Careful when you’re dealing with Clayton Banks. You don’t want to embarrass yourself. When you look at the long list of his accomplishments working with Harlem youth, when you consider the massive amount of time and effort he’s devoted to advocacy on behalf of the underserved in his neighborhood, you just assume he’s laboring on behalf of some as yet unidentified, but obviously worthy, nonprofit organization.
In fact, you might be reaching for your checkbook to make a donation. “Keep up the good work, brother,” you might feel inclined to say. And it is good work. In fact, it’s great work. But Clayton, himself, will be the first one to tell you that Silicon Harlem, the organization he co-founded in 2014, is actually a for-profit social venture, a limited liability corporation designed to transform Harlem fully into the technology and innovation hub burgeoning just below its surface, to deliver Internet access (read: information) to a place where very little currently exists, and, by the way, to make a profit.
Just as virtually all Americans have done over the course of the past few years, Banks has enjoyed the many changes and improvements the Internet has brought to modern society. “In 2013, I’d been going to a lot of meetups and a lot of net activities and conferences,” he recalls, “but they were all happening in downtown Manhattan. So, for me, I said ‘Wow, why do I always have to go down to Brooklyn or Soho to do anything? Can we do one of these in Harlem?’”