Media That Matters 11 | Call-for-Entries

Opens March 1, 2011
In 2011, Media That Matters moves to the Fall!
Submit your film for the chance to work with us in empowering communities working for social change. Let your film be the tool that affects hearts and minds, and supports collective struggle for a more just world.
Hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, including educators, activists and nonprofits, will watch and use your film through an international, multi-platform campaign streaming and playing to audiences everywhere. Media That Matters — the premier showcase for short films with big messages — is your conduit. Join us in our ELEVENTH year and submit your film now!
Short Films: 10-minutes is the MAX; under 8-minutes is ideal.
Social Issues: Any and all issues will be considered. This year we are particularly interested in films focusing on Disability Rights, Interfaith Dialogue and Religious Tolerance, Bias-based Bullying, Gender/Women and Youth Activism.
All Genres: Documentary, narrative, animation, music video, drama, comedy, public service announcement. Hybrid, or a new genre altogether? Absolutely, creativity is encouraged — but your film must focus on a social issue.
All ages: Youth-produced projects encouraged!
MUST be cleared for NONEXCLUSIVE home video, educational, online, broadcast and theatrical distribution.
Deadline: May 1, 2011
Check website for more details and to apply online:
 Please email Lauren Domino:
Media That Matters is the premiere showcase for short films on the most important topics of the day. Local and global, online and in communities around the world, Media That Matters engages diverse audiences year-round and inspires them to take action.
Arts Engine, Inc. supports, produces, and distributes independent media of consequence and promotes the use of independent media by advocates, educators and the general public.

The Smithsonian Latino Center’s 2011 Young Ambassadors Program – Summer Leadership Development Program

The Smithsonian Latino Center is pleased to announce the open application season for the 2011 Young Ambassadors Program. The Young Ambassadors Program is a national, interdisciplinary leadership development program for high school seniors. The mission of the program is to foster the next generation of Latino leaders in the arts, sciences, and humanities via the Smithsonian Institution and its resources. This program is made possible through the generous support of Ford Motor Company Fund.
Students with an interest in and commitment to the arts, sciences, and humanities as it pertains to Latino communities and cultures are selected to travel to Washington, D.C. for a week-long, leadership development seminar at the Smithsonian Institution. The seminar encourages youth to explore and understand Latino identity and embrace their own cultural heritage through visits to the Smithsonian’s Latino collections and one-on-one interaction with anthropologists, artists, curators, historians, scientists and other museum professionals. Following the training seminar, students participate in a four-week interdisciplinary education internship in museums and other cultural institutions in their local communities, including Smithsonian-affiliated organizations.
Participation in the Young Ambassadors Program is underwritten by Ford Motor Company Fund and includes meals and accommodations for the duration of the one-week training seminar, round-trip travel costs to Washington, D.C., and a program stipend. Students selected are responsible for all expenses during the four-week internship, including transportation, accommodations, and meals.
Upon completion of the 5-week program, participants will receive a $2,000 program stipend towards their higher education. Students that do not complete the seminar and four-week internship will not receive the program stipend.
The deadline to apply is April 8, 2011. For further information and application guidelines and to apply, please visit or contact Emily Key, Education Programs Manager, at 202.633.1268 or by email at

Letter from the Editor

For four years, Youth Media Reporter has documented stories of young people who discovered confidence, activism, creativity and who they are through the process of youth media. In this issue, my aim was to collect the personal testimonials of youth producers-turned-media educators regarding the impact of youth media on their lives, their peers and their communities and audiences. This issue captures the stories of nine youth media practitioners who are paying it forward, illustrating youth media’s multiplier effect.
The power of experiencing youth media makes a lasting impact on young people, some of who go on to become youth media educators or even start up their own organizations. The stories of these young leaders—some captured in this issue of YMR—speak to the depth, breadth and significance of a youth media education.
Three of these authors— Emily Jacobi, Christine L. Mendoza and Chrystian Rodriguez—experienced the transformative power of youth media programs as teens in the United States. While their stories are unique, as teens in these programs, they developed self-confidence, global citizenship and collaborative problem-solving skills in an environment that privileged peer-to-peer training and youth leadership. As youth media producers they were invited to find their voices—and to help other young people do the same—before they had graduated from high school. Ultimately, Jacobi, Mendoza and Rodriguez graduated from these programs with a greater sense of themselves as leaders and teachers. This confidence, combined with skill and experience, manifested a passion for bringing new generations of young people the life-changing experience youth media provides.
Two articles in this issue document the stories of young people who came into their own as media producers in their late teens, and subsequently became educators. Recognizing the transformative power of storytelling and self-representation, media practitioners Zach Niles, Banker White (with the support of Paula Cavagnaro, Black Nature and Emilie Reiser) and Robert Martin bring storytelling and media production skills to communities who have been historically misrepresented by others. The work of these practitioners has been recognized and supported by youth media organizations, schools, and community leaders, and demonstrates another dimension of the impact media production has on the lives of young people.
Creating this issue of Youth Media Reporter was a joy and inspiration. In the process of interviewing and collaborating with the authors, I felt the enthusiasm, conviction and determination that drives the entire youth media engine forward. The experience of putting these stories together provided the opportunity to see how youth media will continue to build and evolve in the near future. I welcome readers to experience the impact of youth media’s multiplier effect on this issue’s contributors.
Christine Newkirk
Managing Editor, Youth Media Reporter

