Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Mandela Experience...

In 1990, my mother took me to see Nelson Mandela, South African activist and humanitarian, speak at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Sitting amongst a sea people from all ethnic backgrounds, I was entranced by this legendary leader. He had an uncanny ability to connect with each and every individual and create an environment that empowered everyone there to take action for his cause. I felt as if he was speaking only to me! He shared his personal and professional experiences as an active participant in the freedom struggle, graphically defined the term, Apartheid, and discussed his role in dismantling it. I was overwhelmed, humbled and deeply disheartened by the story of his reality, and the reality of South African people, my global brothers and sisters. He then announced he would begin fasting until there was equal voting rights declared by the South African government and requested the public join him in taking action toward the same goal. In the car ride home, I told my mother I would fast, by removing beef and pork from my diet, until South African citizens were able to vote. I maintained this commitment until 1994, when equal voting rights in South Africa was declared. It was not until I became a doctoral student that I was able to label that experience.

My mother, a Black female educator, inserted me into African centered (Murrell, 2002), non-traditional (informal) educational space, and what Mezirow (1997) and Bailey and Alfred (2006) would describe as, a culturally rooted, transformative learning environment. Through autonomous thinking, transformative learning is the process of effecting change within an established social structure (Mezirow, 1997) and is organic in nature amongst Black women educators cognizant of their role and impact on cultural empowerment (Bailey & Alfred, 2006). At the age of 16, the Mandela experience challenged me to think critically about the world and directed my understanding of racism as a social structure. Utilizing the cultural medium of oration, I was influenced and educated about the implications of European colonialism and it fostered the ability to identify my individual role in countering and transforming racism and power, for the betterment of the global African Diaspora. It was within many of these non-traditional, transformative educational environments, that I began modeling transformative thought and action. I haven’t stopped since 1990.

In 2008, I developed an organization, Message Media Ed.: a culture-specific, media literacy-based, professional development organization, dedicated to academic, social and economic advancement for youth and families of African descent. The vision of Message Media Ed is to develop critically conscious (Friere, 1970; Friere, 1974) and culturally courageous (Browne, 2008) leaders equipped with the skill-sets needed to diversify the 21st Century workforce. Offered through Message Media Ed, The Digital Elder Project is a program I designed and offer as a humble attempt to replicate my Mandela experience, to transform existing, regressive frames of references within in the Black community, from 20th Century thought to 21st Century action. In a country where Eurocentric, corporate American media has replaced the traditional role of the African Elder – as teacher, mediator, leader, value shaper – for Black community members, The Digital Elder Project reconnects participants to African culture and heritage, and empowers them to use human and technological resources to counter and thrive in a hegemonic culture. The Digital Elder Project combines Critical Pedagogy, specifically Critical Media Literacy, with African Centered Pedagogy, within a non-traditional, transformative learning environment, as tools to achieve its mission.

emPOWER On-Line & in the African American Community!

"This workshop empowers people to become more than themselves and take responsibility for each other.” – Digital Elder graduate

"Communication is so necessary!! Elders of all ages need this workshop for this reason. We must save our youth!! Nationwide!!” – Digital Elder graduate

Thank you for your time.

In service,

Shani Byard-Ngunjiri
Founder, Message Media Ed & The Digital Elder Project

Copyright 2010 Message Media Ed.


Jeff Brazil said...

Great story. Terrific project. I'm part of a digital media research group at the University of California that is deeply concerned about digital literacy and access/inclusion issues. Best wishes in your cause.

Message Media Ed. said...

Thank you Jeff! Your work sounds exciting and critical. Please consider us a resource in closing the divide. Thank you for visiting, reading and sharing your thoughts. :)