S. E. Williams | BVN Executive Editor

November 15 through 21, 2020 is Geography Awareness Week, an event established by presidential proclamation more than 25 years ago. Its purpose, to raise public awareness and encourage citizens of all ages to think and learn about the significance of place and how we affect and are affected by it.

Each third week of November, students, families and community members focus on the importance of geography by hosting events; using lessons, games, and challenges in the classroom at times, even meeting with policymakers and business leaders.

A big highlight of the week is GIS Day, November 18, a celebration of GIS technology fostered by Esri an international supplier of geographic information system software, web GIS and geodatabase management applications located in Redlands, CA, whose software is recognized as the most powerful mapping and spatial analytics technology available. GIS is a scientific framework for gathering, analyzing, and visualizing geographic data to help its users make better decisions.

The goal of GIS Day is to help others learn about geography and the real-world applications of GIS that are making a difference in our society in the inland region, around California, across the country, and throughout the world.

Paulette Brown-Hinds, publisher of Black Voice News embraced the potential of GIS and a groundbreaking tool to tell stories while at the same time leveraging the technology to uncover location intelligence to empower the Black community in ways that can be leveraged for positive change with her eyes always trained on issues of equity and inclusion. In the process she has helped chart a course for Black owned and other minority media outlets.

 

“Maps and location intelligence and understanding where you are and the importance of place—especially in African American culture—has been foundational,” Brown-Hinds explained. This makes it easy to see why the marriage of GIS and the Black media feels like such a natural fit.

 

“When I saw the possibilities and potential for this GIS tool, I just started reading as much as I could,” Brown-Hinds says. “It’s not just a tool for community media, but I saw it through a kind of a community-building and a community-engagement lens.”

Candice Mays is leading the team at Black Voice News as Project Manager for the Mapping Black California (MBC)  initiative. A strong advocate of geospatial technology she not only coordinates the team’s in-house mapping efforts, she is also the frontline liaison with a myriad of partners MBC is stewarding to maximize its outreach to the community and enhance the scope and impact of its reporting. 

“Place is unique because it is the only concept, concrete or abstract, that actively absorbs, ruminates, and recreates each and every historical event that has ever occurred in that location regardless of time,” she explained about the power of GIS. “Place and the history of that place not only develops people and their corresponding cultures, it is also the foundational common denominator of all things good or bad inflicted upon individuals and collective groups.” 

This collective focus and the organization’s ability to leverage GIS resulted in several accomplishments this year including becoming the recipient of a contract to help California’s Census office reach hard-to-count communities; a Facebook grant to help facilitate newspaper’s coverage of COVID-19 news and information; and an additional Facebook grant to support the Black Voice News organization efforts aimed at sustainability.

An equal effort led by Brown-Hinds is community outreach and the engagement of nonprofit organizations rooted in the Inland Empire, particularly those working with youth to include an introduction to GIS as part of their initiatives. With the support of Esri’s founder Jack Dangermond and members of his team, this effort has proven quite successful with organization’s like the Ignite Leadership Academy for Girls under the stewardship of Shirley Coates, founder and president of the Society of Extraordinary Women that sponsors the effort.  

It is hoped early introduction to the “Power of Where” through the application of GIS will result in more Black youth viewing GIS as an optimal career path.