This is Our Generation: Sierra Leonean Youth Views through Film

Independent media and artistic expression are crucial cornerstones upon which devastated countries can build a peaceful future. Around the world, youth programs focusing on the arts provide a platform for communication that helps young people from varied backgrounds to understand and appreciate each other. These programs help unlock the inherent creativity of young minds—giving them confidence in their own talents and their contributions to the localities they inhabit.
A program called “WeOwnTV” has been nurturing a new generation of young media makers in the war torn West African country of Sierra Leone. WeOwnTV (which means “Our Own TV” in the local language of Krio) is a free media education program founded on the guiding principles that no one is more qualified to tell Sierra Leone’s story than Sierra Leoneans themselves; and, that media can help an underrepresented group, especially youth, define their generation.
WeOwnTV represents what is possible when a team of dedicated young leaders witness the role media can play in building communities and transforming lives, combined with support of grassroots organizers, youth media organizations, and committed funders. Smart partnerships and hard work continue to make a lasting difference in the lives of the Sierra Leonean youth who, every day, expand the reach and impact of our youth-centered organization.
Planting the WeOwnTV Seed
In 2002, two first time filmmakers Banker White—a multidisciplinary artist from the Bay Area—and Zach Niles began working on the award-winning documentary “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars.” Banker and Zach spent nearly four years traveling back and forth to the region while producing the film, adding the necessary depth and humanity that lacked in foreign media representation of the country’s decade long civil war. The transformative experience created a long-standing relationship with the people and provided a space for Sierra Leoneans to tell their own story.
While Banker and Zach witnessed the impact of their film on the Sierra Leoneans whose stories were told by the film, musician Alhaji Jeffery Kamara (a.k.a. Black Nature)—the young star of the film—was deeply influenced by the opportunity to tell his story to the world. As Black Nature traveled around the globe with the film and the band doing interviews, he was forced to dig deeper into his past and become accustomed to answering very personal and painful questions about the loss of his family and his experiences as a refugee. He witnessed the inspiring effect that his story had on audiences.

When Black Nature began to understand the healing and confidence that can result from honest self-expression, he started brainstorming with Banker on various ways to help other Sierra Leoneans have similar cathartic experiences. Black Nature had taken to film very quickly and adeptly during the production of the documentary film—his open interview style uncovered honesty and depth that Banker and Zach, as foreigners, could never have matched.
Drawing from this experience, it was clear that with the support of their team, Banker, Zach and Black Nature would move forward in building a program that would put cameras and storytelling skills into the hands of Sierra Leonean youth.

Backstory of Sierra Leone:
What most people in the West know about Sierra Leone is wrapped up in international media reports and Hollywood interpretations of the country’s darkest hour—a 10-year civil war (1991-2001) that was marked by extreme violence against civilians, struggle for control of the country’s diamond mines (the infamous blood diamonds), and forced recruitment of child soldiers. The war claimed more than 50,000 civilian lives, and the number of persons raped, mutilated or tortured is much higher. Women and girls suffered uniquely throughout the conflict, and children were singled out for unconscionable abuses. The scars of the war run deep and are reflected not only in the way the outside world sees the country, but in the way many Sierra Leoneans have come to view themselves. By giving young people the tools to explore their world and express themselves, WeOwnTV enables them to share their stories and creative voice with the world—and reawaken their imaginations to the possibility of positive change.

Our Own TV: Global Support Helps Sierra Leoneans Tell their Own Story
In 2008, with a grant from Creative Capital, “WeOwnTV” launched a three-year filmmaking collaboration. The team expanded to include Sierra Leonean media makers and community leaders—Lansana Mansaray (a.k.a. Barmmy Boy) and Arthur Pratt, in addition to involving humanitarian partners, including the IRC (International Rescue Committee).

In addition, the San Francisco-based Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) made a significant difference in the future of WeOwnTV through its support for the program. Impressed by the vision feuling WeOwnTV, BAVC offered a fiscal sponsorship agreement and a Media Maker Award of in-kind technical support. Moreover, BAVC welcomed Black Nature (who was living in the Bay Area at the time) into the Elements Program—a digital media-training program for at-risk young people that provides 150 hours of industry-standard training in media production as well as an additional 150 hours of job skills development. Black Nature quickly excelled in the program and was honored as BAVC member of the month during his graduation. Following this training, Black Nature traveled back with WeOwnTV team as a mentor for the first workshop in Sierra Leone, and has been an instrumental ambassador of the program ever since.
Video: “A Workshop Changes Everything”

Providing Creative Space for a Future to Be Realized
In August 2010, with the support of individual donors and a foundational grant from Freedom to Create, WeOwnTV: Sierra Leone Media Center was affixed to the side of a newly refurbished building in the heart of Freetown. Along with a team of volunteers and alumni students, Banker and Arthur had officially opened the media center’s doors, conducting mentor-training classes for returning students.

The center now offers classes in computer skills, film and television production, social networking, journalism and scriptwriting. The WeOwnTV student filmmakers have access to production and post-production equipment and studio space in order to produce their own films, television journalism, music videos, commercials and public service announcements.

The goal of WeOwnTV is to not only use the very personal aspects of artistic self-expression for individual growth but to have WeOwnTV graduates be a part of a new media industry in Sierra Leone—creating jobs and opportunities to legitimate youth dreams of success. Whether or not the graduates continue on in the field of media production, the WeOwnTV team hopes that each student takes away a renewed sense of self and understanding of the possibilities for the future.
Lessons Learned: Leveling the Playing Field and Building a Sustainable Program
1. Grounding courses in self-expression skills rather than media production skills created an inclusive and fun environment for participants.
Because so few young people in Sierra Leone had prior experience with new media technologies, early workshops focused on storytelling and creativity rather than technical skill. Creativity, at its root, is a form of self-expression, and through a series of improvisational exercises the workshop asked the students to simply “play” with a camera in their hand, starting them down a road they’d never been encouraged to take before. This sense of play, with no right or wrong ways of doing things, eliminated the fear inherent to the learning process and allowed students to learn technology through direct experience and trust their instincts as they interacted with the world around them in new ways.
From this foundation of trust, WeOwnTV then incorporated a variety of group creative exercises focused on encouraging collaboration, mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s ideas. Basic technical skills were constantly being built upon, but the open environment created at the outset of the workshop was crucial in helping the budding filmmakers to progressively expand on their ideas and explore new methods of expressing themselves in their work.
Video: “Creativity Flowing from Day One”

