December 1, 2009

New Web site to help shape dialogue among black youth

Material from the University of Chicago's new Black Youth Project (BYP) Web site may soon find its way into Chicago classrooms. The Web site debuted last month as a forum for black youth and has garnered attention from educators who hope to incorporate blogs and lesson plans from the Web site into their curricula.

One section of the Web site features curricula dedicated to reaching out to black youth, which were developed by a group of graduate students, social justice advocates, and teachers. Project coordinators are working with local organizations and schools to get these curricula into the classroom.

In addition to the curriculum section of the Web site, organizations have approached Leigh Richie, University web coordinator for BYP, about incorporating blog posts into their students' curriculum.

The Black Youth Project (BYP) Web site allows black youth to discuss current events, upload artwork, and find databases for information pertaining to their lives. Born out of a research project started by Cathy Cohen, deputy provost for graduate education and a political science professor, the Web site is the first of its kind.

“We’ve gotten really positive feedback from a lot of organizations that have been wanting to use the material that the bloggers have written,” Richie said. “This is definitely something that we are working on, but it’s not anything formal as of now.”

Richie said it was the scope of the project that made it remarkable. “When we say it’s the first Web site of its kind we mean it’s very expansive,” she said. “There are a lot of Web sites out there, a lot of great Web sites that have blogs or performance pieces, but they’re more narrow. Our Web site has a whole range of material—that’s why it’s unique.”

Richie hopes that the Web site will educate beyond the classroom as well.

“It’s not just about teachers. We want the curriculum to inspire dialogue among black youth,” Richie said. “Another important goal is for young people to be active participants of the site and to have active conversation—not just about politics— it can be on a whole range of things, music, sports, film, etc.”

Second-year Edward James, a blogger for the Web site, assists with the research aspect of the Web site. He has been involved with the project since June and is currently working on creating a database which would contain organizations that help black youth in every state.

James said BYP is important because of the conversation it generates outside of the black community as well. “Historically black youth have been on the fringes politically, socially, and economically, and a lot of times going through history, black youth have been silenced,” James said. “Really, the Black Youth Project is a place where young people of color can come for discussion, but really it’s a place where others can come to learn about black youth.

The “Black Youth Create!” section of the Web site allows users to upload artwork to the Web site, including poetry, video, or music. Second-year Jonathan Lykes, coordinator of "Black Youth Create!" and blogger on the Web site, said allowing youth to add their own material makes the Web site stand out.

“It’s not a site that’s from adults that dictates the problems with black youth; it’s run by young people,” Lykes said.

Lykes and James both agreed that the Web site also helps to represent the various lifestyles that characterize young black culture, yet ties them all together.

“Black youth are not one monolithic group. We do not have the same views or upbringings, but in a certain sense we do have a linked fate,” James said.