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photo by John Crum

(This is the same content as it appears in the book)

In the summer of 2006, a chipped plaster in the stairwell of our HarlemLIVE newsroom became an unexpected battleground. Exposing an old brick wall, the city declared it a safety hazard and threatened to shut us down. To our young participants, this was a call to action. They prepared to confront a challenge that would test HarlemLIVE’s very essence

But this was just one riveting chapter in the incredible fifteen-year journey of HarlemLIVE. Dive into this chronicle for an intimate look at how the youth, with grit and determination, rode the waves of the digital revolution, carved out a space for their stories, and reshaped both their destinies and that of their community.

As a public school educator and founder of HarlemLIVE, I discovered that teaching journalism to teens awakened their inherent curiosity. Equipped with a press badge and a digital platform for self-expression that they managed and developed, these students unearthed confidence and grew into various roles, including journalists, photographers, public speakers, graphic artists, administrators, and more.

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Part 1, The HarlemLIVE Narrative: An Educator’s Odyssey and a Trailblazing Platform, comprises two sections.

Section A, The Accidental Educator, details my journey into education and the philosophy that became the foundation of HarlemLIVE. This philosophy emphasizes giving kids a broad range of experiences and the agency to make decisions and manage projects. Within this narrative, educators will find practical methods. These include letter writing, after-school trips, theatrical plays from African Folktales, guest speakers, and a student-led newspaper. Each technique offers effective ways to engage students.

Section B, The Story of HarlemLIVE, unfolds the narrative of HarlemLIVE, tracing its beginnings and evolution. These chapters serve as a blueprint for creating your own youth program by highlighting the practical steps taken to establish a strong foundation and achieve impactful change. As the story unfolds, you’ll witness the challenges faced and conquered by our participants, offering insights for those aiming to establish a successful program. This journey explores HarlemLIVE’s evolution from its inception to navigating myriad complexities over time.

Part 1 is predominantly told in my voice, with many contributions from outside voices to enhance the storytelling.

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Part 2, Building on Legacy: Strategies, Success Stories, and Resources, contains three sections offering valuable insights, success stories, and practical guidance on implementing youth-oriented programs. While it adopts a more informational and resourceful tone, it draws on real-life experiences and examples from HarlemLIVE alumni.

Section C, Tenets of a Successful Youth Program, presents a detailed exploration of the key elements that underpinned HarlemLIVE’s success. This section showcases how experiential learning, trust building, community involvement, mentorship, and fostering a sense of ownership, among other tenets, significantly impacted youth development. 

While it doesn’t serve as a step-by-step guide, it provides a thorough examination of principles that can inform and inspire other youth enrichment initiatives, including adapting to new technologies like artificial intelligence (AI). 

An additional chapter within this section, Creating Youth Journalists, offers practical insights on establishing youth-oriented journalism programs and nurturing the skills of young journalists.

Section D, From HarlemLIVE to the World: Alumni Updates, underscores the profound and lasting impact that HarlemLIVE had on its participants, many of whom have since embarked on diverse and interesting projects, both nationally and internationally. In the book, you’ll directly hear from these alumni through over two dozen detailed interviews woven into the narrative.

Finally, Section E, Resources, offers extensive links to organizations and articles supporting issues, practices, and philosophies explored in this book.

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HarlemLIVE’s legacy has never been more relevant than it is today. As we navigate an increasingly digital world where young people’s engagement is crucial, the need for spaces that foster creativity, critical thinking, and self-expression is paramount. 

This book provides not only a historical account of such a space but also explores the universal components that made it a success—lessons that can be replicated and adapted to today’s context. For educators, policymakers, parents, and anyone interested in empowering the next generation, HarlemLIVE’s story offers invaluable insights and inspiration.

Engaging young people requires a delicate balance of trust, relevance, empowerment, and structure. While many youth programs aim to achieve these goals, the unique combination of factors present in HarlemLIVE’s model contributed to its exceptional success.

The pandemic highlighted the need to reevaluate how we educate and engage our youth. The story of HarlemLIVE offers hope, showcasing methods that empower young people to take control of their future and ameliorate negative social behaviors brought on by lockdowns and isolation.

Discussion Points:

  • Explore the ways in which technology, such as artificial intelligence (AI), can be integrated into youth-oriented programs for skill development.