This app can change how kids learn about historical heroes

IIn mid-November, several amazing monuments emerge from the ground in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. Someone praised Gaspar Yang, a slave turned freedman who led a successful uprising against Spanish colonialists in the 16th century. Yanga does not appear in many American textbooks, and the Los Angeles City Council did not pay for the statue.

Instead, the Yanga statue appeared in augmented reality, through an app called Kinfolk. Using technology similar to Pokémon Go, users can place and display traces of oft-forgotten historical figures like Yanga in public. The app then displays the historical context through text, music, and video.

Kinfolk app launch comes in fierce discussion It rages about the monuments that stare down at us from city centers: those that pay tribute to Confederate leaders, slaveholders, or other maimed heroes.

Traces of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Robert E. Conservative poetry That their history and values ​​are being desecrated. The tensions exposed deep cracks in America’s self-perception and fundamental shortcomings in what we collectively know and understand about our country.

Kinfolk co-founder Idris Brewster hopes AR can be part of the solution to the very old problem of how history remembers heroes. With the Kinfolk app available for apple And the androidBrewster hopes to make the virtual effects visible across the country. In the process, he hopes to help people reimagine civic spaces, engage students in interactive learning, and allow those who have never seen themselves in the ruins of their city to do so for the first time.

“If we want an equitable future,” he says, “we need our collective consciousness to include the stories of these people who have been purposefully erased from the canon of American history.”

Monument to Biddy Mason, as seen on the Kinfolk app.  (Andrew Chow)

Monument to Biddy Mason, as seen on the Kinfolk app.

Andrew Chow

“Public spaces are not built for us”

Brewster has long worked at the intersection of technology and stocks: he previously worked at Google Next code, which offered free computer science courses to black and brown students. He founded Kinfolk, formerly Movers and Shakers NYC, in 2017, when he and creative partner Glenn Cantave were part of a conversation on social media about historic New York statues and how they should be more diverse. For example, among the city’s 150 or so historic statues, historians have counted 5 women only between them.

For Brewster, this discrepancy is important because the monuments “show the values ​​of a society: what people venerate, what dates are important,” he says. “The point we are at right now, these public spaces are not built for us.”

While Brewster has campaigned to remove problematic monuments—including a statue of Christopher Columbus in Manhattan’s Columbus Circle, which he says represents an “oppressive figure” and “a tool for the history of white supremacy”—he’s also dreamed of erecting a new collection of monuments to forgotten historical figures since long time. But to build new monuments requires “a lot of bureaucracy, red tape, and a lot of hoops to jump through,” he says.

Read more: Confederate monuments and other contested memorials have descended on cities across America. What should replace them?

At the time, it was an AR game pokemon go It was sweeping the nation, inspiring millions of people to seek out cartoon monsters by venturing into their cities and towns and all over the world.

Brewster saw this technology as a potential way to circumvent some of his challenges. “With augmented reality, we can create as many landmarks as we want for the price of a single physical monument, and we can place them anywhere,” he says.

The Kinfolk app works by using your smartphone’s camera functionality. Open the app and “place” a photo of a monument anywhere you like. You can then tour the memorial, reading about the history of that historical figure and listening to related music or interviews about it. At the moment, traces only appear on your mobile version of the app, and they go away when you close the app. Each virtual memorial is designed with care. Kinfolk has carefully selected artists to collaborate on how AR effects will come to be. There are currently over a dozen effects available in the app, including Harry Belafonte and Maya Angelou.

Brewster and Kinfolk have unveiled various augmented reality projects over the past few years, but the November launch in Los Angeles, presented in collaboration with The Music Center and artist group For Freedoms, is the biggest yet. Yanga is honored as well as Biddy Mason, who co-founded the oldest African American church in the city, and Beatrice Alva, who helped preserve the history of the Gabrielino Tongva tribe of California.

This version of Kinfolk has added a geo-located element to the app: Last weekend, the only place you could see traces of Yanga, Biddy Mason, and Beatrice Alva was in Los Angeles’ Grand Park, where Kinfolk threw a public party complete with live music and DJ sets. Ji and the digital art industry. (These relics are now available to the general public, and can be placed anywhere in the world the users wish.)

The Black Fist Brass Band at Kinfolk's Grand Park event in Los Angeles in November.  Follow Favorite

The Black Fist Brass Band at Kinfolk’s Grand Park event in Los Angeles in November.

Momodu Mansaray

The geo-located element makes the app more interactive – as you’re forced to venture into the world and interact with history in the context of public spaces – and also focuses on learning the history of a community.

Brewster hopes to raise the profile of local history in cities across the country. After Los Angeles, he and Kinfolk will embark on a national tour staging virtual attractions and in-person events. In Alabama, for example, Brewster plans to partner with the community-led organization Project Say Something to protest Confederate monuments there while creating a new digital collaboration with local artists. Taken as a whole, he hopes Kinfolk will act as a digital archiving project, in which all kinds of histories will be discovered and preserved.

Brewster expects to meet resistance, especially at a time when school boards and local leaders are increasingly dismissive of the spread of black history. We’ll try to go to Richmond and New Orleans and other cities that are deeply rooted in that. This will definitely increase the amount of angry emails we will receive.”

Idris Brewster, left, and Glenn Cantave, founders of Kinfolk.  Recently unveiled an augmented reality app that teaches black history.  Follow Favorite

Idris Brewster, left, and Glenn Cantave, founders of Kinfolk. Recently unveiled an augmented reality app that teaches black history.

Momodu Mansaray

An interactive way to explore history

While Brewster knows some people will dismiss his assignment outright, he hopes the app will be especially useful to Gen-Z students who respond best to more immersive forms of learning. “Kids are visual learners. They play Fortnite, they’re on TikTok, they edit videos; they don’t like to read.” “We want to provide children with an interactive way to participate; to be able to create more connections for themselves and to explore, like a video game.”

He hopes that Kinfolk, in particular, will be a resource for students at schools that have banned courses on black history because of the elder Backlash about critical race theory. “I think it’s really important that teachers have the tools to bring these narratives into their classrooms in easy ways,” he says.

And even if it isn’t able to change the minds of those who vehemently oppose it, Brewster is optimistic that its implementation can make a difference, especially for a younger generation ready to embrace new modes of learning that use interactive technology, a familiar way to engage with the world. “There’s no way we can move forward to a fairer place if we can’t acknowledge the sins of our past — if we can’t acknowledge how black culture and brown culture has been exploited and killed to get to where we are now,” he says. “Relics is really one tool for being able to have that conversation.”

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