Lawrence Battle, a Strawberry Mansion native, has been volunteering at the Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Center (SMNAC) for more than two years. The center is one of more than 50 KEYSPOTS in the city dedicated to offering free Internet access and helping community residents learn how to use a computer.
The SMNAC has 18 computers, with Battle serving as the public computer center assistant. He says he is an advocate of education because of the importance of having digital literacy in this technological age.
Can you explain what you do here at the SMNAC?
I assist most of the patrons who come into the NAC with computer literacy. The three things that I’m most successful with are setting up emails, rewriting resumes, and finding job applications for patrons online.
There are other applications that people want to learn how to use too. Some of them like to learn Microsoft Office. Some of them want to learn about Google Chrome.
How did you get started volunteering here?
This was actually part of my externship with Metropolitan Career Center. They sent me over here and they needed somebody quick to fill in the position. I was looking at other jobs when I first got here, but when I got here there was a major sense of need. I did find another job, but decided to stay here for the two days that I’m off from my job. Plus, I actually was born in Strawberry Mansion – 29th Street and Girard Avenue is where my grandma lived and I was with my grandma for the first two years of my life.
When I got here at the NAC I started recognizing people that I haven’t seen in years and said, “All right let me stick around.”
I started to learn more about what the community needed and they helped me stay.
Why do you refer to yourself as an advocate of education?
The main reason is because technology is moving too fast. People have set themselves in a way where they are comfortable with their lives. However, in order to get anywhere, you have to be really savvy with the computers. What I do is lean over to anybody who needs help with computers and say, “Ok, this is what we can do.”
Digital literacy is very big because the world is revolving around smart phones and smart watches and smart TVs and all this other smart stuff, and we want to be smart too.
What do you love most or find most rewarding about volunteering here?
It’s a lot of the people who come in and the interaction with the community itself. North Philly has a black eye, a major black eye. I’m doing my best to be that piece of steak on that eye so we can actually get moving forward.
I can’t do anything for Philadelphia but I can do something for the person that comes in here. One smile on a face in a day makes me smile all week. I may not be chasing the money like I want to, but I need to be helping people. The money will come.
Do you feel like you face any challenges here?
Yes, technology gets old.
I do as much as I can as far as keeping us updated. Sometimes when I ask Philadelphia for money, KEYSPOT for money, even the state of Pennsylvania for money, it gets kicked back.
So, it’s almost like we’re being intentionally oppressed.
Do you see yourself continuing to advocate for education in the future?
Yes, my ultimate goal is to actually have my own computer lab with just fewer than 100 computers. Kevin Hart did a good job a couple of years back donating computers. The problem with that was he didn’t donate labor.
I had a patron here last week about 60 or 70-years-old. I can show up to her front door and put a computer in front of her but she wouldn’t know what to do. If I gave her somebody who could teach her computers and they brought along a computer, then she will learn. It was cool for him to donate that but he didn’t donate any labor behind it. I want to be the labor.
– Text and images by Noe Garcia and Avory Brookins.