2. Approaching the workshops as teacher trainings and designing a replicable curriculum increased the self-reliance of participants and long-term sustainability of the program.
At the end of the month-long workshop, students had produced an impressive array of personal video diaries, short documentaries, and a series of short-narrative films based on collective experiences. The workshop graduates surpassed all expectations with their personal growth, their initial skill level, and it became clear that these graduates were well suited to become mentors and instructors for other young Sierra Leonean filmmakers. Drawing on the WeOwnTV staff and students’ firsthand experience of the workshop, the team has begun to develop a new, easily replicable, curriculum that can be marketed to other organizations working around Sierra Leone and Africa.
The “training trainers” approach of developing local leaders aims to build on a spirit of self-reliance as more young men and women are given the opportunity to explore their own creativity. The ongoing free education will continue to be supported by the US-based team; however, the goal is to move the center quickly to a level of sustainability where instructors will start earning a salary (supporting the daily activities of the center) and graduates will gain project income through freelance work administered by the production arm of the organization, WeOwnTV Productions.
Video: “To Create Our Own Space”

Changing the Media Culture
As in many African countries, there is ample political rhetoric to suggest a focus on what is universally called “youth voice” but the reality as experienced in Sierra Leone is that these voices are never given priority by the entrenched powers.
Outlets for alternative television and film are extremely limited despite an active and fairly free press in Sierra Leone, with numerous daily and weekly independent news publications. There is only one nationally-run television station—the state-owned, Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC)—and the film industry is rife with piracy, consisting mostly of Nigerian or U.S. produced films.
Particularly in post-conflict nations like Sierra Leone, youth media has the opportunity to transform the national media dialogue and therefore transform the future of the nation. It is only through the determination of young artists and the influence of the country’s diaspora that young people are beginning to use the tools of modern media to communicate among each other and to the outside world. With this as inspiration, WeOwnTV hopes to grow this organic interest in new media into an industry that gives a legitimate outlet to the voices of Sierra Leone’s youth.
Appreciating the independent, unfiltered voices that have the opportunity to be amplified through film, Paula Cavagnaro is a committed contributor—as a supporter and consultant—to independent film festivals and international film projects. Paula is a creative marketing and public relations professional with more than 15 years marketing experience established on a well-rounded background managing complicated marketing programs including promotional launches, event production, artist development and aggressive public relations campaigns.
Zach Niles is the co-director and producer of the award-winning documentary Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. He is the associate producer of the film Peepers and for the television series Live at the Fillmore. Zach recently served as acting director for Ciné Institute, a film school in Jacmel Haiti. He also manages the band Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars and works producing and promoting music tours by artists such as Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, George Michael and Madonna.
Emilie Reiser is a technology educator in New York City, working with youth in public schools and community-based organizations to develop creative media projects. Most recently, as director of programs at Vision Education, she led professional development workshops for educators, taught multi-media student programs and developed curriculum for innovative uses of creative technology in the classroom. Emilie has also worked teaching creative media production with youth internationally in Africa, Brazil and Haiti.
Banker White is a multi-disciplinary artist based in the Bay Area. In a perpetual state of creation and collaboration, recent work in film-video and the fine arts has been awarded and supported by Creative Capital, Freedom to Create, the California Council for Humanities and the Bay Area Video Coalition. Banker co-directed and produced the award-winning documentary Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars. He is a graduate of Middlebury College (BA 1996) and California College of the Arts (MFA 2000).

