Arguably more than any other underrepresented group of Americans, African American youth reflect the challenges of inclusion and empowerment in the post-civil rights period. Whether the issue is the mass incarceration of African Americans, the controversy surrounding Affirmative Action as a policy to redress past discrimination, the increased use of high stakes testing to regulate standards of education, debates over appropriate and effective campaigns for HIV and AIDS testing and prevention programs, efforts to limit sex education in public schools, or initiatives to tie means-tested resources to family structure and marriage, most of these initiatives and controversies are focused on, structured around, and disproportionately impact young, often marginal African Americans. However, in contrast to the centrality of African American youth to the politics and policies of the country, their perspectives and voice have generally been absent from not only public policy debates, but media and broadcast programs. Increasingly, researchers and policy-makers have been content to detail and measure the behavior of young African Americans with little concern for their attitudes, ideas, wants and desires. This documentary works to fill that void.

Woke Up Black followed five black youth for two years. During this time we witnessed interactions with family members, educational institutions, and the legal and judicial system. We saw the social networking that is critical to the successful development of these youth and we provided a rare opportunity to hear youth speak out on some of the important and potentially life-altering topics of the day. The film underscores the humanity that we all share with each other regardless of race or age. For some of the youth profiled, despite extraordinary circumstances, they remain hopeful.

The continuing social, political and economic marginalization of African American youth is a fact that is difficult to dispute. For example, while approximately 10 percent of non-Hispanic white children lived in poverty in 2001, the poverty rate for African American children was 30 percent1. Similarly, data from the U.S. Department of Justice indicates that while 3 of 1,000 white Americans ages 18-19 are sentenced prisoners, 29 of 1,000 African Americans ages 18-19 are sentenced prisoners.1

1 Proctor, Bernadette D. and Joseph Dalaker, U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Reports, P60-219, Poverty in the United States: 2001, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 20002.
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