Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Photo by Lisa Reichman)
Jackie Joyner-Kersee (Photo by Lisa Reichman)

She’s endorsed such companies and products as Glaxo Wellcome, Honda, Nike, McDonald’s, Avon and 7-Up.

But for Jackie Joyner-Kersee, there’s a sense of extra excitement for her new assignment as national spokesperson for Comcast Corporation’s Internet Essentials program.

The six-time Olympic medalist and world-renowned athlete said she’s proud to be involved in a program that has connected 750,000 low-income households to the internet.

In all, it’s estimated that 3 million individuals now benefit from Comcast Internet Essentials including children who now can research and do homework on a computer for the first time and adults who can seek employment or search for social services and other needs online.

“What touched me is that I’ve seen firsthand in having my own center the lack of accessibility,” Joyner-Kersee said. “If you’re not able to access the internet from the standpoint of young people doing homework or a parent or someone trying to go and fill out a job application; if you don’t give them the tools then we are talking about a whole generation who can be lost or who might think they have no value but they do have value.

“For the corporate leadership at Comcast to ask me to do this is truly a win-win,” she said. “We recognize in our communities the digital divide and if we don’t bridge that gap it will continue to hurt a generation of people and we don’t want that to happen.”

The Olympian has been a great addition to the Internet Essentials team, said David L. Cohen, senior executive vice president of Comcast Corporation.

The program allows qualifying families to pay $9.95 per month for internet service, including Wi-Fi, and Comcast also offers a subsidized computer or laptop for $150.

Additionally, Comcast is also providing $2 million in grants to community-based organizations that provide vital digital literacy training and internet access as the new school year gets in gear.

“Jackie speaks with a lot of passion about the issues and it’s obvious,” Cohen said. “We as a company have a lot of passion about this as well. None of us had any idea if this was going to work or how well it would work.”

“To be honest, I would have never predicted that we would connect 3 million families, most of them for the first time and now we’ve extended the program to seniors, HUD [recipients] and college students,” Cohen said.

Being the national spokesperson for the Comcast Internet Essentials program has allowed Joyner-Kersee to recognize even more the need to close the digital divide, she said.

“My initial thoughts were that Internet Essentials really is a great product to help bridge that gap,” said Joyner-Kersee, who ESPN ranks as one of the 50 greatest athletes of the 20th century. “We all want access in order to bring awareness.”

In 1992, Joyner-Kersee became the first woman to win back-to-back gold medals in the heptathlon competition. Four years earlier, she became the first African-American woman to win an Olympic medal in the long jump.

She also became the first woman to score 7,000 points in the heptathlon, according to her bio on Comcast’s website.

Born and raised in East St. Louis, Joyner-Kersee has remained committed to ensuring that all children have access to high-quality after-school programs, safe recreational places within their communities, and caring adults to help them achieve their dreams.

She launched the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation in Los Angeles, moving it East St. Louis in 1995. Inspired by the closing of her neighborhood community center, Joyner-Kersee grew the foundation by raising more than $12 million to expand programming and built a comprehensive youth and sports facility and campus that opened in 2000.

“The excitement about the Internet Essentials program and the difference it has made in [families’] lives [stand out],” Joyner-Kersee said.

One experience the retired Olympic champion related is that of a mother who had been having disciplinary problems with her young son. The young man aspired to go to college but among the obstacles was the lack of internet access.

Once the family became recipients of Comcast’s generosity, things changed.

“He was able to research colleges and it helped to change his life and also his behavior,” Joyner-Kersee said. “There are a lot of success stories that probably go untold but the program is making a difference,” she said.

Internet Essentials is also making a difference in the lives of seniors who are now eligible for the program, Cohen said.

That, too, has appealed to Joyner-Kersee.

“Seniors are able to research and stay connected to their grandkids,” she said. “It’s another form of communication and when I say level the playing field, this is leveling the playing field for seniors too and helping them to continue to be engaged. They recognize what a valuable tool the internet can be and they’re able to see what their young ones might be doing.”

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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