Beyond Luck: Youth Media Careers for Alumni
Kellon Innocent is a youth media educator at Educational Video Center (EVC) who learned first hand the impact youth media organizations can have on young people. Kellon came to work for EVC by what he views as ‘chance’—when his skills as a teen participating in EVC’s documentary workshop were identified by a media practitioner.
Kellon knew he wanted to have a career in film, video, and technology. When introduced to EVC, his vision shifted to becoming a youth media educator. His experiences showed him the ways video affects community, one’s peers, and confronts social issues head on.
Growing up in the Bronx, Kellon noticed crack cocaine getting sold openly in the streets and that many people kept within the confines of their comfort zones within each neighborhood. He explains, “[There were issues that] always bothered me [growing up] but I didn’t know how to express that. And video was a way for me to express it.”
At the age of 19, Kellon took a three credit internship at EVC to participate in EVC’s Documentary Workshop. Having been interested in film and the technical end of filmmaking, it made sense to him and his school counselor to connect his interest with video by interning at EVC.
He explains, “I interned without the intention of returning—and then I fell in love with it. Having a finished product was an accomplishment. This was very different from what I experienced in school. Maybe I am still awe-struck.”
However, At EVC, Kellon learned much beyond the technical side of video. He learned to encourage his peers to become civically engaged as they explored questions such as: What are the issues that affect young people’s daily lives? How can young people become involved in their community? What are some of the many different ways youth are expressing their socio-political beliefs and making change?
That year, Kellon was one among sixty NYC students that learned to shoot and edit documentaries on issues that impacted their lives as urban teens. And he is the only one among those sixty who soon after, landed a paid position at EVC.
First, EVC offered Kellon the same number of school credits as the documentary workshop if he returned to assist instructors the following semester. Since he had skills in technology, he also helped out as an equipment technician. And then, one day the equipment manager position opened and Kellon was in a perfect place to fill it. Shortly thereafter, Kellon became a teaching assistant, educating youth the way he once was.
He explains, “Opportunities were given to me and I kept saying yes. I was riding the opportunities. I was lucky; things just fell into place for me.”
Kellon explains that when he became a staff person at EVC as a teaching assistant, “I [realized I wanted] this career but I [just] didn’t know [that it was a possibility]. And all of the sudden, it became what I wanted to do. I can’t see myself doing anything else now. I like going to work. Despite the long hours—at the end of the day, I still want to return. And it’s not just about the video [or teaching young people to] become professionals in the medium—it’s a lot more. Before, I was making student filmmakers. But, I realized that wasn’t the thing to do. It [is] about making concerned and aware citizens [that can] express and analyze [the issues they see].”
One of Kellon’s goals is to start his own youth media organization. Like Steven Goodman—the Founder and Executive Director of EVC—Kellon hopes to take his insights and skills and use them to improve the communities that do not have the tools to produce media that can “speak” on behalf of their experiences, issues, and perspectives. He explains, “I want to go back into the community and offer tools like cameras, editing, and start a production bus that goes into different neighborhoods in NYC. I owe it to people to go back and show how to do this—[through] the vehicle I know—which is video.”
Kellon was drawn to each opportunity to be more involved with EVC as a result of the people and environment at the organization. However, he cautions, “It shouldn’t have just been chance that I got into this position in the field. There needs to be more of these opportunities [for young people and alumni].”
Kellon suggests the youth media field might encourage and create careers in youth media. To professionals and other youth media educators, Kellon states, “keep alumni close and involved after programs complete. Create opportunities after programs end to keep alums within the profession and involved in the program. [In addition, youth want to] learn about fund development. As students, we don’t know that end of youth media organizations—it’s assumed that the organization just has a lot of money. I myself don’t know how much money it takes to run a program.”
To young people involved in youth media organizations, Kellon suggests, “get in, start from the bottom, and jump at opportunities. Stay in touch with the organization and get involved. People recommend you. Once you are in the field, everyone knows you. Do your work.”
Kellon Innocent is one of few youth media alumni that find career paths at the same organizations that inspired them as teens. In his case, both sides relied on individual pro-activity. Had it not been for a practitioner at EVC to recommend a position to Kellon and for Kellon to be open to the opportunity, such a career path may not have existed. Similar opportunities have occurred for other youth to become youth media educators like Kellon. However, young people are often unaware of careers in youth media—even when they work closely with educators, mentors, instructors, professionals, and staff.
Structurally integrating career development and youth media vocation within organizations would be an asset to sustaining, expanding, and growing the field. Some youth media programs have developed career pathways, such as Global Action Project, DCTV, and Ghetto Film School. But why hasn’t the entire field developed concrete career pathways for the young people they serve?
Meghan McDermott, the Executive Director of Global Action Project explains, “The trick is the mission and approach of the organization. Is it structured to be a pipeline to industry or is the focus on creative exploration? Or both? For many, it’s hard to add a career development component because it can require specialized capacity on the part of staff, but some organizations have taken manageable steps such as allocating general operating funds to youth scholarships or seeking grants to stipend intern and fellowship positions. At G.A.P., we hire program alum as staff. This next step within the organization reflects their leadership as well as offers a concrete way to reach future goals.”
Not all organizations can build extensive, holistic career development programs. “The nice thing is people are doing many different things—hiring young people as interns, creating scholarships and fellowships, partnering with college prep organizations, and linking to outside resources,” explains McDermott.
Some organizations might not have any career development opportunities. For some, the capacity is not there. Others do not have significant funding. Still others, would be moving away from the mission and vision of their organization if they did this programming. Youth media professionals are focused on making good youth media programs—spending funding on training young people, providing media technology, and maintaining the capacity to keep excellent instructors and staff on board. It takes additional resources, funding, and organizational capacity to launch major career development programs in youth media.
However, figuring out how to support those organizations which want to and should incorporate career planning and development programming is critical to the success of the field. Organizations and allies can start by opening dialogue about the issue and by making the case to funders and partners. It is clearly a valuable, and often life changing experience, when a young person experiences their first step in building a youth media career, but these experiences should not just be reserved for the few.
It makes sense that opportunities (such as Kellon’s) come off as chance partly because young people and positions in the field are transient. Teens are in programs for a short duration of time, such as a semester long workshop, and upon completion, disperse. During these programs, work is rigorous amongst peers working to get the final product done. As a result, the chances for pro-active exchanges between teens and practitioners that lead to career opportunities are rare and easy to let pass. Organizations must find creative ways to make such opportunities sustainable for young people and the field—taking luck out of the equation.
How the field might incorporate vocation into their programs