Heading into Thursday’s Silicon Harlem Technology and Innovation Debate, a crowded field of seven candidates running for New York’s 13th Congressional District will need to distinguish themselves to stand out in front of a crowd of more than 800 people already confirmed to attend.
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, who is retiring, currently holds the seat in Harlem. Rangel has been a United States Representative since 1971 and is currently the second longest-serving House member. Following the redistricting in 2012, he became the representative for the 13th District. Despite his experience, Rangel narrowly escaped the 2012 Democratic Primary in which he beat Dominican-American candidate Adriano Espaillat 43.9 percent to 41.3 percent. In 2014 Rangel defeated Espaillat once more, but by a slightly larger margin of 4.7 percent. Espaillat will be participating in the debate this Thursday and is seeking the Democratic nomination in the June primary.
That past two decades have seen Harlem change dramatically. What was once known as one of the most prominent black communities in America is now shifting demographics. To understand the shift, it’s important to be aware of how the changes unfolded. In 1910, African-Americans made up just 9.89 percent of the population in Central Harlem. However, by 1930 they dominated the population in Central Harlem, with a 70.18 percent majority. In the decades to come, the African-American population would grow to be as high as 98.07 percent in 1950, and remain in the mid-80s through 1990. It’s not easy to pinpoint where the shift began exactly, but by 1990 the population of black residents in central and greater Harlem was beginning to descend. According to the 2010 New York City Census report, the Hispanic population grew by 8.1 percent in the first decade of the new century. Hispanics now account for 27.5 percent of the entire city’s population.
It is no secret that technology and innovation are driving the 21st century economy, and that is precisely what Thursday’s debate will focus on. Silicon Harlem founder, Clayton Banks, said his organization is attempting to bridge the digital divide within communities.
“This means all residents have access and exposure to the skills, devices and state of the art tools to fully engage in the digital opportunities that can lead to economic prosperity,” Banks said.
Candidates will have a chance to separate themselves from one another based on how well they can prove to shift Harlem’s outdated economy. Traditionally relying on real estate and the attempt to retain large employers, a technological movement can potentially produce opportunities that Harlem has never seen before. Microsoft Pulse will be integrated into the event, which is a tool that will help engage the audience.
“We are fortunate to bring this technology to our district,” Banks said. “Pulse provides real-time voting and polling, messaging, social media integration, customizable content, instant insights, and more.”
Richard Lui of MSNBC, Bold founder Carrie Sheffield, Jamil Smith of MTVNews, and Israel Ortega of Opportunity Lives will be moderating the debate. Latinos are the youngest and fastest growing demographic in our country, and moderator Ortega said he is hoping to discuss ways that minority communities can become more engaged in today’s economy. He believes that it is imperative for young adults to pursue careers in science, technology, and mathematics in order to compete in today’s work force.
“Despite recent gains, there are far too many Latino students that are continuing to drop out of high school and complete their studies,” Ortega explained. “I’m looking forward to hearing from the panelists on how they hope to encourage greater innovation and disruption in the educational status quo that is preventing greater access to good schools and great teachers because of entrenched interests that are primarily leaving African-American and Latino students at a disadvantage.”
Sheffield said she hopes the conversation can include a look at how technology can unite communities.
“It’s well-documented that African-Americans, Latinos, women and other populations are underrepresented in tech and innovation,” she said. “This is a troubling trajectory as our country transitions further from a manufacturing to an information-based economy. My hope is we create an example of what a debate should be in today’s heated political environment that seems to have focus on what divides, rather than unites us.”
MTV’s Smith said he hopes the debate will enforce much needed change in Harlem, as well as the rest of the district.
“This district is representative of the real economic and educational challenges facing urban areas, as well as the real need for focus and impactful progress in nurturing and growing more U.S. technology and innovation hubs,” Smith said. “The prosperity that comes from working in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields hasn’t reached the broader African-American community, who are among the groups disproportionately impacted by high education costs and lack of resources. This debate is important not only to this one district, but to the broader African-American community and to the American economy overall.”
One of the candidates, Assemblyman Guillermo Linares, also stressed the importance of access to technology in the Harlem community. “It is imperative for us to use technology as the great equalizer to bridge the digital divide between communities with high concentration of poverty and more affluent ones, to ensure our youth and community are being prepared to be technology proficient in our demanding digital economy,” Linares said. He believes that broad access to technology will create a level playing field, and help achieve his goal. No other candidates responded to Bold for comment.
Banks hopes that this debate will most certainly provide useful insight, and give people a firm understanding about the future of Harlem. “Our goal is that the candidates will be able to share a clear vision for the technological future of the 13th Congressional District.”
Photo by LianaAn
Charlie May recently graduated from the Ramapo College of New Jersey, receiving a Bachelor's Degree in Journalism. His main focus is politics, national security, foreign affairs, money in politics, and investigative pieces. He hopes to bring a fresh, unique perspective to Bold.