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Digital Empowerment Academy

Dr. Lanise Block, Maya Buckner, and Fred Sanders


Digital Empowerment Academy program engages underrepresented youth to develop their digital literacy and community leadership skills. It’s mission is to support youth in their endeavors to make social impact in their community via digital engagement. 

The aim of Digital Empowerment Academy was to know how youth would use digital applications to study, advocate and present around a social justice issue of their choice; to see if youth would communicate a deeper understanding and committed to Social Justice in general. Lastly, the goal was also to examine how the ‘Digital Kinship’ model could act as an invitation into the Digital Society. 


The Digital Empowerment Academy (DEA) completed 2 cohort sessions. The DEA Leadership team met with inner-city youth on a bi-weekly basis to explore and create.  DEA Scholars were challenged to think about issues that were important to them and to let those issue fuel their digital creativity.  This was done using the ‘Digital Kinship’ framework, which is ‘creating digital content that is important for you and sharing it with those who are important to you.’ This framework is a combination of African Centered Pedagogy, the ISTE Student Standards and the 21st Century Skills framework.

Digital Kinship Model Figure 1.1

The Scholars were led through an inquiry process, asked to define a community of their choice, and then determine if there was an element they wanted to amplify or a facet they wanted to change. Their community of choice could be: racial, physical, spiritual or political.  Once they selected a Social Justice topic, the Scholars were asked to begin research on that topic. They were to gather information pertinent to devising a presentation; one that included a ‘Call to Action’ that would be shared with their peers and members of the community.  Scholars were motivated in various ways to select their topic, one reported she “ saw a lot of homeless people on the street...some of them veterans…” and she wanted to “raise awareness.” Over the course of the program, Scholars selected topics including but not limited to: Sex Trafficking, Cyber Bullying, Pollution, African American History/Cultural Awareness, Sexism and Digital Citizenship [Block Table 1. DEA Artifacts Matrix].

During the inaugural cohort, DEA met over the course of eight weeks; and  Scholars were introduced to several digital applications and software that they would utilize to demonstrate their concern and knowledge of their topic.  

During this session, Scholars were given the opportunity to participate in field trips that allowed them to expand their outlook on digital media and develop creative ways to present their topics.  Scholars visited an Apple store and participated in an iMovie workshop. They were then able to create their own trailers and iMovie projects to use as an artifact in their final presentations.  Scholars also had the opportunity to tour a local jazz radio station where they were guided through the process of writing and recording their own Social Justice PSA’s (Public Service Announcements).

DEA’s 2nd Cohort saw an additional aspect—computer science, the Scholars were guided in learning to code and eventually create their own ‘scenarios’ with a program called “Scratch.” Scholars also created basic Apps using the MIT App Inventor. By the end of the five-month period, youth in volved in this program had become adept at coding, finding and using digital applications to demonstrate their topic of concern; and felt more comfortable utilizing digital technology.


Midway through the academy sessions, scholars were given a midterm evaluation. The majority of the responses centered around the DEA learning experience consisted of the Scholars thoroughly enjoyed learning to code and exploring various artifacts that they were unaware existed before becoming a part of the DEA. 

The midterm evaluation showed that the Scholars were learning a copious amount of information about their Social Justice issue, when asked about their presentation progress, many of them had concrete topics, facts, questions and examples, but were just unsure of which digital artifacts they should utilize. 

Scholars were asked to use up to three artifacts during their presentation, so having too many to choose from was actually an ideal dilemma.  At the Annual Digital Empowerment Youth Conference, Scholars presentations included but were not limited to: iMovies about bullying and cultural history, Haiku Deck presentations about community art, and Flowboards about sweatshops. Moreover, many of the Scholars responses were geared toward wanting to learn more how to present their information and how to apply the knowledge they’ve gained to their school studies.

 The response of the Scholars signaled they were learning and that they would be better prepared for a future in the digital society. These results also suggest that when given the correct tools, Scholars could commendably and positively communicate issues that gave them distress. 


In conclusion, the results from the final evaluation and observations offer insight on the Digital Kinship model and how effective this model is at making those who had little to no experience, become members and feel a part of the digital society.  The Digital Kinship model was chosen because youth of color often feel excluded from the larger tech community; the Digital Kinship model acts as an invitation, a bridge. This model lets youth know that “that they are bringing, is an important as what they are receiving” thus they feel included, validated as co-constructors of their experience and knowledge. Scholars exited DEA feeling empowered and knowledgeable—one reported that he “would like to have more opportunities to present his findings to his community.” Many felt as if they had the tools they needed to be confident presenters, one even saying that she would like to “pass on the knowledge to her friend and family and encourage them to learn more about the issue….” Another Scholar mentioned he “would like to spread the word with his friends, talk with people who have the same issue and help them solve it” since he had some background information and knew how to use digital mediums for advocacy.

Lastly, the DEA utilized Edmodo, Twitter, Facebook Group as communications tools to keep the DEA community informed about the happenings and progress of the youth. While social media can be an effective tool, the focus here was also for Scholars to know that these are not the only tools that make people part of digital society. By introducing them to creation applications, Scholars were able to explore and become better acquainted with the digital society, and further they were fueled and equipped to  “engage the community to work on issues together.” In the future, the Digital Empowerment Academy hopes to expand to include more youth and community members; also to further develop the application of the Digital Kinship model, and enable others to use it successfully as an invitation to those often left outside in the margins.

See also: DEA Artifacts Framework Matrix [Block Table 1]


City of Minneapolis Community Technology Survey: Overcoming the Digital Divide. Ward 5 Summaries of Results and Compilation of Analysis Near North and Central Communities Available at:

International Society for Technology in Education Student Standards
Available at:

Murrell, Peter. 2002. African Centered Pedagogy: Developing Schools of Achievement for African American Children. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.

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