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Emerald South, Comcast initiative to bring Wi-Fi across the South Side

The South Side Connectivity Collaborative will place 11 Comcast “Lift Zones” around the South Side to provide “high capacity” internet access in four neighborhoods within the next two months.

Romel Murphy’s nonprofit Equality Should Be Normal is one of 11 centers receiving internet access and laptops through the South Side Connectivity Collaborative.
Romel Murphy’s nonprofit Equality Should Be Normal is one of 11 centers receiving internet access and laptops through the South Side Connectivity Collaborative.
Cheyanne M. Daniels/Sun-Times

For 10 years, Jennifer Maddox has run Future Ties, an after-school program at Woodlawn’s Parkway Gardens.

As a former security officer for the apartment complex, which has more than 1,000 school-age children, Maddox said she felt the students needed “a safe space . . . to feel comfortable and socialize and have a space to do their homework, without being in fear.”

Despite the program being “rewarding and fulfilling,” Maddox said one thing has remained an issue: internet connectivity.

It was an issue exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, when students around the complex couldn’t access the internet to attend virtual classes or turn in assignments.

But a new partnership between the Emerald South Economic Development Collaborative and Comcast will help provide connectivity.

Last week, Emerald South and Comcast announced the launch of the South Side Connectivity Collaborative, an initiative focused on bringing internet access to areas of the South Side.

“We know that connectivity is critical,” said Ghian Foreman, Emerald South’s CEO. “COVID has really exposed the lack of broadband connectivity.”

The South Side Connectivity Collaborative will place 11 “Lift Zones,” or high capacity Wi-Fi services, around Woodlawn, Bronzeville, Grand Boulevard and Washington Park.

“With all the distance learning and the homework gap that’s going on in the country, this is an opportunity for kids to go in and do schoolwork, do research, that sort of thing,” said Jack Segal, Comcast’s vice president of communications for the Chicago region.

He added the Lift Zones will also provide opportunities for adults who need access to internet services for things like job hunting.

Already, Lift Zones have been installed at K.L.E.O. Community Family Life Center, 119 E. Garfield Blvd. and Bright Star Community Outreach, 735 East 44th St.

Other Lift Zones will be at places like Bronzeville’s Black Star Project, 3509 S. Martin Luther King Drive; Washington Park’s Equality Should Be Normal, 239 E. 51st St.; and Future Ties at 6418 S. Martin Luther King Drive.

Segal expects all Lift Zones to be installed within the next two months.

For Romel Murphy, executive director of Equality Should Be Normal, the initiative is vital to ensuring success for students on the South Side.

Equality’s Washington Park center assists over 100 people a week, including high school students, through food pantries, mental health services, tutoring and technology training.

“There’s so much information out there that we in the Black community don’t know,” said Murphy, “but all the information is on your phone or on the web, so you need internet to be able to access that, and you can learn so much.”

As part of the initiative, Comcast will also donate a total of $60,000 to the Collaborative’s participants to support programs like digital literacy training, and each organization will receive 10 laptops for public use.

Cheyanne M. Daniels is a staff reporter for the Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.