Setting a Youth Media Precedent

Little did I know how much of my core values, international mindset and future life plans would develop when I joined the Children’s Express Indianapolis bureau—now called Y-Press—just a few weeks after my 13th birthday, smack in the middle of 7th grade. I was nervous and shy, having no idea what to expect, but I loved books and writing, so I applied to attend a weekend-long training.
Fifteen years later, I can still recall each one of the six teenagers who trained us. The idea that my peers—not adults—would train us was a revolutionary idea to me, and a taste of what was to come. I quickly learned that everything in the program is built around a core principle: that young people’s voices matter; and, every aspect of the organization, from the story process to the board of directors, is built around youth leadership.
Taking part in a youth-led organization meant both amazing opportunities as well as a lot of grunt work. We led interviews and completed articles, but we had to do our research, prepare questions, and write and rewrite until our articles were as strong as any professional journalist.
One of the most frightening tasks was making phone calls. Do you know how rare 13-year-olds are required to call up complete strangers and request interviews? I was terrified. But I learned from the older kids—the editors—to write out a script and practice it before making a call. (Later I would give the same training to friends in college who didn’t have that experience and struggled making simple calls to the college registrar or a new landlord).
That summer, I was part of a reporting team that traveled to Havana, Cuba. Thanks to journalism visas from both the Cuban and American governments, we were able to legally travel to the country in a time when few Americans could, to report on the lives of Cuban youth during the “Special Period.”
We prepared for months through weekly meetings, phone interviews with Cuban youth in Miami, and piles of research. One of the most memorable briefing exercises included filling large pieces of paper with our stereotypes about Cuba: cigars, Castro, army fatigues, authoritarianism, boat people. Recognizing and naming stereotypes was powerful, as it helped me understand that the role of a journalist is to uncover and think critically about such unspoken biases.
Although we had adult mentors who traveled with us, it was our job to schedule our time in Havana—another exciting leadership opportunity. We were granted permission to cover the annual convention of the Pioneros—communist youth from across the island. Prior to departure, we scheduled interviews in private homes, churches and at the Synagogue and read up on the complex laws governing American traveling to Cuba, but nothing could prepare us for the actual experience of international journalism.
For me, each day felt like an adventure. One of the first days, we spoke in hushed tones with a 17-year-old in her family’s crumbling mansion. She spoke of the struggles of the Special Period and economic woes, such as the young women who would sell their bodies for a bar of soap. Days later, her story contrasted the patriotism of the Pioneers, who had traveled from all over the island to celebrate their love for their country and the revolution. I wondered what I had taken for granted from a US perspective. When we interviewed a young poet and some of her peers, we bonded, despite the seeming enmity between our two governments. As I traveled around Havana and saw signs denouncing the US embargo, I realized that maybe my government wasn’t telling me the entire picture.
If I had been reporting on all of these interviews alone, I perhaps would have never made sense of it all. However, we had an important policy: debriefings were mandatory after interviews. And so at the end of each day, the other young reporters and I would gather and discuss what we had observed and learned from our interviewees.
Often, our spirited conversations would last for hours, debating communism, the US embargo and other complexities. The debriefings helped me recall the initial list of stereotypes we had generated, and it was remarkable how few I believed by the end of the trip—the Cuba I had come to know was much more complex, complicated, and interesting. That fall I wrote my first article for the local paper, The Indianapolis Star, about my observations of the country, and how much I learned from the young people I interviewed. See the article in it’s original format here and in PDF form here.
The Cuban youth I interviewed in Havana were the first of many interviewees who would profoundly impact me over the years. Some of the most memorable stories I worked on after returning to the US included interviews at the Indiana School for the Deaf, Latino youth living in Indianapolis, and a classmate who was expelled from my high school following the massacre at Columbine. As a youth media journalist, I was also able to continue to travel, interviewing young cancer patients in Russia and kids living in and on the streets in Brazil. As I grew older, my Children’s Express/Y-Press experience grew with me, offering new ways to see the world, and an incredible opportunity to learn by doing.
As I stayed with the organization, I experienced important nonprofit learning opportunities particularly during a time of crisis. Children’s Express nationally had undergone a leadership change, and was attempting to reduce the level of youth involvement in editorial decisions. The adult leadership at the bureau met with members, alum, and parents to decide what to do. Collectively, we decided to break-off and become independent, but not before weighing the positives and negatives, and having very serious discussions about our broader goals and values. Then came the re-branding process, where we brainstormed names to reflect what our bureau did. One parent, an advertising executive, helped us think strategically about this. We decided on the name “Y-Press,” and he worked with us to design a logo that incorporated a question mark, representing one of our core values to never stop asking “why.”
While our overall focus was to produce quality articles and radio pieces, in the process, youth leaders learned how to collaborate, fundraise, work with professionals, help make big decisions during times of change, and organize trainings. By the time I graduated from high school, and by extension Y-Press, I was committed to making something out of the incredible opportunities I had been given. I went on to major in international relations and lead student volunteer trips overseas, intern for African journalism Programs and become a student leader at my university.
This month marks 15 years that I have participated in the youth media field, and one of my greatest take-away is that the full impact of youth media programs extends far beyond the media products themselves, and lasts much longer.
Youth media programs affect the lives of their participants, and by extension the lives of everyone they interact with. In the fifteen years since my first nervous weekend of training, I have trained hundreds of youth to follow in the same footsteps, first as a Y-Press member, and after college returning to Indianapolis for a year to work as an adult staff member and mentor.
In 2007, I left Indianapolis to contribute to research on refugee youth living on the Thailand/Burma border. Inspired by the youth I met, I co-founded Digital Democracy, a nonprofit that harnesses new technology to empower marginalized communities. Since its founding, I have been continually grateful for the lessons I learned at Y-Press, which has greatly informed our own programs, starting with the idea that making media can be an important first step in leadership development. One of our initiatives, Project Einstein, draws directly on this by empowering refugee youth through digital photo trainings, new media literacy curriculum, and online exchanges that connect students living in refugee camps overseas to resettled refugee students in the United States.
At Y-Press, I learned that young people are just as capable as adults of producing quality journalism. At Digital Democracy, we extend this belief in people in a global manner, using human rights as a basis for taking technology tools to groups such as refugees, women and youth who have been neglected, abused, and/or marginalized.
Whether working with women in Haiti to create a technological response to gender-based violence or connecting human rights workers in Southeast Asia via mobile phones, we focus not just on the end products, but the process of empowering our partners as leaders in those projects. And we have been able to incorporate youth media in many ways, particularly with Project Einstein trainings in Bangladesh, Thailand, South Africa, Kenya, and Guatemala, thanks to the partnership of a fellow Y-Press alum.
In each of our youth media projects, I have a goal I strive for—the precedent that was set for me at Y-Press. These goals include how to:
• ask questions and think critically;
• break down a seemingly impossible task and make it manageable;
• work in a team and believe in oneself; and,
• emphasize that young people’s voices matter and deserve to be heard.
Every human being, no matter how young, deserves to have his or her voice heard. Youth media programs have the power to change the world by instilling this value in the young people they serve. Nothing makes me more excited or proud than when I watch as another young person accepts, learns and re-produces this fact and helps others recognize and value the multiple other voices in one’s community. Through youth media as a journalist and now a co-founder of my own nonprofit, my experience continues to help others take that step toward creating truly global, engaged citizens.
Emily Jacobi is co-founder and executive director of Digital Democracy, a New York-based nonprofit that works globally to empower marginalized communities with digital tools. Emily began her career at the age of 13, as a youth journalist reporting from Havana, Cuba on the lives of young Cubans during the Troubled Period. Since then she has worked on media and research projects in Latin America, West and Southern Africa and Southeast Asia, as well as En Los Campos, a multi-media exhibit highlighting the lives of teenage migrant farm workers in the United States. Prior to founding Digital Democracy she worked at Internews Network,, the Center for PeaceBuilding International and Y-Press.

