Is “Be Great” The “It Gets Better Project” For People Of Color?

This summer three stabbings occurred in the Boystown area of Chicago, all of which involved black LGBT youth. The community’s “Take Back Boystown” response focused mostly on the perpetrators’ race and quickly devolved into heated racist discussion. But journalist Rod McCullom, who has been closely following the Boystown stabbing, has also uncovered a more positive web response to the summer violence—a new video campaign called “Be Great” which promotes education, success, and opportunities over the violence, substances, and partying of the streets.

Could this be a viral rallying point for the black community’s support of queer youth?

Unlike the It Gets Better project, “Be Great” does not depend on the star power of an influential gay figure like Dan Savage but rather the co-sponsorship of local groups like the 23rd District Police Department, the Northalsted Business Alliance, and Pow Wow—the city’s LGBT Native American organization. Together they have spearheaded a poster contest that will feature the winning design in the Windy City Times and on local buildings around Boystown.

Furthermore, they have encouraged local youths of color to make videos encouraging their peers to be great. Unlike the “It Gets Better” campaign though, the “Be Great” videos so far mostly feature photographs with uplifting messages of peace, opportunity, character, and strength written on them rather than personal testimonials from queer adults. Part of the reason for this difference is that the “Be Great” campaign is not specifically queer-centric; it focuses instead on youth of color, no matter their sexuality. Also, “Be Great” is bottom-up, with young people creating the videos, whereas the “It Gets Better” campaign is top-down, with older people creating them.

For now, “Be Great” focuses primarily on Chicago instead of the nation. Soon, the sponsors will help lead conflict-resolution, etiquette and de-escalation workshops in thirty houses across the city so people can convene in their own neighborhoods rather than traveling to unfamiliar, regulatory spaces that won’t know or address their community’s specific needs. And in this way, we applaud the “Be Great” campaign for actually pursuing concrete, local solutions with parents and community leaders rather than leaving all the reassurances and solutions for young people to discover online.

“Be Great” youth participant Davi Akei said, “There’s a big difference between what youth are saying and what adults are saying. [Participating] feels like less of a duty if your friends and people your own age are doing it. With older people, it feels like more of a dictatorship—we should do this because they’re saying we should do it. But if the youth are doing it, it’s more like we have a choice and it’ll be fun.”

That’s true, but if “Be Great” ever hopes to attain true staying power that will address the needs of youth of color nationwide, it wouldn’t hurt to get some star power and testimonials behind it. Young people can create some wondrous things, but they also need the help of adults to help them see what being great can truly provide.