Wednesday, October 13, 2010

MORE THAN A COMPUTER CLASS... The DIGITAL ELDER Project Addresses a Rising Challenge in the Nationwide African American Community

MORE THAN A COMPUTER CLASS... The DIGITAL ELDER Project Addresses a Rising Challenge in the Nationwide African American Community

By, Shani Byard-Ngunjiri, M.S.

Executive Director, Message Media Ed

Digital Elder defined: Using the role of the traditional African elder as a guide, a Digital Elder™ is a role model who utilizes modern tools of 21st Century communication, to listen, nurture, guide, acknowledge, share wisdom and affirm.


The African American community is plagued with social and economic challenges that have resulted in dismantled family units, rampant unemployment, increased perspectives of self-doubt and communal hopelessness across America (National Urban League, 2007). In 2007, the NAACP declared a nationwide state of emergency in the Black community. In Los Angeles, California, African Americans make up 10% of the population. However, the unemployment rate for African Americans in Los Angeles is 14%, more than double the rate for Whites and Asians, and 13% of African Americans are receiving public assistance, compared to 5% of Latinos and 2% of both Asians and Whites (State of Black Los Angeles, 2005). Since the early 1970’s, South LA has been consumed by gang violence, drug abuse, Black-on-Black crime, and disproportionate incarceration rates for African Americans (, 2010).

The educational system is failing Black youth as well. LAUSD is an outdated educational system, failing to properly prepare our youth to become critical thinkers and to successfully transition into the workplace as a staggering 52% of Black youth do not graduate from high school (Civil Rights Project, 2005). These dropouts lack the skill-set needed to secure jobs and often contribute to disparate rates of teen pregnancy, and incarceration (State of Black Los Angeles, 2005).

As a result, a rising trend is occurring: grandparents are left with the responsibility of strengthening what’s left of the family unit and becoming caretakers for their adult children and grandchildren. This growing local phenomenon is nationwide as well. According to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2007 American Community Survey, there are 6.2 million grandparents acting as primary caregivers for children under 18 years old. Of those more than 1.2 million are African-American.

The plight of the African American community has placed elders at the forefront of preparing young adults and youth to enter today’s modern workplace. Although we live in the 21st century – deemed the Digital Age due to the infusion of media and technology in the global marketplace, and in every aspect of modern communication – members of the local and nationwide African American community are far behind, and largely contribute to the ‘digital divide’.

In a city plagued with budget cuts and outdated technology, libraries, senior and student community centers in South Los Angeles are extremely limited in their capacity to provide up-to-date computer access and training in skilled use of technology to build job and career skills. Additionally, over 1 million households in Los Angeles do not have a computer and over half of Los Angeles’ population does not have access to the internet. The majority of this ‘digital divide’ is concentrated in the disadvantaged regions of LA, including South Los Angeles (City of Los Angeles, 2009). Therefore, more mature adults, ages 50 and up, lack knowledge of and key skill-sets for, guiding the family in operating and utilizing 21st century communication tools for socioeconomic advancement. Additionally, since this generation of Black youth are large users and consumers of cell phones, iPods and other telecommunication gadgets, grandparents experience an extreme disconnect in communication with their grandchildren.

Lastly, the challenges faced by African American grandparents in strengthening the family unit in the Digital Age can be emotionally and physically exhaustive, making those at the helm of the household in need of positive social connections with peers experiencing similar challenges.

The DIGITAL ELDER Project provides a holistic, culturally relevant, community building approach toward learning in technology (in informal spaces), to build professional skill levels amongst key stakeholders underserved in the Black community of Los Angeles. Upon completion of The Digital Elder Project, graduates leave ready and prepared to become active participants in the digital landscape and to share new technical and internet knowledge with their family and immediate community. The long-term impact of this workshop exceeds beyond the immediate workshop environment. WE PROMISE YOU, THIS IS NOT JUST A COMPUTER CLASS...

“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,” Digital Elder graduate

"This workshop empowers people to become more than themselves and take responsibility for each other."

(extracted from post evaluation surveys)


Send your parents, grandparents, youth here for a two day experience like non other! Consider sponsoring an elder/young adult if you can't make it.  To Sponsor call 323-708-2526 or email 


Copyright 2010 Message Media Ed


1. City of Los Angeles (2009). (Application) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program

2. Greenlining Institute (2009). Digital Inequality: Information Poverty in the Information Age

3. Mandara, J., Richards, M., Gaylord-Harden, N., & Ragsdale, B. (2009). The Effects of Changes in Racial Identity and Self-Esteem on Changes in African American Adolescents’ Mental Health. Child Development, Vol. 80, No. 6, p. 1660-1675

4. (2010). Crips and Bloods Made In America: Timeline

5. The State of Black America (2007). New York, NY: National Urban League

6. The State of Black Los Angeles (Marge Nichols, 2005). New York, NY: National Urban League

7. The Civil Rights Project (2005). Confronting the Graduation Rate Crisis in California Retrieved January 14, 2007 from Harvard University

8. US Census Bureau (2007). American Community Survey. From the LA Sentinel (2009), Back to School Intensifies Responsibilities for Grandparents.


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