Friday, October 21, 2005

Virtual Xcel

Back in 1999, we at Generation Xcel had a brainstorm that I believed would revolutionize youth outreach and cultural engagement. What if we took "By Youth For Youth" online? Could we translate the Xcel model for cyberspace and create a virtual community that would empower kids to be who they are and find their voice and connect with friends in a meaningful way on the internet? We called the idea Virtual Xcel [the link is a brief summary originally written six years ago]. In the fall of 2000, a major evangelical ministry invited me to participate in a think tank on how they could relevantly engage young people, and I proposed the idea to them as well. Six months later, they called back and commissioned me to draft a creative brief that would be presented to their board for possible investment. The proposal made it through the various stages of management review and was scheduled to go before the full board on September 21, 2001, but ten days earlier, 9/11 happened. The brief got shelved and subsequent management changes kept it buried. The idea has resurfaced periodically, and with great intensity in the last year and a half. First was an opportunity to meet Clarence Jones (MLK's attorney during the Civil Rights movement), who reminded a group of urban youth workers of the centrality of the internet in youth culture. Then was the role email and internet buzz played in promoting the groundbreaking Billy Graham Square One breakfast and Refl3ctions event this past spring; reading Joe Trippi's book, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (buy it here) this summer; discussions at The Coalition about how to achieve similar discourse among urban youth ministers; and my own personal experience blogging since December -- the new friends, conversations engaged, and fun sharing pictures and personal stories. So last month I was talking to Peter Ong about the idea, since he's done an amazing job connecting with his kids via his blog. Then yesterday, CoCo asked me to cover for him as he was up against a deadline for a midterm project for school. So I hung out at Xpress for three hours and decided to raise the issue directly with the teens. Then something amazing happened. For the first hour and a half, each student wanted to go online. Not to listen to music or play games, but to interact with their friends. Via email, instant message, and blogs. What was this? Every teen at Xpress had their own blog. They had discovered Myspace and Sconex and Xanga on their own, and were creating online space for themselves. Generation Xcel had gone virtual. Organically. By Youth. For Youth. Without any financial investment or programming push from the staff. They were doing it, being teenagers, making friends, acting silly, building community. Online. Some of the stuff they're doing:

  • Loreal is a senior in high school. Her junior high friends set up a myspace account to organize a reunion for over 300 classmates before everyone graduates high school.
  • Ciara is still in junior high, but her cousin helped set up the account and identified her as 19.
  • Chris uses his to compare notes and test results with classmates.
  • Eden has a personal journal on her site that is closed to the public, but a handful of friends have access.
  • And as a group they had even set up an Xpress blog so they could spread the word about Xpress to their friends.

Everything's new, and frankly, still very raw. But these guys are getting it on their own. Here's a sample:

Be forewarned, some of what you'll see is not suitable for adults. Apparently, good, bad, and ugly goes on in Myspace. Maybe online is not so virtual afterall?


At 10/25/2005 02:42:00 PM, Anonymous Sierra said...

Hey jeremy here's the comment so you can get my Myspace. its It was good seeing you sunday. Lots of Love to You, Diana, and Judah


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