Black Broadway

With gentrification changing the demographics of Washington D.C.’s historic U Street corridor the history of what is known as “Black Broadway” lives in former journalist Shelle’e Haynesworth’s virtual time capsule in cyberspace.

Haynesworth’s Black Broadway on U documentary is a multi-media project that tells the story of this segment of African Americana in a way that people get their information today: online .  The information portal tells the history of D.C.’s thriving community of commerce and entertainment by merging digital video content with narratives from those who lived it via short form videos. It has changed the way independent minority producers bring their concepts to life.

“Here’s an opportunity to tell this story through the community’s lens,” Haynesworth told the AFRO.  “I can do it on my own terms and not be confined to anybody’s else’s box”.

Necessity forced Haynesworth, an Emmy award winning TV producer formerly of BET and ABC7 News in Washington, into becoming the mother of invention to get her project started.  With most production companies wanting some measure of creative control over the projects they fund the native Washingtonian was passionate about controlling the way this story of her community is told.  She has remained independent through a series of grants and donations and by using old fashioned ingenuity which led to her concept of virtual documentary programming.

“This is digital, cultural, preservation that speaks to generation next,” Haynesworth said.  “In the digital space there are no deadlines and there aren’t any time constraints.”

“If you make a documentary a part of the audience may actually miss it because they can’t catch it when it airs on TV.  On demand allows you to appreciate history on your own schedule.”

Haynesworth’s innovative concept is still evolving four years into the project.  She has begun to tell the story of the thriving Black community that laid the foundation for the Harlem Renaissance in New York.   Her multi-platform content bridges the contributions of the former artists, entertainers, intellectuals, and their social impact on America with a clever interactive presentation.

Ultimately she plans a conventional three-part documentary series that will be produced in a traditional made for TV format.  However, as she continues with the long form interviews – that will serve as the core of the documentary – many are already posted online which already allows for audiences to embrace its legacy on the web.

The interactive web distribution plan also includes a “living, digital history book and virtual museum” that will immerse users in the U Street experience through, historic maps, educational resources, oral histories and documentary shorts as well.

For millennials, who consume most of their information through mobile technology, Haynesworth is bridging the generational divide with this project through social media.  Since the story of U Street is on a virtual platform it also has become an educational tool for students and those who are new to the community.

Given that a significant population of transient college students from Howard University are the core of this area the site offers information on their community’s place in African American culture.  That same cultural and social awakening is also seen in the DC Public School System which features the Black Broadway on U legacy during Black History Month.

“In the midst of a demographic change this preserves our history,” said Haynesworth.  “It’s a great time to offset current stereotypes about a place that is very important to me.”

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