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Detroit Digital Justice Coalition Brings Technology To Detroiters

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The talented group of media and social justice advocates in the Detroit Digital Justice Coalition are working across generations and throughout the city to make technology accessible for all.

The DDJC, which started in 2009, includes several groups that strive for digital justice. While providing useful tools, like computer centers, technology workshops and community wireless, the coalition is also critically engaged with larger issues each step of the way, providing a model for education going forward.

According to the DDJC website:

"Digital justice prioritizes the participation of people who have been traditionally excluded from and attacked by media and technology. Digital justice advances our ability to tell our own stories, as individuals and as communities."

A $2 million federal grant through a partnership with Michigan State University has helped make DDJC's work possible. The group received the grant in August 2010 from the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, which was created through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009.

Jenny Lee, of DDJC and Allied Media, is encouraged by the work the coalition has managed to do with the stimulus money so far.

"The most exciting thing is seeing how a grassroots collaborative project that was really vision-based was able to put federal funding to use more directly and effectively than a lot of our established institutions are able to use those resources," she said.

DDJC focuses on the larger picture -- reforming education, empowering young people and improving access to technology -- while making a daily impact and putting grant dollars to work with educational programming. Coalition members are also committed to building infrastructure --they maintain citywide computer centers and build community wireless networks -- so that they can continue their work even if they lose funding.

DDJC educates through "discotech" technology workshops and Detroit Future programs.

One of this year's programs, Detroit Future Youth, helps students, artists and schools. The artist-in-residence program pairs graduates of Detroit Future Media classes with classrooms in Detroit Public Schools to work with students, bringing together digital media skill-building, arts integration, community engagement and social justice.

"We're creating more democratic classroom environments where young people's voices, critical thinking and creativity are fostered," Lee said.

Piper Carter, a founding member of DDJC, started in September as an artist-in-residence in 11th-grade classrooms at Pershing High School and the Detroit Institute of Technology at Cody High School.

Carter teaches specific skills in her classrooms, like using iMovie for making films. She says DDJC's work is less about teaching computer programs than about making students comfortable with technology, preparing them to be life-long learners.

From developing a social media campaign addressing the dangers of smoking to documenting a community mural garden project, Carter teaches her students to use technology to empower themselves and positively affect their communities.

"I'm helping them reshape the way they see their education," Carter said.

A tech advocate at work and home, Carter practices what she preaches, using social media relentlessly, both for fun and as part of her photography business. Facebook and Twitter allow her to share articles with her students, as well as keep tabs on them, and she encourages them to contact her outside of school.

"I've worked hard to be accountable to them," Carter said. "I challenge them, I push them, I encourage them."

Carter's approach weaves technology into everything students do in the classroom, teaching them to think of it as important and necessary part of their lives, as well as something not to fear.

"It's not as simple as buying shiny computers," Carter said. "It's relationship building, confidence building, showing kids the importance, need for, and the ways technology can powerfully impact their own lives."

* * * * *

As 2011 comes to a close, HuffPost Detroit looks to honor those who made an impact in our city this year. The 2011 Detroit Impact series will profile one organization per day until the end of the year. There are 11 organizations included in the series (see them all in the slideshow below), but there are dozens more doing good in and around Detroit. For full coverage of the people and organizations helping others, visit HuffPost Detroit Impact.

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