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.

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  • adam

    Adults of color and youth of color have easy everyday access to each other. Black youth normally have black adult family members, black adults in their community they can talk to, black adults in their churches addressing them, and black adults in their schools. It’s an entirely different situation for many gay youth. Gay kids usually do not have connection like that with gay adults, and supportive gay adults cannot access isolated gay kids through institutions like church or school without being accused of “recruiting” and pedophilia. The campaign’s designs reflect that difference.

  • Lisa

    What this people nasty

  • Jim

    Whatever works is awesome in my book.

  • James

    @adam: But black gay kids don’t have access to other black gay people like that they are not wanted in both communities.

  • Thomas

    What about Jews?

  • Chris

    This is so much better than celebs and slacktivists fashioning themselves as saviours. These kids actually give me hope and prove that other kids out there are not alone.

  • Jean

    Being black myself, I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that it goes both ways. Being gay doesn’t mean you can’t be racist just as being black doesn’t mean you can’t be homophobic. I’m not saying anyone’s been better at supporting anyone else, everyone’s pretty much been shit, but we got to get together on this. Divide and conquer keeps working because we let it.

  • Charles Rosenheimer

    @Thomas: What about them, brother?

  • Diego_Rivera_II

    Divide and conquer ?? Who’s doing that ??

  • Lisa

    Go nasty woman

  • Red Meat

    It gets better is not good enough for “people of color” or “people of color” not good enough for It gets better?

  • mike128

    @ Red Meat: This has nothing to do with it gets better. It’s about what’s going on in the black community – just using a similar model to it gets better – but not about being gay.

  • Jakey

    I don’t get the basis for comparison with It Gets Better, to be honest. They’re different because they have different purposes, not because It Gets Better is a failed Be Great. IGB, as far as I’ve seen, is strictly to reassure LGBT youth who think the world hates them that no, not everyone is like the people they happen to be surrounded by right now. That, and that the people who support them don’t do so secretly. (It may not sound like much, but holy shit, both of these points would have been life-changing news if I’d heard them when I was a kid.) It’s for the kids to hear, and that’s it. If it were intended to promote action among the kids’ parents or community leaders, it would have been called Stop Being Such An Asshole.

  • Eagle Eggs

    @ No. 5 Thomas: What about the Jews, ya fucking RACIST ASSHOLE? Tell us, please. What about the Jews, Thomas?

  • Chitown Kev


    It’s about being black AND gay; those are not mutually exclusive terms, asshole.

    I think that adam’s comment in #1 kinda sorta gets it.

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