Kevin Hyrams, At-large Community Council member, with Building Connected Communities written on top of image

A Community-First Approach

The Community Council was formed to be a vital component of The Center for Digital Equity (CDE), along with the advisory board, to help guide the CDE’s work in Charlotte.

The Community Council is composed of a diverse group of members who represent various demographics, backgrounds, and experiences within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community. It is a collaborative effort involving residents, public entities, and private organizations, all dedicated to developing recommendations for transforming Mecklenburg County into the most digitally equitable community in America. Any resident of Mecklenburg County or any public or private sector partner operating within the county is encouraged to join the council.

The Community Council is organized into five different workstreams:

● Policy, Advocacy, and Ecosystem Development
● Data, Research, and Program Measurement
● Device and Connectivity
● Digital Literacy and Skilling
● Digital Navigation and Technical Support

The council’s role is to ensure that the voices of every resident–including those who are members of historically underserved groups – are heard and considered in the CDE’s decision-making process.

“What makes the council great are the people that comprise the council,” says Kevin Hyrams, At-large Community Council member. “There are people that have committed and have been there from day one; there have been people that have come in last week and have committed and have added value from the time they’ve come in. So it’s less about tenure and more about impact, and really, the why they’re doing this. The people who are in the Community Council are people who truly care about the community; they want to make that impact. It’s not about show.”

With input from the council, it’s crucial that the CDE continues to address the unique challenges and needs of the community to do what’s necessary to help bridge the digital divide in the greater Charlotte metropolitan area.

“So if we’re truly connected,” says Hyrams, “we’re able to have people that can be in their homes, have access to the tools and resources, but yet, they have the same level of connectivity and access when they step out of their homes, and have those devices that can keep them engaged with people and others.”

It’s not about a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. This community-driven approach is more likely to lead to sustainable and meaningful improvements in equitable access to digital tools, resources, and opportunities for all.

“What does community represent? People get to choose their communities, and they gravitate where they’re comfortable, and they feel it’s beneficial,” says Hyrams. “So our online community doesn’t always have to be online because many people want that physical touch. The online experience should be a bridge that facilitates the trusting relationships when people want that physical touch.”

Hyrams, who also served as the inaugural co-chair of the Policy, Advocacy, and Ecosystem Development workstream, explains how significant the human element is to building connected communities.

“We want to show them (residents) that technology doesn’t mean that they lose that (human) touch; it actually can help facilitate and make those experiences even richer because you can pull more things into the knowledge base. The more we allow for people to get access to things that fit their profile that they can incorporate into their lives, the better.”

The work of the Community Council is about empowerment–involving everyone by giving them a voice in shaping digital equity initiatives helps foster a sense of ownership and agency among community members.

“I feel that the whole purpose of the entire council is to listen, to collect that information, process it, and then use the workgroups to solve those problems in the most empathetic way,” says Hyrams. “So that is, to me, the essence of what we are here to do. And I feel that there’s been a lot of progress toward those initiatives.”



Photo above: Kevin Hyrams, At-large Community Council member