Last June, a young student from Harlem walked up a flight of steps and received an award from the king of Sweden. In the same hall where the Nobel Prize is awarded, the young man accepted an award in the Global Bangemann Challenge, a competition that recognizes significant uses of technology to improve society.
The young man is part of HarlemLive, a Web publication by and about Harlem teens, and one of only four U.S. winners from a field of more than 400 applicants from around the world.
HarlemLive is the brainchild of Richard Calton, a teacher who helped students produce school newspapers in Harlem public schools for nearly 10 years. The program's goal is to give inner-city youth a worldwide platform for expression while teaching them valuable skills.
HarlemLive was launched in 1996, when Calton took a year off to work at the Institute for Learning Technologies at Columbia University. While there, he found he missed working with students. He also found out about the Internet and how it could be used to publish material for a much larger audience than a school newspaper.
That's when Calton came up with the idea for HarlemLive -- an online magazine covering political, cultural and historical topics and featuring interviews with important and interesting people in Harlem. Calton contacted five of his past students, who were immediately interested in the project.
"We just kind of went out and started covering people, places and events in Harlem," said Calton. "We started slow with one laptop and a digital camera, and the kids put most of it together from home."
But HarlemLive found a niche, and it grew quickly. Suddenly, more students were interested in joining, and it became apparent that Calton and his students were going to need a place to work in order for the project to expand. Robert McClintok, director of the Institute for Learning Technologies, offered HarlemLive access to the Institute's computer lab.
That gave the project a launching pad, and it quickly expanded to nearly 75 students. Last November, HarlemLive moved again, this time to an even larger community technology center in Harlem called Playing 2 Win.
As HarlemLive grew, the structure became more formal and students' responsibilities increased. Students must now commit a minimum amount of time to HarlemLive. In addition, they can now take advantage of individualized tutoring, learn a variety of digital-media skills, journalistic protocols and diverse writing skills, and contribute a wider variety of material to the Web site
A recent issue of HarlemLive included a story about the protest over the imprisonment of a former Black Panther accused of murder, a look at how three new businesses will affect the community and a visit with U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, whose congressional district includes Harlem.
Skills Plus Communit
While HarlemLive lets kids learn valuable skills, Calton said an equally important aspect involves broadening students' knowledge and networking abilities by introducing them to people, events and institutions in the larger community.
"Our goal is, certainly, to empower youth with skills that will give them a lot of opportunities as they go into the workforce," he said. "But this is also about the community. They get a lot of exposure by
covering these events. Because they're producing stories, people open their doors to them, and they get to see people and places and situations they wouldn't have otherwise seen."
"HarlemLive is a great way to involve students in the community," said Oaskwe Beale, a 17-year-old who's been a part of HarlemLive for three years. During his tenure, Beale has served as a senior editor and done extensive public-relations work for the organization. "It also gives you a sense of belonging."