Applied Theater and Youth Media

Robert Martin trained professionally as a stage and screen actor and continues to produce, direct, write and perform original stories in schools, theaters, festivals and just about any community setting where a story needs to be told and folks want to tell them. He specializes in the fields of Community-based Arts, Applied Theater, and Digital Storytelling; utilizing his diverse background in alternative styles of theater, hip-hop and oral history to create original media. He currently produces the Clear Creek Festival, a multi-discipline, community arts festival just outside of Berea, KY.
YMR: You have developed a successful approach toward incorporating Applied Theater and media production in the classroom. How did your own background inform the work you do today?
Robert Martin: I became a youth media educator and researcher through a passion for theater and story. Like most of the arts, theater gave me a voice, a platform to explore my identity, and tools to interact with the world. Through theater, I could connect to others, communicate my own experience, and begin to examine the world.
In college, I spent a lot of my time thinking about storytelling—what the tools are that a storyteller needs to successfully honor both voices in the story, that of the actor and character they portray. Theater helped me record my experiences in my physical and emotional memory so I could re-create experience as a writer, actor or director. After graduating, I moved to New York City and was drawn to community-based artists and culture workers—people who did not necessarily identify as traditional theater practitioners, but who had stories to tell about their homes, lives, communities, and place in the world.
I found that when a group is deeply invested and has control over the fate of their projects, the participants often develop a much greater capacity and passion in telling their own stories and incorporating stories they find meaningful. From this place I approached my work as a theater artist and activist, which led to becoming a teaching artist; and, eventually led to work as a youth media educator.
YMR: How did you come to the work of applying theater and media production techniques in the school context? Tell us about your experience in transfer schools and your vision for your work.
Martin: It started when I became a teaching artist with Dance Theatre Etcetera working in NYC Transfer High Schools in Brooklyn. I was wrestling with how to connect my own insights into the power of storytelling with the situation facing Transfer School students. Transfer students are sensitive to failure and doubt, which are aggravated by the traditional top-down, learning-for-the-test, pass/fail structure of the conventional public school system.
Transfer schools are a particular initiative by the NYC school system to address over-aged, under-credited students. These are students that in high school fell behind in their necessary Regents’ credits requirements for reasons of truancy and a variety of other factors, dropped out of school, and agreed to re-enter the educational process through a Transfer School. These schools are typically small (with about 150 students) and have a staff of advocate counselors from a partnered social service agency who meet with students in group sessions each week in addition to their Regents-required classes. Coined “group,” these meetings are a more accessible space to talk about the challenges that affect the school process.
In addition, transfer schools often have a curriculum that is student-based and each student has her or his own trajectory. Additional structures are set up to help re-frame the student’s experience so that they no longer experience failure, including opportunities to work or intern and see society and the workplace differently.
As a teaching artist, I found that an efficient way to cut through the anxiety and insecurity shared by the students in relation to their previous experiences, often with oppressive institutional structures, was to focus my approach as a facilitator using a Freirian approach of Co-Intentional Education—the idea that every person has something to offer, a story to tell, and the capacity to teach as a member of a community if the learning space is genuinely grounded in power sharing and dialogue.
My goal was to help students use media to re-frame their history of experiencing failure within the school system. For many students media was also a tool to examine challenges they felt within their families, their communities, and society more generally—toward an experience of ownership, agency, pride, and community engagement.
YMR: In your work, Applied Theater techniques are a fundamental component of the process through which you support students’ storytelling and media production. Explain a bit more about how this works.
Martin: My aim has been to combine applied theater and critical pedagogy alongside digital storytelling because media and video production clearly piqued my students’ interest from day one. Most students were instantly hooked by the prospect of learning media production, specifically professional camera equipment and editing software.
Students were using media technology as a tool for recording and communicating information. I had only a small role in getting them engaged in this aspect of the class, mostly because new media technology, including video, audio, social media and cell phones, were totally normalized and preferred means of communicating. It took a bit more time to ramp up to the task of telling personal stories, but when framed around assignments—such as: create a short PSA on an issue teens face at school or discuss the challenges teens face getting to school in the morning through a short narrative film—students were able to own their vantage point, become more open to sharing and receptive to other’s feedback as we began to build community around shared experience.
I found that using Applied Theater techniques, such as role-playing exercises, were key. For example, students would role-play as media creators (a role I would ultimately ask them to own by the end of the class) the process of presenting a film treatment to an audience who, in turn, played the role of a production company giving the presenter the opportunity to dialogue around suggestions for improvement and collaboratively arrive at strategies for moving forward.
The combination of Applied Theater and media production, in addition to offering high level tools of expression, creation, and collaboration, positively impacts the lives of students, offering a process that allows students who experienced failure in school to reframe their experiences in a different light with the support of their peers.
YMR: What would you recommend to other youth media educators, given your experience?
Martin: I recently completed my Master’s degree through the first Applied Theater Masters program in the United States at the City University of New York School of Professional Studies (CUNY SPS). At CUNY, I was able to reflect on my teaching practice as a scholar practitioner and go further in capturing the best practices of fusing applied theater with digital storytelling to make the most of classroom learning.
My research evidence includes first-hand accounts from my students who explained why the process engaged them as learners and how it helped change their ideas of what they could accomplish in their lives.
Youth media educators can apply theater and media production to over-aged, under credited students—an important demographic—but also in any school as the goals are the same: to build classrooms that transgress, pursue critical dialogue, support a safe and accessible space for students to explore what ignites and confounds them and their place in society. Such classrooms emulate those envisioned by such scholars as Dewey, hooks and Freire. But the goal is not simply a classroom commitment to “educate” in an innovative way or even to achieve a rise in graduation rates. While those are important outcomes, our approach is fundamentally about valuing young people and their experiences and encouraging them to own and invest in their lives and communities when so many outside influences suggest the opposite.
An Applied Theatre approach to Digital Storytelling will be challenging to the youth media practitioner as it requires group building, acting, devising material, role play, and critical dialogue carefully integrated within a tight media pedagogy. We also know most teachers may not have opportunities to create these learning opportunities left unsupported in their classrooms; but, as alternative educators with access, we can utilize these tools to aid the classroom in becoming a transgressive and safe space that deeply engages story and personal development through theater and media.

