Executive Director News: Torn between the love of a child and the love of a community

Feb 25, 2011

On Saturday, February 20, The National Action Network (NAN) held its weekly rally and live radio broadcast at its Harlem headquarters at W145th Street, only a few blocks away from where a young college-bound prep school girl named Afrika Owes was raised. Afrika, described by her mother Karen as “ Harlem’s Darling” was an ambitious teenager with a promising future; she attended basketball camp, won poetry contests, participated in the Abyssinian Baptist Church youth ministry and choir and earned a scholarship to attend Deerfield Academy, a very expensive boarding school in Deerfield, Massachusetts.

However, Afrika’s once bright future has darkened dramatically; she now sits in a cell at Riker’s Island Correctional Facility awaiting her fate, having been indicted on charges of drug and gun trafficking for her boyfriend, 19 year old John Layne, an alleged gang member of the “137th Street Crew”.  Evidence of Afrika and alleged gang members’ criminal activities was uncovered by authorities through intercepted phone calls and text messages, as well as by monitoring social networking sites such as Facebook.

This past Saturday, Karen Owes attended the weekly NAN rally and expressed concern to Reverend Sharpton and me for the need to emphasize the importance of parents becoming more technologically literate; particularly as it relates to social media, for the sake of their children’s safety and overall well being.

Afrika’s alleged activities may be strongly frowned upon, but her mother’s plea is broadly applicable. Traditionally, the position of the National Action Network advocates for the prosecution of the types of crimes which young Afrika is accused of to the fullest extent of the law. Furthermore, as a woman born and raised in Harlem, I have a long-standing history of staunch support and advocacy of gun control to protect our neighborhoods. As a mother of a child whose father was slain due to gun violence; this issue affects me deeply.  However, as the National Executive Director of NAN, I support a broader conversation directed towards the role of parental involvement in the prevention of these and similar tragic circumstances.

It is no longer just a matter of finding new ways to listen to music or watch videos. Between cell phones, video chatting, Facebook and Twitter, young people today are in a near constant state of communication; typing faster with their thumbs on their smart phones than many adults can by using all 10 fingers on a regular computer keyboard. As a result, technologically disconnected or dysfunctional parents run the risk of having their children develop an entire network of “invisible” friends, of whom they may be completely unaware.

It is critically important for parents to develop technological literacy. It’s no longer a matter of simply avoiding an embarrassing ribbing from the kids; to be an effective parent in the Internet Age, one must acquire the skills to communicate in the world of social media, e-mail, texting and beyond. As a parent, you must put aside your grammatical prejudices and learn text language. Young people have learned how to talk about their parent’s right in front of them, knowing they can’t decode a message. The better you understand this different language, the less in the dark you will be about what your kids are saying.

It’s not enough to simply be friends with your children on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. Parents need to become masters of social networks. Learn privacy settings and how to tag photos. This will help you become aware of not only what type of communication your children are having with friends and/or others, but also by what means they might be keeping information from you as well.

Parenting in the internet age is a tough job but we must stay constant with the changing times for the sake of our children’s future.  

Please tweet me your thoughts @ Twitter: Mallory_NAN_ED