A CRITICAL JUNCTURE FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS - A Road Map Toward Solution...

"The slavery that captures the mind and imprisons the motivation, perception, aspiration and identity in a web of anti-self images, generating a personal and collective self-destruction, is more cruel than the shackles on the wrists and ankles. The slavery that feeds the mind, invading the soul of man, destroying his loyalties to himself and establishing allegiance to forces which destroy him, is an even worse form of capture." -- Dr. Naim Akbar (1996)

"This is a critical juncture in African history, and every thought and action has the potential for becoming liberating or incarcerating. We must create the context for our own growth and development." -- Wade Nobles (1995)

"The value of intergenerational understanding in the Digital Age for individuals of African descent is priceless and essential to cultivating the collaborative capacity to evolve as an African American community" - Shani Byard (2009)

Based on the recent social injustices highlighted in the media, the NAACP (2007) has declared a state of emergency in the nationwide African American community. When researching the importance of funding cultural-specific intervention and prevention programs for African American men and boys, the 21st Century Foundation (2005) discovered: institutional racism, inadequate leadership, media reinforcement of negative stereotypes, and lack of unity and accountability, as the primary issues facing the black community. In Los Angeles Unified School District, only 48% of African American and Latino students who enter high school in the 9th grade, complete 12th grade four years later (Civil Rights Project, 2004). These issues also contribute to what has been labeled, “the achievement gap,” and the rising high school dropout rate, creating a national need for school & pedagogical reform (Noguera, 2008; Noguera, 2006; National Urban League, 2007; Gregory, et. al, 2006; Cummins, 2006; Moore, Heinfield & Owen, 2008; Murrell, 2002). Additionally, as our society adapts to a new global economy and as we transform into a media-driven (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison & Weigel, 2008) and technologically-driven culture, Black youth and families with limited educational resources are becoming highly susceptible to the dangers of media influence (Boles, 2007) and contribute largely to the existing digital divide, due to lack of access and skilled use of computers (Eamon, 2004; Wilson, Wallin, and Reiser, 2003; Sahay, 2006). In our society, television, advertising and other forms of mass media have become machines of manipulation, larger than school. According to Goodman (2003), our media culture “… supersede[s] the role of school as a powerful socializing influence on our nation’s children, shaping their values, beliefs, and habits of mind” (p. 10).

“Before I became a Digital Elder, I was focused on my own ignorance and now that I am a Digital Elder I realize I have an obligation to others to master this,” training participant. Message Media Ed operates from the position that a multi-cultural, 20th Century educational approach to a culture-specific problem in the Digital Age, will not resolve the severe disparities in achievement, the bruised and polluted self-image and limited advancement, of the African American. We also embrace the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and it is more applicable to the African American community now, than ever before. Services to the community by Message Media Ed, influenced by models from Akbar (1998) and Banks (1982), have been designed to offer an alternative, supportive, socioeducational learning environment to, 1) Deconstruct 20th Century education and the ubiquitous pedagogy (Teller & Share, 2005) of the media, 2) Reconstruct healthy images of African Americans within an enriching educational framework, utilizing the tools of media education and technology operation, and 3) Construct a new sense of community and leadership, skilled to support the successful transition of Black youth from schooling to the workforce in the 21st Century.

Utilizing the tools of digital media, technology and traditional methods of creative expression, our mission is to enable youth and families of African descent to become multi-media literate, knowledgeable of their heritage and contemporary contributions, and to excel academically, socially and economically. Through interdisciplinary educational workshops and participatory professional development trainings, Message Media Ed. aims to engage and empower African American communities to successfully diversify the 21st Century workforce.

Core principles and instructional practices of Message Media Ed have been designed to provide emotionally safe and supportive spaces for African Americans to work through the social impact of Eurocentric conditioning. Message Media Ed uses an intervention-based pedagogy and methodology, infused with the understanding that all participants are experts in their personal and professional experiences and all are learners as we share new knowledge and work to strengthen our social capital. Through collaboratively developed agreements, we establish a framework of inclusivity and embrace a modernized version of the West African concept of Sankofa: To cultivate knowledge of self and our past, in order to advance and diversify our future. Facilitators receive training in this pedagogical approach and participants are empowered by it. All involved are charged to elicit communal change by utilizing traditional and cyber means of communication to model the daily deconstruction and penetration of systemic, Eurocentric paradigms. For example, to strengthen community building, The Digital Elder Project’s methodology incorporates circle seating, cultural affirmation, collaboration and project-based learning. Utilizing film and powerpoint presentations, the African Griot (storyteller), slave songs that transmitted code toward freedom and the mechanics of podcasting are introduced. Participants are reminded that it takes a village to raise a child and are instructed to share ideas on how to combine storytelling, music and podcasting to strengthen self-image amongst Black youth. Application of new knowledge occurs in real time, as the result of activities like this informs their work with our guest artists to produce their culminating group projects: a youth affirmation CD and video messages for online podcast. “Before I became a Digital Elder I felt distanced and apart from the text messaging blogging youth, and now that I am a Digital Elder, I at least understand how and why they communicate in this way and I’ve learned the terminology which facilitates my communication with them,” Barbara Turner, training participant.

Through two flagship programs: Family Film Screening & Discussion Series (FFSDS) and The Digital Elder Project (TDEP), Message Media Ed. enables youth, adults and seniors (ages 14-100), to collaboratively build new frames of references needed to shift social structures related to healthy self-images, educational achievement and intergenerational communication in the Digital Age and uncover the skill-sets needed to enter, innovate and effectively diversify modern career industries. The (FFSDS) utilizes the media of film and verbal communication, to identify challenges and prompt discourse for solutions related to physical health and nutrition, gang involvement, education, politics, sexuality, incarceration and family values, in the African American community. Using the role of the traditional African elder as a guide, a Digital Elder is a role model who utilizes modern tools of communication to nurture, affirm and share wisdom. Led by trained facilitators, TDEP combines instruction in basic to advanced computer and gadgetry operation, social media and internet navigation, with African and African American (historical & contemporary) education, to begin closing cultural, intergenerational and digital divides and reconstructing the African American self-image for socioeconomic advancement, as a modernized African village. Participants in TDEP are introduced to Swahili (East African language), and using movement, song and poetry, work with guest artists to collaboratively produce a youth affirmation CD using an MP3 player and video messages for online podcast. Message Media Ed integrates African Centered, Critical Media Literacy and 21st Century learning pedagogies to create a solution-building and technologically skilled community of current and potential leaders of African descent for the Digital Age. Message Media Ed is based in Los Angeles, CA and currently directly serves a constituency of local residents. However, our goal is to integrate our cyber scope of cultural education, to address and serve an indirect national and global community online. Additional programs in the piloting stage are Rise Above the Noise (follow-up professional development workshops to Digital Elder) and the Hopscotch Element (a multi-media intervention and empowerment program designed specifically for African American high school dropouts, age 14-25).

Copyright 2009 Message Media Ed.

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