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    When poet Tom Healy called the Florida Freedom Writers to tell them he was donating $10,000 to the youth creative writing and performance group, he had a little trouble tracking them down. He finally reached the Miami Norwood High classroom of the group’s director, Precious Symonette. But, the student who answered the phone thought it was a prank call.
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    Olivier Kamanda is director for learning and impact strategy at Knight Foundation. High school may be a tumultuous time, but it’s also when many of us first start to define not only who we are but also our beliefs about our community and our country. Understanding high school student views on the First Amendment, and, in particular, the essential freedoms of free press and free expression, is then vital to anticipating how future generations may interpret and support these rights.
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    Charlotte boasts a demographically diverse population, well-educated residents and a thriving economy. Home to the largest population in the state, the Queen City also serves as the economic epicenter of the state. Nevertheless, our community is paradoxical in many ways, with social, economic and political barriers that hinder equitable growth, opportunity and prosperity for those who live here. Despite the array of sports, hospitality, entertainment and industries that drive the local economy, Charlotte is home to high levels of residential and school segregation that perpetuate a system of uneven distribution of public resources, educational attainment and economic opportunities. Charlotte holds the dubious distinction of being 50 out of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in terms of intergenerational economic mobility.Our community has been in conversation for years about how these challenges affect us all. A less-discussed topic within this conversation is how these challenges influence civic life. From October 2016 through June of 2017, a team from the UNC Charlotte’s Urban Institute and Johnson C. Smith University used a mixed-methods approach to explore how the local landscape influences civic engagement. Our research built on user research conducted on a national scale by the Google Civic Innovation Team in 2014. In particular, we sought to further the understanding of a population called “Interested Bystanders,” or people who are paying attention to the issues around them, but not acting on those issues. 
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    Becca Lewis is a Ph.D student in communications working at Data & Society. Below she writes about findings from a recent Knight report that explored how misinformation spread during the 2016 presidential election. If you start paying attention to the issue of online disinformation, you will start to hear a lot about the role of “influence.” Most notably, media outlets have done widespread reporting on Russia’s so-called “influence campaigns,” meant to impact U.S. elections. But “influence” is an important online phenomenon more generally. If you use Instagram, for example, you almost certainly have encountered “brand influencers,” who build devoted audiences and then attempt to sell them products and services. Influence, then, is a crucial phenomenon online: it means having a powerful voice and using that voice to have an impact, whether political or commercial.
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    With so much music history running through Detroit’s DNA, increasing investment in local musical groups and artists, and a renaissance of new music-based organizations, I often wonder why do musicians regularly leave Detroit? Why does it lack a sustainable music economy where infrastructure and industry unite to create an environment for musicians to thrive creatively and financially?
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    Lilly Weinberg is director for community foundations at Knight Foundation. Below, she highlights a recent report detailing the impact of the Knight-supported On the Table initiative, which brings together community residents over mealtime conversations to discuss pressing community issues.  In a time of growing polarization, when trust in institutions of all kinds has hit all-time lows and social media conversations often descend into hateful rhetoric, it may seem difficult to find pathways for consensus and common ground. At the same time, the strength of our democracy and our local communities relies on connected action — the ability of residents to hear each other, make informed choices and shape decision-making.Through this lens, in 2017 Knight Foundation expanded an initiative of the Chicago Community Trust called On the Table. Founded on the basic premise that ‘we all need to eat,’ On the Table brings people from different backgrounds and income levels together to share a meal and discuss pressing community issues. In a few short years, with the help of community foundations across the country, it has united tens of thousands of city residents on a single day to talk about issues from affordable housing and climate change to racial equity and transportation.
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    Akron is growing. That is a phrase we haven’t been able to say since the 1960’s when population peaked at 292,000.  Since then, the city has lost roughly one-third of its population. Yet Akron grew by 135 people in 2015, according to the most recent Census estimate. It’s not a lot – you could line them up, count them, pose for a group picture. But we believe it’s a key sign of what will come, a turning of the tide for a city that has struggled for decades to reverse the forces of decline.  
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    Travis Moore is the founder and director of TechCongress, a nonpartisan initiative incubated at New America that places technology fellows in Congress to increase government knowledge of emerging technology issues and inform policymaking. Knight Foundation announced $1 million in support to TechCongress today, adding to its previous support of the initiative.In April of this year, when the Senate Commerce and Judiciary committees questioned Mark Zuckerberg, the world woke up to a reality I’d lived for six years as a Congressional staffer: Congress isn’t equipped to legislate in the digital age.
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    Karen Rundlet is director for journalism at Knight Foundation. Below she writes about NewsMatch, the annual national matching gifts campaign for nonprofit news organizations, which is accepting donations today through Dec. 31. This is the third year for NewsMatch, the national matching-gift campaign that supports nonprofit organizations across the country. The campaign’s participants, all of them nonprofit newsrooms, produce rigorous journalism in service of the public. It is in all of our interests to support them, now more than ever. As misinformation runs rampant, and trust in media fall to all-time lows, these organizations are delivering the investigative, accountability and civic reporting that highlight pressing community issues and hold our leaders in check. While the tools of information creation and delivery have changed dramatically in the last decade, there are some constants: quality journalism remains a powerful tool for change and a free and independent press is vital to a healthy democracy.