Message Media Ed School of Black Leadership in the Digital Age provides culturally-relevant learning and professional development for youth, adults and seniors of African descent (including high school dropouts and youth at risk of giving up on their education), as a means of closing digital, cultural, social, academic and economic divides within the Black community, and producing Black leadership.

Offered to the community through Message Media Ed and facilitated by organization founder and Leimert Park native Shani Byard, The Digital Elder Project, Rise Above the Noise, Diversity Leaders and other tailored workshops, provide an African-centered approach to skill building in new media, media analysis, technology education and leadership development.

The principle guiding the organization’s work stems from a contemporary interpretation of the West African concept of Sankofa: to cultivate knowledge of self and our past, in order to advance in, and diversify our future.

Therefore, the program recruits predominantly African American participants who have been historically marginalized; the socioeconomically disadvantaged; and media stereotyped.

Message Media Ed reconnects participants to African principles, language and heritage, and empowers them to use technological resources to counter and thrive in a predominantly Euro-American society and educational system.

“Our mission is to produce Black leadership for the digital age. We want to create culturally-conscious role models and meaningful participants in the digital landscape. We do this by providing supportive, creative learning environments for cultural healing, leadership development, and skill building in critical media literacy, social media and information technology,” said Byard.

“Our biggest accomplishment has been with the success of the Digital Elder Program which promotes cultural awareness and helps the elderly understand challenges that today’s youth face.

It shows them why their wisdom is still needed and valued in our society,” explained Byard. “We teach them to text, use Facebook and e-mail, and how to successfully navigate the web so that they can stay in touch with the younger generation.”

Byard mentioned that the Digital Elder Program continues to grow in popularity and more members of the community are being kept in the loop as the times change technologically.

“The biggest challenge we have encountered is getting the community to understand why what we are doing is so important and to see the value in it. If at the end of the program, you aren’t getting handed money, or a diploma, or immediate job placement or some other immediate incentive then it’s a lot harder to get people to take out the time to get involved in it,” Byard explained.

“What they don’t realize is that so many people talk about how much these programs change them, how much they have learned, and how thinking critically about the media has changed how they view the world. But these are things that you only learn by going through the program firsthand so recruiting isn’t always easy.”

Beginning Aug. 5 Message Media Ed will hold its Digital Lyricist XChange every other Friday. This is a youth open mic that serves as a platform to create culturally diverse, fun, and healthy learning spaces for exploring history and real issues facing young people through media, Hip-Hop, poetry, visual art, and dance. The XChange is open to youth ages 13-18 but youth under 18 need a parent-signed permission slip to participate. The cost is $5 and snacks will be provided. For more information or to RSVP text or call (323) 708-2526.

Message Media Ed will move to a new location and hold a grand opening to celebrate on Sept. 17. The new facility will be open Tuesday through Saturdays from 3 to 8 p.m. and will hold computer classes, afterschool programs, lectures, workshops, and the new building will have a library.

People who are interested are encouraged to become members. The membership fee is $80 and includes the required two workshops–Rise Above the Noise and Digital Elders or Diversity Leaders (depending on the age of the member), two tutoring sessions, and lectures. To enroll, visit the organizations website at www.messegemediaed.org.