspectives to the AI and tech landscape. We're teaching kids and young adults how to use AI tools to augment their abilities, build businesses, and unlock their potential. This way, they won't just be consumers of AI, but its creators and shapers, ensuring that the technology of the future is as diverse and inclusive as the world it serves.
"AI could be used to create unprecedented abundance, but it could also amplify the injustice, division, and misuse of power that plagues our society today. In order to break these cycles, we must lead from the heart, using these technologies to show love to the most marginalized members of our society." - Will Preble, Founding Board Member, Smart North
Now, more than ever, we need your help to continue this crucial work. Your support could be the key that unlocks a world of possibilities for a child. In Minnesota, wherehigh schools currently rank 50th in computer science education, each contribution to Smart North can make a significant difference in democratizing access to technology and education.
There are several ways to get involved:
• Volunteer: Give your time to guide the next generation.
• Donate: Your contribution supports our mission.
• Sponsor a Child: Empower a child's future in technology.
Join us in shaping the future of digital equity. Visit www.smartnorth.org to learn more about our mission and how you can make a difference. Together, we can ensure that the future of technology is inclusive, equitable, and brimming with opportunities for all. Welcome to Smart North – where we don't just dream about the future, we create it.