Youth Media: Invaluable and Life Changing

Chrystian Rodriguez is a youth-producer-turned-media educator who currently works at Global Action Project (G.A.P.) in New York City where he writes curricula, develops community relationships, and works directly with a new generation of filmmakers. Since joining G.A.P. in 2004, Chrystian has facilitated a variety of programs with young people from different communities as well as identity groups. He has also devoted his time to co-organizing youth film festivals, coordinating and facilitating media literacy, production and political education programs locally and nationally; specifically, in conferences such as the Grassroots Media Conference, the Allied Media Conference and the United States Social Forum. Chrystian is also a pop-culture guru and has begun research on the subject in educational environments during his time spent as a fellow of the Youth Media Learning Network. He is also very obsessed with zombies.
With nine years of media education experience behind him, Chrystian reflects on his experience as a youth producer, his youth media genealogy and career trajectory, as well as his future goals to open his own youth media organization one day.
YMR: Your first experience with media production was a call-in TV show hosted by the MNN Youth Channel in New York City. What did you gain from this experience and how did it impact your next steps as a media producer and educator?
Chrystian Rodriguez: I had an early interest in connecting politics with media. It came about during a media class at my high school. It offered me a new way to understand what’s behind the media, its purpose and intentions. Even more than that, I started to think about the connection between filmmakers and what they are producing for an audience—what you want them to take away from the experience, the story, but also what you want your audience to take away about you as a filmmaker [and] your world view. My media class teacher took notice of my interests and recommended that I become a part of the MNN Youth Channel (YC); a youth media program within Manhattan’s public broadcast channel. And so, I began working as a volunteer supporting youth in production while exploring my own cinematic/broadcast interests.
I quickly moved from a volunteer to producer. I co-hosted a call-in TV show that critiqued current films and engaged young people in discussions about movies. Youth Channel staff recognized my ability to work collaboratively with other youth, beyond my technical skills, and so they asked me to become a peer trainer. Soon, I ran both technical and editing workshops for other YC participants. I enjoyed it but I was insanely shy, and so it was difficult for me because it was the first time I was in a leadership role and I needed to be able to facilitate and communicate in new ways.
YMR: Not long after, you transitioned to an executive producer role for “Defense Against Media Nonsense,” a role in which you taught yourself how to facilitate the production process with young people. In what ways did you grow through that experience? How did it change the way you view the world?
Rodriguez: Because the staff at YC was interested in my personal growth, they transitioned me out of the peer trainer position, and at age 18 I became the executive producer of a television show called “D.A.M.N. YC NEWS!?” (Defense Against Media Nonsense).” The experience was trial by fire and learning by doing and showed me that you have to grow into being an educator.
When I became responsible for producing—on my own—a 30-minute piece every two weeks, I quickly realized that the format was not going to appeal to a young audience. So I [led] a planning process with my YC peers. [The] vision and new format would soon be identified as an alternative youth news show. Being the point person was new to me—planning, coordinating committee meetings, and then managing production—and challenged me to bring my creative self to become an educator/media maker. Guiding the YC team [I had] to create a learning process for others. At this point there was no room for shyness.
YMR: Soon after you moved into an educator position at Global Action Project (G.A.P.). What were your first few years like? Did you find things that surprised, inspired, or intimidated you?
Rodriguez: I got exposed to NYC’s youth media landscape through the Urban Visionaries Youth Film Festival, which helped me build relationships with many organizations and learn from their different approaches and missions. That is how I got to the Global Action Project (G.A.P.), a youth media organization that works with young people most affected by injustice in order to build the knowledge, tools and relationships needed to create media for community power, cultural expression, and political change.
During the first few years working as an educator there, I developed a new perspective on youth media. I began to see that it wasn’t simply about the production process, but also about exploring identity and helping young people understand for themselves the ways in which they are affected or oppressed by media messages. Most importantly, I began to understand how media could be used as a tool for young people to think critically about the conditions that affect their communities and discover themselves politically.
The kinds of things that encouraged me at G.A.P. included stepping into a co-facilitator model, working in collaboration with another educator to bring our strengths and interests into the curriculum and our programs. A fundamental difference between co-facilitation and working alone is that, as a co-facilitator, you are in constant dialogue with another educator, negotiating facilitation style, communication, curriculum ideas, and hopefully, building best practices together. It also helps us become more accessible to the youth in the program because there are two adults to connect with. When it works, there is a stronger dynamic and peer analysis between facilitators about what young people need, what youth are bringing into the educational space, and how their experiences and knowledge can be incorporated into the media process. That also speaks to the popular education approach that G.A.P. uses.
There are two other things that I’ve been part of that have helped to shape my approach to this practice. First is that I play a key role in constantly revising and applying G.A.P.’s curriculum (, which means that I’ve taken on both staff development support for other media educators across the field through trainings and workshops. Most recently, I worked with folk to revise the structure of G.A.P.’s core framework. Specifically, we worked to make sure that we communicate through our curriculum both the oppressive and libratory potential of media. It’s the idea of praxis—that whenever there is oppression, there will also be people working for justice by identifying the challenge, taking action, assessing the outcomes, and following up on what’s next that can lead to a victory. For us, the key component is the media’s role in this process, for better or worse.
