Ethan Zuckerman, what's the last great thing you saw?
WNYC Radio Rookies

My wife, who blogs as The Velveteen Rabbi, shared a story she thought I'd find interesting: "Mind the Gap in Crown Heights." It's a radio story with a slideshow produced by four teenage students through Radio Rookies, a project from WNYC radio in New York, which helps teens produce radio that reflects their world and tells their stories.

"Mind the Gap" is a story told by four young women from the Caribbean — Jamaica and Guyana — about cultural encounters and tensions in their neighborhood, Crown Heights. They're curious about, and a little afraid of, the Chabad Lubavitch Jewish community in their neighborhood, and start exploring the misconceptions and stereotypes they have about Judaism, first through their teachers at the High School for Global Citizenship, and then through the Crown Heights Community Mediation Center. In the process, they explore the challenging history of Lubavitcher/Caribbean relationships in Crown Heights, dating back to three days of riots that erupted in 1991 after the child of Guyanese immigrants was struck and killed by the motorcade of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

The story told by the four correspondents is not a comfortable one. They're shocked to learn the violent history of their neighborhood, and they have a hard time connecting with their religiously observant neighbors. A meeting brokered by the Community Mediation Center, introducing the reporters to young women from the Lubavitch community is an awkward and sometimes tense one. Ultimately, the four reporters wrestle with the idea that the Lubavitch community has chosen to separate itself from broader society to maintain their faith and traditions. They can work to reduce their stereotypes, but only up to a point — their relations with neighbors in Crown Heights are not going to look like those in their Caribbean homelands.

I love the format of the story: a mix of text, image, video and narrative that provides a rich picture of the neighborhood in question. And I'm excited to read a story that takes on the challenges of a cross-cultural encounter in a way that's hopeful, but not saccharine, and far from any happy endings.

Ethan Zuckerman is the director of the MIT Center for Civic Media.
MAY 18, 2012  •  GREAT THING 15 OF 20

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