Story at a glance

  • Author and former first lady Michelle Obama and former President Obama are hosting the "Black Renaissance," a new YouTube Original special airing later this month.
  • The special is part of a monthlong focus on Black stories and art.
  • The platform, which has been accused of discrimination in the past, is trying to reach out to Black creators through its new initiative.

A century after the Harlem Renaissance, the “Black Renaissance” is coming to YouTube, hosted by former President Obama and author and first lady Michelle Obama — a program that in many ways would have been unfathomable to their historical counterparts. 

"People come to YouTube as a place to learn and connect. This Black History month we wanted to continue meeting this challenge which I believe has never been more important," said Nadine Zylstra, head of Learning, Impact, Kids & Families for YouTube Originals, in a release. "By choosing art as the lens to further explore Black history, we hope to inspire our audience to continue embracing Black culture in all its various forms."


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The Obamas aren't the only big names attached to the program, which includes National Book Award finalist Jason Reynolds, rapper Killer Mike, comedians and creators Desus Nice and The Kid Mero, journalist Jemele Hill and artist Shantell Martin as hosts, as well as rapper Tobe Nwigwe and filmmakers Raafi Rivero and Naomi Merlan. Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Howard University Graduate Film Program, two major incubators for Black talent, are partnering with producers for the special, which airs on Feb. 26. 

The day before, Feb. 25, a new episode of BookTube, which grew from an original special featuring Michelle Obama, will air, featuring Alicia Garza, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network. The video-sharing platform is promising a slate of activities to celebrate Black History Month, starting with featured art from Black guest artists on the website's homepage along with curated content from Black creators and talent across its spotlight and TV surfaces. 


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"Black creativity on YouTube was the thing that empowered me. I see so many people who look like me, talking about things that I need to hear, and I think that it’s really inspiring," Leandro Assis, a Brazilian-based artist, letterer and art director who reimagined the YouTube logo, said in an interview.

YouTube’s software, which automatically removes videos suspected of violating the platform’s policies, has been accused of discrimination, and a group of Black creators filed a suit against the company last year. Machine learning algorithms involved in such automation have been problematic for other social media platforms and have even proven to be racist. 

Last month, the platform highlighted Black creators that received grants from the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund, a new $100 million initiative dedicated to "uplift[ing] and grow[ing] Black creators on our platform." 


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Published on Feb 04, 2021