Personally, I have also worked to develop a way to include popular culture in an educational space. I’ve done this for two reasons:
1) Pop culture is a powerful force in shaping the way we think; and,
2) It is crucial to young people’s daily experience—they are immersed in it—so educators must unpack pop culture with youth in the work we do.
I believe that as educators, we need to support young people in deconstructing pop culture without taking the joy out of consuming it. I had the chance to explore this idea through my time as a Youth Media Learning Network fellow by developing a workshop called “reframing pop culture.” The workshop was designed to challenge the universal concept of the “every man” hero reflected in mainstream media. By repurposing characters from movies such as X-Men, Spider-Man, and the Matrix, unrepresented communities like immigrant youth experimented with rewriting and structuring narratives to include their own stories and histories.
As an educator, I am continually learning. For each young person, what he or she takes away from the media production process is unique. There’s no one approach, and no single outcome. I want to give young people some of what I gained through my experience learning media production and analysis at a young age.
YMR: Sometimes G.A.P. requires young people to have challenging or uncomfortable conversations in order to arrive at a new understanding of a social issue. Can you name one project that stands out to you as both trying and fruitful? What did you learn?
Rodriguez: G.A.P. does a lot of political education with youth in the process of making media and supports young people to think about media as a kind of political entity. This means that the workshops sometimes lead people into challenging conversations, as they understand the existing ideological and political components of media. In the beginning, there is often a lot of push back from the young people, particularly if they’ve never had these kinds of conversations before, as they start to see that the conditions they face are not random, but have histories and systems in place to sustain them. Everything is not always peachy. This is about critical thinking.
And while some conversations are difficult, they’re also invaluable. And as an educator/facilitator it’s important that you shape the space for these conversations to be productive and positive for the development of young people as individuals and as a working group.
For example, a few years back I co-facilitated a group that wanted to make a video examining the relationship between beauty standards and race. It invited a conversation about privilege among certain social groups and the lasting impact of colonialism on concepts of beauty closely related to Eurocentric standards. This was a challenging conversation to facilitate in a racially diverse group of youth who rarely get to talk to each other across race and identity about this kind of issue, especially for mixed race youth identifying as white.
The reason it was hard is not simply about “difference,” but exploring identity through history, and supporting youth to critically reflect on who they are. The result was Beauty and the Box, a sci-fi narrative that critiques media’s role in shaping beauty standards. And while the final piece is not explicitly about race and beauty to the extent our conversations were, the process was essential to informing the piece—who they cast as the hero, and the contrasting worlds they created. Their relationships and conversations went way beyond the video and advanced the critical thinking in their daily lives.
YMR: What would you say to a funder that asks why youth media programs are important for urban youth?
Rodriguez: By “urban youth,” do you mean youth of color who come from oppressed communities? If we’re talking about youth media in general, then it’s about providing tools for youth to represent themselves and their communities for the simple purpose of telling a story that is not often heard. It’s a way for youth to explore and “put their voice out there,” but that’s not all it can be. Not all youth media organizations are the same.
For example, at the Youth Channel I learned how to effectively develop and manage production for broadcast in a way that was youth-generated, and at G.A.P. we have a very specific social justice framework. So for a funder, these kinds of programs create ownership tied to youth history, experiences, and identities. And the reason why that’s important is because, as youth are immersed in mainstream media it affects their thinking and provides a space to question and build their analysis of the world. Ideally, it gives youth a way to align themselves with advocacy campaigns through the production of messages used for social justice.
YMR: What three things would you like every young person to walk away with after going through a youth media program?
Rodriguez: I would like young people to leave G.A.P. with the tools, resources and the knowledge to use media practices for their own use—whether or not ideologically motivated—to have access to a supported process of identity exploration. I’d like young people to understand that knowing themselves is a large part of the media production process and leave with the understanding that media is a large part of our culture and society shapes we do. I would like them to have a better state of mind about how to read the media that we’re fed every day, what we’re apt to understand as our reality, and be able to reflect, and question, and to have a critical distance from it.
[As educators, we must help youth] to understand a non-hierarchical model for media production—working collectively [as a] team to identify with and produce something that they can all connect with. When you build on an understanding about how work can happen in a non-hierarchical space, this can also directly be translated into our daily experiences in communication and working with other in our community.
YMR: What is your dream for the next ten years of your work in the youth media field?
Rodriguez: My dream for the next ten years? This is actually a question I asked myself not to long ago. I really want to be in a place where I will be working on my own media projects specifically connected to my ideological beliefs. I also want to extend my experience and knowledge as an educator, providing professional development workshops and/or presenting in lectures available for other educators. [One day, I’ll] create and manage my own youth media organization—a dream I aspire [to fulfill].

