2024 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champions Awards

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Digital Beat

2024 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champions Awards

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery at Net Inclusion 2024

Adrianne B. Furniss

Thank you, Angela, for your kind introduction and for our long-time collaboration to advance digital equity in this country. Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the hard work of the Benton Institute’s Grace Tepper and NDIA’s Pamela Rosales who led a committee this year that saw you all nominate an unprecedented number of your peers for these awards. Thank you to Catherine Crago Blanton, Angie Cooper, Shauna Edson, Rebecca Kauma, Caitlin Kvammen, Miles Miller, and Gwenn Weaver for your participation.

Over the past couple of years, we at the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society have been giving a great deal of thought to vision. Not Benton’s vision, mind you, but the visions of digital equity that states have been tasked with crafting as part of the Digital Equity Act programs.

So, I am thrilled to be in Philadelphia with you all this week at the birthplace of our nation, a place where powerful visions for a country were crafted.

Here, representatives of what would be the original states gathered to declare—and I know you can all recite this with me—that the unalienable Rights of all men include Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

What strikes me about this powerful vision is that our rights go beyond just a right to stay alive; we have a right to agency, to decide the best course for our lives, to pick our priorities, our professions, our homes.

Now I am not so naïve as to believe that just declaring these unalienable Rights means that we all get to enjoy them. But a vision also crafted here begins, “in Order to form a more perfect Union [and] establish Justice.” Our nation—our  democracy—is always a work in progress.

That work is not reserved for those who work down the road at the place that became the capital after Philadelphia. That is work that falls to all of us. Today we celebrate people who have embraced that work, making major contributions by empowering our most vulnerable neighbors so they, too, have the tools and skills they need for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services. These champions nurture agency and will it, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Karimullah Kamwar is the 2024 Charles Benton Digital Equity Emerging Leader Champion. Like many great historical American figures, Karimullah arrived here from somewhere else. He brought his family from Afghanistan to settle in Syracuse. And like these same great historical American figures, Karimullah didn’t just settle for a better life for his own family; his work helps improve the lives for so many in his community.

Under his leadership, the Syracuse Northeast Community Center built an inclusive multicultural team including four Digital Navigators. He has integrated this work with other essential services offered through the community center—such as a food pantry, employment program, youth/senior program, and health connections—in order to build true self-reliance.

He and his team speak a collective ten languages and have served over 500 participants in the first year. The program has been hailed by Syracuse’s Mayor and Common Council, as well as funders across the region. Karimullah’s work is marked by compassion, listening, collaboration, strong leadership, and an eye toward always doing more.

Today, two people are honored as 2024 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champions.

The first is Norma Fernandez, the CEO of EveryoneOn. Norma joined EveryoneOn in 2013 to increase impact in underserved communities of color by connecting people to the internet.

Norma became CEO in late 2019 and found herself leading EveryoneOn during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, she grew and diversified the board and staff, created a strategic framework, and oversaw the implementation of the organization’s first-ever Digital Skills Academy, a training program for individuals and organizations. This has resulted in more funds raised from diverse sources, new partnerships, and expansion in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Milwaukee.

In addition, under Norma’s leadership, EveryoneOn has facilitated access to broadband to more than 400,000 households across the country, distributed thousands of computers, and trained more than 4500 people in person and virtually – all evidence that she has a relentless commitment to digital equity. Norma is passionate about social justice and helping all communities thrive, drawing from her experiences as the daughter of Mexican immigrants, a first-generation college student, and an active volunteer in her community.

Finally, we honor Renaissance 21 Founder and Program Director Adrienne Prusszynski. She has been a Digital Equity and Inclusion Warrior for more than 15 years, working to close STEM/STEAM equity gaps for youth at the grassroots level from Seattle to Ecuador.

Given difficulties in her journey as a Black woman learning STEM, she sought to empower other underrepresented youth as a STEM teacher. However, she found that programs frequently suffered from lack of resources and infrastructure. In response, Adrienne founded Star Tech Global Academy (STGA) 10 years ago to provide a novel approach to STEM that focuses on digital skills and access for teens.

Adrienne helps at-risk and under-represented youth pursue digital equity with workshops that teach digital literacy: learning to use applications and communications technology in community focused projects. The students directly enrich the community, helping local minority-owned businesses and students to enhance or create their own professional websites. Addressing access gaps, students receive a laptop or tablet reward upon completion of their projects. Participants are connected with comprehensive resources from food and shelter to computer labs and high-bandwidth broadband—a much-needed wholistic approach.

Please, everyone, join me in honoring Karimullah Kamwar, Norma Fernandez, and Adrienne Prusszynski as the 2024 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champions.


The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
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Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
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Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Adrianne B. Furniss.