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Executives at the Global Leadership Forum and the T.D. Jakes Foundation had originally scheduled a live event, but with most of the world still on lockdown, they opted instead for a virtual forum. People focused on workforce issues in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and math (STEAM) joined the online discussion hosted by Hattie Hill, president and CEO of the T.D. Jakes Foundation, and Kendall Norris, CEO of the Global Leadership Forum (GLF).

Midway through the two-hour event, Bishop T.D. Jakes popped in to say a few words. On Twitter, he wrote:  “We are honored to be a part of today’s STEAM conversation with  @FoundationTDJ, @GLFnow, and dozens of partner organizations from around the nation on how we can collaborate to address inequality, economic disparity, and the digital divide.”

Hill, who has spent three decades developing diversity and inclusion and gender equity strategies that drive change, joined the T.D. Jakes Foundation in 2019. The mission of the foundation is to fill the gap between untapped human potential and industry opportunity through STEAM initiatives.

“We’re bringing people together—faith leaders, community leaders, and educators—to see what their challenges are, to collaborate, educate and inspire,” she said.

“Talent is equally distributed, but opportunity is not”

In his opening address, Norris started with a quote often attributed to Leila Janah, a social entrepreneur who created job opportunities for poor communities in Kenya, Uganda, and India.  Creating pathways in STEAM and enhancing opportunity was one of the main drivers for the GLF, he added. Founded in 2015, GLF aims to connect STEAM organizations working to transform underserved communities and build tomorrow’s workforce.

Keynote speakers included Kim Mitchell, vice president of program development and operations at NPower,  and Dr. Nicol Turner Lee, a fellow in The Brookings Institution’s Governance Program’s Center for Technology Innovation.

Dr. Lee, who researches public policy designed to enable equitable access to technology across the U.S., covered the digital divide and its disproportionate impact on people of color. She added, however, that although COVID-19 has highlighted health disparities experienced by socially disadvantaged populations and problems of digital access and connectivity in low-income communities, it’s important to bear in mind the “firestorm” of health-related data needed for the implementation of public health practice.

“We will need to have a ready workforce to drive our narratives and penetrate underserved markets,” Lee said.

“Having a bold agenda post-COVID-19 will be critical”

Mitchell stressed the importance of coalitions in serving vulnerable populations. She also spoke about the need to drive an advocacy agenda at the local, regional, and federal levels to connect with the legislative community.

“This is the moment to become bolder and go beyond standards of excellence, passing grades, access to college, and other system barriers,” said one speaker from NAF. “Instructional Technology and delivery strategies have to have a new look. We need a collective voice that can push a national agenda without ego.”

Norris said after two and half years, the GLF has reached a process of maturity in creating sustainability and taking advantage of Program-Related Investments (PRIs), or grants that foundations use to give money for community development.

Members of the GLF include BDPA, an organization of professionals in computer science and information technology, Career Communications Group, producer of publications and events that target students pursuing paths to science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers, the Information Technology Senior Management Forum (ITSMF), which works to increase the representation of black professionals at senior levels in technology, and NAF (formerly known as National Academy Foundation) which brings education, business, and community leaders together to transform the high school experience. Other member organizations are Black Women in Science and Engineering (BWISE), which is focused on bridging the leadership gap for black women in STEM, and NPower Inc, which creates pathways to economic prosperity by launching digital careers for military veterans and young adults from underserved communities.

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