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Journalists seek to bridge technology, community gap at summit at Penn

Philadelphia is poised to be the next technological hub due to a number of innovative, multi-billion dollar projects that are underway or in the pipeline.

When the National Association of Black Journalists Region I hosts its “Diversity, Innovation and Technology Summit” in Philadelphia this Saturday, the organization will highlight innovative projects such as the Comcast Technology Center, the University City Science Center’s uCity Square Project, University of Pennsylvania ’s Pennovation Center and the Schuylkill Yards project by Drexel University that are located in or near predominately African-American communities.

“I made the conscious decision to bring the summit to Philadelphia, not just to increase the learning capacity for journalists in regards to technology, but to showcase the many innovation projects that are being built or proposed here,” said Johann Calhoun, Region I Director for NABJ.

Calhoun supervises professional and student chapters in Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington D.C. and West Virginia. Members from each state are expected to travel here for the summit.

During the event, officials from these research institutions will address how they plan to engage members of the community as these projects seek to be the epicenter of innovation. Summit organizers are hoping the event serves as a bridge for community members and leaders whose areas may be affected by these projects.

“Our city is on the brink of something amazing,” Calhoun said. “Philadelphia is prime to be the next global innovation hub — beating the likes of Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. And in order for us to be that great, innovative city, all hands must be on deck, including the residents of those neighborhoods near these multi-billion dollar projects, i.e. Mantua, Kingsessing and Grays Ferry. We must include everyone at the table.”

During his summit presentation, Steve Tang, president and CEO of the University City Science Center, will highlight how the $1 billion uCity Square project seeks to be inclusive of the surrounding community.

“It’s almost as if the Science Center has come full circle to where we began in 1963, when what is now our campus was an integral part of the community here in West Philadelphia,“ he said.

The center’s campus at 37th and Market streets, was previously the site of the Black Bottom neighborhood. Residents from the neighborhood were displaced when the Science Center was developed as an urban renewal project in the early 1960s.

Through the uCity 10-year development, the Science Center will rebuild the street grid that used to connect the communities of Powelton Village and Mantua back into University City. One of the development’s projects is a new building at 3637 Market St.

“The Science Center for the past 54 years has been in the business of creating high-paying jobs, in high-growth industries, so what we are now doing is trying to make those opportunities available to the citizens and neighborhoods that surround the Science Center, as much as they are available to anybody else,” Tang said.

During the event, Lucy Kerman, senior vice provost for University and Community Partnerships, Drexel University, will address how the Schuylkill Yards development will help bolster journalism and develop West Philadelphia as an innovation hub.

Drexel partnered with Brandywine Realty Trust to create Schuylkill Yards, a $3.5 billion, 14-acre, mixed-use development featuring offices, academic labs, retail spaces, residential spaces and parks.

The property next to Drexel’s main campus and adjacent to Amtrak’s 30th Street Station and Brandywine’s Cira Centre will be developed over a 20-year period. Construction is slated to begin this summer on the project’s first phase, Drexel Square, a 1.3 acre public park located in front of the Bulletin building.

“Drexel and Brandywine have from the very beginning, talked about the importance of local West Philadelphia residents being able to participate in all of the economic activity that is taking place at Schuylkill Yards,” Kerman explained. “When we talk about that, the first step is clearly participation in the construction itself. We anticipate that there will be an economic opportunity plan for the construction of each of the spaces in Schuylkill Yards with a strong commitment for local hiring and contracting on those construction jobs.”

Kerman said Drexel will work with organizations such as The Enterprise Center and the University City District to ensure that local, minority and women-owned contractors can participate in procurement opportunities with the businesses located in Schuylkill Yards. The development is expected to house businesses in the medical and technology sectors.

“We are also very committed to ensuring that the educational pipeline for young people in West Philadelphia, in particular the Promise Zone, is strong enough that by the time they become adults they have the skill set they need to be competitive for the jobs that are coming and that really takes a long term educational vision,“ she said.

The summit also features a segment where Tiffanie Stanard, a serial entrepreneur and media personality, will interview Laurie Actman, chief marketing, communications and program officer of the Penn Center for Innovation.

During the interview, Actman will address how the Pennovation Center is partnering with the surrounding communities of West and Southwest Philadelphia. The three-story, 58,000-square-foot research center, which opened in September 2016 at 3401 Grays Ferry Ave., is a hub for innovation and business ventures.

Stanard said it is important that residents of South, West and Southwest Philadelphia know how to utilize the Pennovation Center.

“They’re not use to a Pennovation Center or a technology center within their neighborhood,” she said. “How do you market it and encourage them to come utilize it?

“It is important to understand that even if you are not necessarily within that industry how it can benefit you, your neighborhood and the company you work with or for,” added Stanard, who is the co-founder of Stimulus, a technology and media company.

“One of the things I know about technology is that people get scared away from technology because they think that you have to be a coder or you need to be in IT, but technology is used in everything that you do.“

Melony Roy, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists said the city’s tech scene has been growing throughout the years.

“There are many things about Philadelphia that is drawing the tech industry here,” Roy said. With the expansions, she noted, “you get into some gentrification issues and as far as access is concerned it is always a problem.“

Roy acknowledged while many Black people are engaged in social media and are smart phone users, there is a lack of diversity in the tech industry — with African Americans making up only 2 percent of employees at major tech companies like Facebook and Twitter.

“Part of the lack of people getting these jobs, is because they aren’t getting the training,“ Roy said.

Saturday’s summit, which is expected to draw hundreds from across the U.S. northeast, will feature remarks from Mayor Jim Kenney, Congressman Dwight Evans and an onstage discussion with Charles Blow, CNN commentator and oped visual columnist for The New York Times.

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Kristen Fitch

Kristen Fitch

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