Resilience Reimagined: The Knowledge House
The Knowledge House empowers the Bronx through digital literacy
During this day and age, access to technology is key to survival. However, for many low-income communities, digital inequality has been directly linked to social inequality. Internet access is an important tool in exploring education, health, employment and health services. Yet, according to statistics, low-income youth are four times less likely to have access to the Internet compared to those from middle and upper-income households. This leaves those most in need without vital, online resources.
Jerelyn Rodriguez, co-founder and CEO, of The Knowledge House was determined to change that. Founded in 2014, The Knowledge House is an award-winning nonprofit that has served 1,750 students, empowering and sustaining a talent pipeline of technologists, entrepreneurs and digital leaders. Their mission is to uplift communities out of poverty via technology and digital literacy. Rodriguez is a Bronx-native and a graduate of Columbia University. While studying film, she realized that “technology increases access to digital storytelling and provides people of color a bigger platform to share their stories.”
Jerelyn Rodriguez on The Knowledge House's rooftop that overlooks the Bronx neighborhood.
Rodriguez’s goal is to bring economic mobility to the Bronx through digital literacy and help marginalized groups to build generational wealth. The ultimate goal is to lift low-income communities out of poverty. By educating, empowering and mentoring her students – who mostly stem from low-income communities – with the technology and workplace skills, they are able to launch successful careers in the technology industry. So far, it seems to be working – three out of four graduates secure employment at prestigious firms post-graduation.
For Rodriguez, her community is everything. “Most people overlook the fact that the Bronx is the epitome of innovation and diversity. We feel that if our solution can work here, it can work anywhere,” she says. To cater to its diverse population, The Knowledge House prioritizes customizing their programs for marginalized groups. “We have a huge immigrant population – a mix of Africans, Southeast Asians, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans…” says Rodriguez. By providing these communities with access to digital literacy, The Knowledge House is slowly, but surely, transforming the economic and cultural landscape of the Bronx and its surrounding areas.
Jerelyn Rodriguez grabbing lunch at the local, Bronx deli.
Despite the fact that most students in the Bronx do not graduate from college, Rodriguez believes that “we’re pioneers. If given the opportunities, we can do endless things.” In fact, 80% of students at The Knowledge House follow a non-linear career path. Rodriguez believes this is the growing, future trend, especially in a post-COVID-19 world. The traditional college pipeline has proven to be unnecessary. With the growth of technology and various trade schools, like The Knowledge House, there are now alternative routes to achieve economic freedom. “You have to arm them with entrepreneurship skills. They’re already full of grit, full of innovation. They need to start creating things,” says Rodriguez.
Jerelyn Rodriguez walking through the South Bronx neighborhood.
But since the COVID-19 pandemic, poorer neighborhoods, like the Bronx, suffered a 25% unemployment rate, the highest of all five New York City boroughs. This is a drastic and telling statistic – one that affects young people most. Recent events have proved that low-income populations suffer a disproportionate amount of unemployment, health risks, and economic inequality. So, Rodriguez rallied her team at The Knowledge House to mobilize for her students and community. With millions of New Yorkers now unemployed or furloughed, the demand for jobs and virtual career development is more urgent than ever.
When the pandemic forced The Knowledge House to temporarily close, they quickly shifted to online learning and launched their Innovation Fellowship as a new fundraising initiative. The Innovation Fellowship is designed to promote technology-based career opportunities for New York residents from diverse backgrounds, including those with little-to-no post-secondary education or tech experience. After the 12-month program, students will be ready to work as entry-level programmers.
Jerelyn Rodriguez speaks at a virtual class in her home office (left) and hosts a virtual fundraiser at The Knowledge Office (right).
Rodriguez and her team also hosted virtual fundraisers to keep The Knowledge House afloat, allowing them to hire 300 interns over the summer to provide job training and mentorship. “I’m not asking them for money. I’m asking them to invest in the community that I live in,” says Rodriguez. And with the help of Capital One’s grant, The Knowledge House was able to hire alumni like Michael McCray, as a web developer to build its virtual learning platform.
Social-distancing signs at The Knowledge House (left), while alumnus, Michael McCray, works in an empty classroom (right).
McCray’s story comes full circle. After graduating from The Knowledge House in March 2020, McCray has taught online lessons to current Knowledge House students. “It’s really cool because you get to give back and see yourself in others…helping them in ways you might’ve needed at those times and getting them through it.”
The Knowledge House alumni, Michael McCray and Cesar Perez, pack merchandise (left) and hold a socially-distanced meeting with Jerelyn Rodriguez (right).
McCray is just one of the many success stories at The Knowledge House. Cesar Perez, who graduated this past January, is now a software engineer at McKinsey & Company. Perez’s story is an example of a successful model within a non-traditional career path. He started out as a professional recording artist, then ended up at The Knowledge House, hungry for a career change.
Michael McCray and Cesar Perez elbow bump each other on the rooftop of The Knowledge House.
“The students I serve, I teach them how to sell how they’re unique, how they’re going to contribute to the corporate culture that exists because their voice is missing…so they’re not going to fit in, but they’re going to contribute, and the whole culture will be better because of it,” says Rodriguez. Perez now speaks at The Knowledge House’s virtual fundraising events, advocating for corporate companies to address their lack of diversity and the need for a racial awakening. “I’m a testament because I don’t have the traditional background, but I do have the talent and the skill sets to succeed in these corporate environments,” says Perez.
Capital One is proud to support The Knowledge House, as they continue to provide equitable opportunities for success in the Bronx – and beyond.