The latest Internet video sensation of the U.S. election cycle doesn't feature a bumbling running mate, a "gotcha" moment or a new attack on a candidate. It features a group of children praising Democratic candidate Barack Obama, and has led to some virulent reactions.
In the video, a line of African-American boys from the Urban Community Leadership Academy in Kansas City, Missouri march, chant and recite lines about themselves and Obama. Their actions may strike white viewers as bizarre, frightening or even militant.
But that reaction may just be cultural ignorance.
"This is not militant," said the academy's assistant director, Bernard Wesley. He said the kids were inspired by current events to express themselves, and they turned to a form of artistic expression common in African-American pop culture.
Indeed, while some critics are comparing the video to a Nazi youth rally, the moves are a form of "stepping," a creative style especially popular among African-American fraternities (the kids can be heard chanting "Alpha, Omega, Alpha, Omega" as they march in). Step shows of this nature were recently featured in the film "Stomp the Yard."
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of similar clips on You Tube that feature African-American youths performing in the same style, but using nonpolitical chants and music.
Wesley said each morning, students at the academy are given 30 minutes to work on something of their choosing. Some study communication , writing or leadership skills. The group in the video are part of a junior fraternity organization, and wanted to do a step performance based on a Barack Obama speech.
"They incorporated what they saw in the media into their chant," said Wesley. "It's OK for the kids to do that. They have their freedom of speech... We're not exploiting them for some political agenda."
He said that while a teacher is in the room to provide support, it was the students themselves who came up with the idea.
"We encourage our kids to be creative," said Wesley. "We try to expose our kids to a lot of different things"
He would not identify the ages of the students involved, but the academy is a middle school. That would make the kids roughly between the ages of 11 and 15.
Wesley said the kids were trying to do something positive with Obama's message.
"Listen to it," he said. "They're saying ‘I'm inspired' to be something myself."
At one point, each student steps forward to say what he hopes to become. "Because of Obama I am inspired to the next doctor," says one. Another states: "Because of Obama, I'm inspired to be the next chemical engineer."
The students weren't the only ones to take an Obama speech
and try to turn it into art. His "Yes We Can" speech was the basis of the
celebrity-studded video produced by will.i.am of the Black Eyed Peas, and became
an online sensation of its own earlier this year.
Wesley said the school will continue to allow the kids to express themselves, and the school's goals remain unchanged.
"We serve at-risk kids when other people close the door on them," he said. "That's the message we want out there."