Youth Media Saved My Life

Born in Brooklyn, NY, Christine L. Mendoza went to Educational Video Center (EVC) in New York City as a teenager. She returned to EVC after spending two years in Spain where she worked for the Consejeria de Educacion, and taught English using visual media as a facilitation tool. Christine received her Masters from the Comparative Ethnic Conflict Program at Queens University in Belfast and graduated Magna Cum Laude with a BA in Media Studies from Hunter College. She has facilitated workshops at an international youth camp in Finland, to Protestant and Catholic youth in Belfast and in Johannesburg, South Africa. She has also interned at ABC News and BBC Northern Ireland. Christine is currently the co-director of the Youth Documentary Workshop and the director of Educational Research and Evaluation at EVC. In this interview, Christine draws connections between her personal experience and her vision of youth media for educators and students she now trains.
YMR: You participated in Educational Video Center (EVC)’s programs as a student, first a high school student then a college student. Now you work for the organization as a full-time staff member. What about your experience there drew you back in as an adult?
Christine L. Mendoza: EVC literally saved my life. When I was 15, I dropped out of high school and was out for a year. I went back to school at City-as-School, an alternative high school program. That’s where I learned about EVC.
EVC made school more relevant, and was exactly what I needed as an independent student who still needed some guidance. EVC provided a program that was part classroom, part workplace. I felt that I was given a lot of responsibility and that I was trusted. So many times before I had been told I was a failure, but the staff at EVC helped me find what I was good at, and supported me so I could succeed. I continued at EVC through the end of high school, and then into college. As a high school student, I participated in the Doc Workshop, and I transitioned into the YO-TV program when I started College. I was exposed to global issues because I was able to travel as an EVC media educator. Looking back, I can see that so many of my choices—from where to go to graduate school to what I want to do for a career—are thanks to my experience at EVC.
When I started at EVC in high school, I was living day by day and school was not one of my top priorities. From there, I became the first in my generation of my family to go to college. I have one older and one younger brother, and their lives have followed a different path which didn’t focus on education.
Because of the skills I developed at EVC and the emphasis they placed on education, I am able to be the person I never imagined I could be—a person that is really contributing to society. For this reason, I have returned to EVC as an educator and researcher—I want to pass on to a new generation of young people the confidence and skills that EVC gave to me.
YMR: What makes the EVC curriculum different from traditional school/educational curricula? Why does this appeal to you as an alumnus and educator?
Mendoza: EVC emphasizes engagement, literacy, and civic journalism. Young people have to be engaged in and like what they’re doing in order to be successful and to make a real difference.
Knowing that, EVC asks young people to create their own research questions and develop their own means for research, helping to support in realizing their vision. At the end of projects, the young people present their research to staff and community members, and their knowledge and insight are appreciated and valued.
I experienced this first hand while I was a student at EVC. The work that I was doing at EVC was project-based, relevant to me and my peers, and it was meaningful. I wasn’t sitting down and memorizing material for class. My learning was connected to something real, and something that would be helpful to the community in the future. I knew that the research I was doing and that the videos we were producing would help other people.
Because of the way EVC’s program worked, it became critical that I was there and that I worked every day. I never missed a day at EVC and I never missed a day of class at school because of EVC. I began to understand why school was relevant to me. When students find this connection for themselves, between a project they’re working on and school, it makes a big difference in the way they feel about school overall.
YMR: Describe a project you worked on that had a big impact on you.
Mendoza: The second video I worked on, through YO TV, was about the juvenile justice system in the United States. We wanted to tell the story of young people who were incarcerated, while showing the broader community issues that led to that moment in their lives. The message of the film was that incarceration doesn’t work because it creates a high level of recidivism and does not, in fact, reduce crime.
The film demonstrated that it’s the lack of resources in a community that lead to crime, and those who do commit crimes need better alternatives to incarceration.
The project had a huge impact on me at the time. We decided that as part of the research for the film, we would go to Rikers Island—New York City’s main jail complex—to better understand the experience of being there. We were given access to inside the Island. There, we interviewed prisoners, saw cells, and saw the church. While we couldn’t film these things, we were able to use the information we gained to create a portrait of that community.
The most notable part of that experience was the time I spent working with formerly incarcerated youth. As part of our reciprocal agreement with New York’s Alternative to Incarceration (ATI) program, we had to go into incarceration programs and teach film classes. My peer filmmakers and myself (all college students) created a curriculum, and did a series of four peer-to-peer workshops. Through the process of these workshops, the young people opened up and told their stories to the EVC students, and we shared stories with them. Not only was I personally impacted by their stories, but I discovered then that I enjoyed teaching and working with young people, and I decided I wanted to be a teacher.
YMR: How did your involvement with EVC impact your educational and career trajectory?
Mendoza: My work with EVC impacted my educational trajectory in a very concrete way. I graduated from undergrad with a major in media and a minor in sociology. I focused on written journalism because I had obtained a very good film education from my work at EVC and other community media outlets in NYC. My interest in sociology was spurred by the research I did for film projects at EVC.
I was exposed to international travel through my work at EVC, and that opened more doors for me after college. I went with EVC to Belfast, Ireland, to work with Catholic and Protestant youth on a project that would build bridges across religious divides through film. While there, I made connections with the University. I went back to those connections later, applied and was accepted to the Master’s program. I graduated with a Master’s in International Politics and Ethnic Conflict Resolution from the School of Politics, International Studies & Philosophy, and wrote my thesis on the education of new immigrants in divided societies. I looked specifically at Belfast and Quebec as case studies. Following that experience, I’ve been able to work with youth in South Africa, and most recently in Spain.
I have to say that staff at EVC was definitely influential in getting me on this path—more so than the curriculum itself. Torrance York, Steve Goodman, and the whole staff created a culture of acceptance and understanding. They were open to what I was going through, and supported me.
YMR: Do you see the potential to expand programs like EVC into the traditional school structure and school day?
Mendoza: Well, right now I am doing research to develop ways in which EVC’s educational model can be replicated in all high schools. I’m finding that there is a big difference between how things work at EVC, and how youth media programs work within high schools. This difference is mainly due to the fact that all students at EVC selected to be here, and the high school students at schools are sometimes brought into the program without the option. However, I’m finding that once the high school students get more involved in the EVC-style work at their high school, they get hooked. They see that they are allowed to work in the building in a way they can’t during the school day. They have ownership of the space and a new kind of authority. They feel more comfortable and this helps them engage.
I am continuing this work, to find out how we can best create an EVC microculture within traditional school spaces. We’re also developing innovative ways to tie EVC curriculum into the high school core curriculum. We have coaches working with history teachers and global studies teachers, but also hoping to partner with math teachers.
YMR: What would you encourage other youth media educators to do for their students, as a result of your life experience and work with EVC? Mendoza: I encourage all of my students to look toward outside opportunities and open their minds to bringing different kinds of people into their lives. I encourage my students to strive to be well-rounded and exposed to lots of different careers and ideas, to find something that they are really good at, and to travel. This could be as simple as getting out of your own borough. Right now, I’m working with a team of youth to do research on the Liberian population in Staten Island—a community of New York City that youth might never see otherwise.
I also encourage my students to be self-reflective about their learning. I see that this helps them get engaged. I ask them to write down their expectations for learning or for the project, and to revise the list every two weeks or so. This practice creates a kind of self-awareness of the learning process. I also encourage them to keep working and keep moving, so that they have no time for self-doubt.