Frustrated black youths take to the Internet
A university project found that black youths feel widely alienated – 48 percent of respondents believe the government treats most immigrants better than most black people. So researchers created a place for them on the Internet. The Black Youth Project is a website of research and blogs aimed at the group.
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It’s against this backdrop that Cohen and her students decided to create the website and to make it more than just a repository for survey data.
The current site includes a searchable database of rap lyrics – a tool they hope might be useful to educators in addition to young people. The site also has active blogs and a section where people can submit videos of their performances or artistic creations.
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“We talk about it as a hub,” Cohen says. “The website isn’t going to solve these problems [facing African-American youths], but hopefully it can help facilitate dialogue and discourse and offer data that’s ultimately needed … so that we’re listening to and being led by young black people.”
Jonathan Lykes, a sophomore at the University of Chicago who’s also a regular blogger, says that his favorite section is the “Black Youth Create!” area, which highlights videos of young people dancing, singing, rapping, drumming, and reciting poetry.
“You see black men ‘voguing’ – a new style of dance that’s really four or five different styles of dance put together in one,” Mr. Lykes says. “The Black Youth Project can pinpoint these talents, these arts that people don’t broadcast anywhere else in the country.”
Lykes blogs weekly about subjects rooted in his experience – about a recent performance at a community-service group for which he’s the artistic director, for instance, or about the “living history” he experienced talking with his grandmother. “It’s an inside look into my life as a black man,” says Lykes, who appreciates the exchanges that the blogs open up with readers.
Wilson has tapped into a particular vein with her blogs about “Precious.” Recently, educators have contacted her, requesting a study guide or wondering how they can use her posts and others’ to talk about the movie with students after taking them to see it.
“To see the back and forth of how people see gender or race – this is a good space to have,” says Wilson, who says she usually blogs about black women and feminist issues.
Other blog topics on the site have included the beating of Derrion Albert, a Chicago high school student whose death was caught on video earlier this fall; the healthcare debate; and capital punishment.
Ultimately, Cohen and the BYP contributors say, the hope is for the website to be used in more classrooms and for it to be a regular stop for black youths in high school and college. Also wanted: more – and younger – contributors.
“We struggle with how to reach younger black kids,” Cohen says. “Part of it is about getting in high schools, but it’s also about getting youth bloggers who are maybe 15 to 17. The goal was to start this here, and now the goal is expansion.”