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Arts & Culture
These articles were excerpted from Tapestry, a weekly newsletter that examines the arts and entertainment world in Charlotte and North Carolina.

Can Teens On TikTok Tackle Housing Discrimination?

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Three Charlotte-area governments are asking teenagers to learn more about housing discrimination and spread awareness to their peers via creative TikTok videos.

TikTok is known for viral dance videos and lip-sync challenges. But there's an effort underway in the Charlotte area to use it for something else: housing discrimination awareness.

Three local governments are hoping they can use the popular video-sharing social network — and cash prizes — to incentivize younger residents to learn about the problem. Cabarrus County and the cities of Concord and Kannapolis are launching a “Home Sweet Home” TikTok contest Monday.

Fair Housing Month is observed in April, and this year’s contest is a new approach, said Annette Privette Keller with the city of Kannapolis.

“In the past, with students, we’ve done poster contests and other things,” Keller said. “This year, we just said we need something exciting and upbeat. It’s been a tough year for us. It’s been a tough year for students. So, what can we do to really make things exciting and get everybody engaged? And of course, TikTok is the big thing.”

The contest is open to high school students in Cabarrus County and Kannapolis residents who live in Rowan County. Students in both public and private schools can enter. Videos have to be 15-60 seconds and, obviously, relate to fair housing. The winners — with the top three prizes ranging from $50-100 — will be announced via Zoom at a virtual fair housing seminar.

Allison Gordon thinks the plan might just work. She’s a 16-year-old sophomore at Northwest Cabarrus High, and she co-chairs the Kannapolis Youth Council.

“Almost every person that I know that's my age has a TikTok, whether they make videos or not,” Gordon said. “It's a really great way to reach out to younger people like me. It's a very trendy way and a very trendy app that people use almost every day, and people of all different age groups spend a ton of time on the app, whether it is learning different information ... or expressing themselves and sharing ideas or stories of things about their personal life.”

Members of the Youth Council learned about the contest this week. It prompted Gordon to do some reading on housing discrimination, and she thinks it might have the same effect on other local teenagers. Gordon says she’s typically a watcher — rather than actively making videos of her own — but she’s already got a plan in the works for her entry.

“I was thinking I could get different videos of historic landmarks in Kannapolis and then incorporate housing discrimination and explaining what it is and ways you could fix it, kind of targeting our community specifically, so it hits closer to home to some people,” she said.

And Keller, the communications and marketing director for Kannapolis, says the contest doubles as a way for the city to dip its toes into TikTok as a way to reach wider audiences in general. She says Kannapolis will be one of the first local municipalities to use the platform this way. If the contest is successful, Keller says the city might be able to use TikTok and the housing conversation to help kids learn other housing-related life skills like how to build credit, get a mortgage and apply for loans.

“We, of course, know that everybody's dancing and doing other things, but we haven't really seen anybody doing anything with fair housing,” Keller said. “Some of the discussion, as well, was how can government, which can sometimes be very boring, engage in this platform, which is very vibrant and make things interesting?

“If it works, fantastic. If it doesn’t, we’ll just go back to the drawing board and see what else we can do.”

Students have to post their videos to TikTok with the #HomeSweetHomeNC hashtag between March 22 and April 22 and email sgordon@kannapolisnc.gov to be included. There’s more information, including contest guidelines, at kannapolisnc.gov.

This story originally appeared in WFAE's weekly arts and entertainment email newsletter, Tapestry. Sign up here to have Tapestry delivered straight to your inbox.