The country's first NAACP Family Technology Center opened yesterday in Baltimore County, one in a string of centers planned by the organization to help African-Americans learn more about computers and the Internet.
"It will help people in this community and from all walks of life," said Kweisi Mfume, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a former Baltimore congressman. "We are hoping that families will take advantage of the center and start understanding technology together."
Mfume was among several officials who attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the center, in the 8000 block of Liberty Road in Milford Mill. Established by the NAACP with help from AT&T;, the center is designed to provide families with access to computers and information technology.
"Because of economic reasons, technology is not easily accessible," said Esther Silver-Parker, president of the AT&T; Foundation, which provided a $300,000 grant. "We're just trying to level the playing field. This is our way of thanking the community that has been so good to our employees and our business."
Anthony Fugett, president of the Baltimore County chapter of the NAACP, said the facility will fill a critical need.
"We feel the operation of the technology center will start to fill the gap in the African-American community in terms of access to technology," said Fugett.
The 1,900-square-foot facility, once a Baltimore County job-training site, has a reception area and three rooms dedicated to software, along with 10 computers and a projector. It will offer after-school training to students, remedial tutoring in core subjects, and SAT-preparation software for high school students.
Parents also can learn computer skills with their children.
"I think it's going to be good for the community," said Angela Nichols, 16. "It will help with school and studying."
The center will be staffed by volunteers from the local NAACP chapter and the Alliance of Black Telecommunications Employees Inc., who will design the curriculum, provide software training and take note of what residents want offered at the center.
"We want to make sure that our sons and daughters can take advantage of the dot-com era," said Rodney O. Buie Sr., president and chief executive officer of the alliance. "The alliance is connecting those in the know with those who need to learn to function in the new digital economy."
Officials described the center as a cooperative effort.
"The center took a lot of teamwork from everyone," said Janet Griffin, national NAACP project manager. "It is my hope that we can outreach to a lot of young people and adults. I believe that we can introduce technology into this community while bringing unity to families, schools and churches."
The family technology center will open to the public in September. Until then, only NAACP members and their families can use it. "We want to make sure that everything works the way it was designed before we present it to the public," Fugett said.
Other family technology centers are planned in Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale/Miami, Houston, New York, Philadelphia and Seattle.