A Space of Our Own

“Shut the fuck up when it’s Black girl time” jumped out at me as I scrolled down my Twitter timeline. In that moment I realized that Black girls, like most young women, need a unique and exclusive place for self-expression– a space of our own, if you will. Not only for writing fiction as Virginia Woolf famously writes, but to love ourselves. A space for us to sing our own praises. Actual and hypothetical rooms exclusive to Black women and girls are rare. In the same way that existing as a Black person is revolutionary in a profoundly anti-Black world, creating and maintaining a space in which only Black women exist is a revolutionary act.

Black women, cis and trans, are constantly looking for a place for us. For just us. A place where “well, actually” doesn’t exist and where some white woman is not shaming us for the approval of men. We’ve always been looking for such a space, within the continent of Africa until now. From the beginnings of the National Association of Colored Women during the Jim Crow era, to the emerging Black female artists and writers during the Black Arts Movement and Civil Rights Era of the early 1960s and 70s, to the numerous blogs, channels, and websites for Black women and girls today.

I realized how transitory our womanhood is when I read about Michaela Coel, writer and star of Netflix’s Chewing Gum, was asked by Stylist Magazine “Do you think much about your gender and how that has affected your career?” She replied saying, “I wasn’t aware of my gender until 2013 [ . . . ] I was really busy being Black and poor.”

Similarly to Coel, I did not always recognize the importance or impact of my womanhood. Or rather, I did not have the language for what I was feeling. I knew I felt excluded from womanhood. My only exposure to women who were feminists were white women, and so in those middle school and the majority of my high school years I did not feel part of womanhood. That’s not to say I do not love or value my womanhood, but I did not completely accept it as a part of my identity until I was about 18 years old.

I realized that my personal distance from womanhood was not an uncommon narrative for Black women. Even in a Black nationalist organization like the Afrikan Black Coalition–the largest Black student organization in California–women were facing sexism from within and still doubting its prominence in our communities.

I was astounded when a femme-identified staff member asked if male privilege was a real thing. My surprise stemmed from how deep the #RaceFirst ideology goes. Black women are asked to separate and remove our womanhood from our Blackness in order to fight for Black people first and foremost. Many people are under the impression that race is more influential than gender, but it is disappointing how many men feel more connected to their manhood than Blackness. This is a result of their disregard for Black women’s struggles and fragile masculinity, yet Black women are not allowed entry to our own womanhood.

This conditioning results in Black women shying away from feminism before they can even access the more inclusive womanism. Many Black women– including my formally educated, brilliant mother– feel like feminism just isn’t for them. Some of my mother’s apprehension with identifying with feminism were the persistent prosecution of Black men. Yes, men are socialized to believe that women’s bodies and labor are entitlements; however, Black men are not the only group of men taught this. Movies like the historically lauded Birth of a Nation depict Black men craving white women and preying on what white men consider their property– white women. In an effort to resist rape and commodification, white women pointed their frustration at the universal scapegoat, Black people. White women were not ready to challenge white men and their role in oppressing women, because that would risk their allegiance to whiteness. Feminism proudly demonized Black men, and ignored Black women (and femme presenting non-binary folk). So, I understand why my Mother wanted nothing to do with that segment of feminism.

Black women have been socialized to believe that everyone comes before us. We are taught that our job is to be the glue of the Black community even when it’s against our interests and wellbeing. We often take it so far that our only concern becomes that of protecting everyone else even to the detriment of ourselves.

Black women are told to give our time, energy, emotional labor, intellectual labor, and physical labor to support all women, or be deemed anti-women. Yet there is a double-standard at play that seldom receives enough attention. For example, the image of Rosie the riveter, largely regarded as feminist iconography, depicts working World War II providers as white. The popular image completely erases the role of working Black women during WWII– white women never resist alone.

During the Women’s Suffrage Movement, Black women championed the cause of enfranchising women, yet white women exploited Black women’s generosity and left them in the dust. The point of contention is not glory, but proper credit where credit is due. White women ensured that history ignored Black women and their contributions by conveniently omitting the role of Black sororities from the resistance narrative. Painting Black woman as ambivalent about the need for women’s rights. This is just one way that whiteness has effectively erased Black women’s labor from the record, leaving future generations to believe we owe women’s suffrage to white activism.

People demand that Black women share everything with non-Black women in order to further the cause of women, yet the favor is not reciprocated. A recent example arose at the 2017 Women’s March, a national action organized by women of various races. Even so, the actions centered the experiences of white women, catered to their needs, and then called on women of color to show up in support of “all” women. Black women are treated as if our requests to be included and then listened to is somehow detrimental, rather than beneficial, to the cause of all women. Furthermore, when we create spaces to celebrate ourselves we are labelled divisive. Non-Black women invite and ignore us. We do not care to invite them after history has shown us they do not care about all women, they care about white women. Yet somehow we are categorized as divisive. But without concrete examples, Black women are often described as bitter and inarticulate, so what follows is a recent case of what I espouse.

