Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist says access to the internet is the best way to empower Michiganders. He’s working toward connectivity.
LANSING, MI — Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist hopes his public service legacy will be connectivity. As the highest elected Black official in Michigan, he is uniquely positioned to help create change.
“I care very deeply about connection,” Lt. Gov. Gilchrist told The ’Gander. “I think the people of our communities are most empowered when we are connected.”
Before entering politics, Gilchrist paired his educational background in technology with his passion for activism, connecting communities. After completing his degree in computer engineering at the University of Michigan, the Farmington native worked as a software engineer.
Technology and community collided as he realized that the internet could be the pathway to broadening Michiganders’ horizons.
“When I worked as a community organizer, it was all about connecting people to their power,” he said. “The internet is the most enabling and empowering infrastructure that we can invest in.”
The ’Gander previously reported that about half of Michigan residents are without reliable internet connections. Thanks to a partnership between the State of Michigan and Connected Nation Michigan, an online map of free Wi-Fi hotspots was created to assist residents who currently lack internet access at home.
So far, more than 300 Wi-Fi hotspot locations are available from the parking lots of public schools, libraries, and other locations across the state. In addition to the location, the map also contains details on how to access the Wi-Fi hotspots’ networks. But Gilchrist wants to see even more done to connect residents.
“I want Michigan to be the first state that truly connects our people,” he said, remembering that his mission dates back to his first job as a 16-year-old building desktop computers for a Southfield company and installing them at a Detroit rec center.
Gilchrist likely never thought his first job would show him something that he would take into his current political life, but he said that experience showed him the power that information access wields. It’s a perspective that has paid off in his work with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
“Being genuine is her super power,” he said of Gov. Whitmer. “She’s been a really great partner, and she’s looked to me to try to impact the areas where I have unique experiences.”
In addition to working with the governor on criminal justice reform, support for small businesses, and public transportation, he now leads the state’s coronavirus task force on racial disparities.
Gilchrist told The ’Gander that, ultimately, he’ll know he was successful in his role as lieutenant governor when he looks back and sees diverse faces replacing his as time goes on.
“I think the measure for success for me is if I’m not an anomaly. If I’m the only person to hold this position who doesn’t look like everyone else who did [before me], I haven’t been successful.”