Blogging with the Brotherhood/Sister Sol

It has been my pleasure to spend the past month working with the mentors and students of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol in Harlem. For six weeks, I’ve walked each Wednesday morning through the colorful, hand-painted door at the Brownstone on 143rd street to help high schoolers learn some blogging best practices in one of the organization’s summer programs. The weeks, as one expects when having a good time, flew by.

The tone for the weeks to follow was set at our first meeting. All twenty-something students and three mentors were standing in the common space of the third floor, engaged in a structured debate activity (before we ever got into this blogging business). We asked and answered questions about media: what role the media plays in our lives? Does the media wield complete control over the dissemination of information? If so, is the goal for truthful reporting hopeless? How can art, creativity, and community engagement combat systemic racial injustice? Though we did not come to definite conclusions about every inquiry, it was apparent from the start that the quality of our work would be high and the arguments thorough.

The work was great. We began with an introduction to blogging: we talked about the WordPress platform, how it was similar and different from other platforms and why it worked well for our purposes. We discussed what a CMS is, why blogging is an important skill for world of work, and how it can be beneficial on a personal level too.

In fact, it was a great reminder to me why we blog at the Digital Humanities Initiative. We are all advocates of digital literacy here, of familiarity with computer-based platforms, software, and services, but we also require that everyone at the initiative actually write well. Knowledge of MySQL and Bootstrap is nice, but academic success is built on solid communication skills: the ability to transform ideas into words, to analyze successes and failures, and to verbalize questions. Our best projects are only as strong as the language we use to build them, critique them, and share them.

Using this blog as a guide, we brought these details to light at The Brotherhood/Sister Sol. Our first few workshops dealt with formatting and drafting for the web—what it means to write for a wide audience, why including visual media is significant, and how we can boost our credibility by citing other places on the web. The details of formatting could be dry, but excitement picked up when we did true writing workshops, where we used a wall-mounted TV to peer-edit several students’ drafts. The workshop was a huge success: though it could be daunting to see their own work on the big screen for everyone to criticize, everyone participated with sensitivity and insightfulness (a further indication of the maturity of the group). We worked on the level of the sentence to grasp how changing a single word could dramatically alter tone and meaning and be inclusive or exclusive for various audiences.

Our great efforts together were rewarded by an organization-wide barbeque in the backyard and garden.The space is uplifted by colorful art, a greenhouse, and—my favorite—a small pond with two handsome turtles. The smokey smell of hot dogs and hamburgers filled the air. Students of all ages were congregating in various nooks around the garden, and as I enjoyed a slice of juicy watermelon, I made my goodbyes: a sweet ending to summer.

To see the work of the students of The Brotherhood/Sister Sol, please visit realitycheckonline.org.