In honor of women filmmakers at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, a brunch was held that included Jessica Williams, The Daily Show correspondent, and actress Salma Hayek. The LA Times covered the event, documenting the lunchtime discourse. After Hayek makes a rather exclusionary comment, Williams asks a question.

WILLIAMS: [ . . .] What if you are a person of color, or a transgendered person who — just from how you look — you already are in a conflict?
HAYEK: Who are you when you’re not black and you’re not a woman? Who are you and what have you got to give?
WILLIAMS: A lot. But some days, I’m just black, and I’m just a woman.
HAYEK: No, no, no [ . . . ]Take the time to investigate. That’s the trap! . . . There is so much more.

I have provided an interpretive translation of the last two lines below.
WILLIAMS: Sometimes the world only sees me as a Black woman, and they don’t see past that.
HAYEK: Transcend your race and gender, if you can’t define yourself outside of those things, well, YOU haven’t looked deep enough.

What Hayek ignores is that even if looking deeper inside of yourself was the answer to coping with anti-Blackness, transphobia, and/or transmisogyny, it would still be irrelevant. Even if Williams defined herself in a way that chose not to acknowledge her own Black womanhood, the world would still view her as a Black woman. We do not get to turn off that very visible part of our identity.

Plainly, Hayek is asking Williams to look past her Black womanhood. Unfortunately, there is no summary of our “true” identity tattooed to our foreheads for people to read, and if there was I’m sure people would see a Black woman and decide hers was not worth reading. After enduring a trying conversation, Williams makes a final plea:
WILLIAMS: [ . . . ] I think there is a fear that if we present an idea that, ‘Hey, maybe [black women] have it a little bit harder in this country’ — because we do; Black women and trans women do — if we’re having it a little bit harder, it doesn’t invalidate your experience. I really am begging you to not take it personally.

HAYEK: Baby, I’m Mexican and Arab… My generation, they said, ‘Go back to Mexico. You’ll never be anything other than a maid in this country.’ By the head​s ​of studios! There was no movement. Latino women were not even anywhere near where you guys are. I was the first one. I’m 50 years old. So I understand.

WILLIAMS: You don’t understand.

Hayek misses the point, centers her feelings, and speaks condescendingly by repeatedly calling Williams “baby.” Non-Black women spent most of the brunch interrupting Williams, even going so far to try to speak for her. And even after director and comedian Jill Soloway urged the group to listen to the voice of women of color, queer women, and queer women of color, women still spoke over Williams.

The Hayek-Williams exchange is a case study in why Black women cannot look to non-Black women for confirmation. Black women need a space of our own. To be fully human. To agree and disagree without the scrutiny of men, white women, and non-Black women of color. We need a space to explore our thoughts outside of our unwillful subscription to patriarchy. We need a space to unpack and decolonize in the way we want to, in the time we want to, and with who we want to join us.

About the Author

Kadijah Means was born and raised in Oakland, California.  She is the former Berkeley High School Black Student Union Pharaoh and Amnesty International chapter President.  She has been featured in USA Today and other publications in recognition of her 1,000 person Black Lives Matter protest in December 2014.  Kadijah is the Communications department Chief of Staff for the Afrikan Black Coalition (ABC). This year ABC successfully pressured the University of California Regents to divest 25 million dollars from private prisons.

Kadijah interned for Congresswoman Barbara Lee in addition to East Bay Community Law Center’s Clean Slate practice in 2015.  She was the 2015 recipient of the Princeton Prize in Race Relations, and was recently interviewed on the podcast This American Life.  Kadijah currently attends UC Santa Cruz pursuing a degree in both Politics and Critical Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES).

Dancing with Thorns

This post is part of a series submitted by Gabriella Huggins, Community Programs Mentor at Spy Hop in Salt Lake City, Utah. The four posts in the series — The Window, Mock Identity, CO2, and Dancing with Thorns — are all created by youth from Spy Hop. Gabriella offers a perspective on the series that offers her insight into the connective tissues between the media and how it connects to the central theme of this Special Issue.

Time is fluid. To disconnect past, present, and future is a nearly impossible and arguably irresponsible task. Though specific to each individual in the intimacy of the here and now, the time of “now” is inextricably connected to the events of the past and crucial in shaping transitions into the future. As an individual, a woman and person of color, the child of immigrants, I am always aware of how my person is connected to time. The past trauma of my ancestors lives in my body, challenging me in the present to learn self love, as well as to practice boldness moving forward, to imagine a time in which equity and understanding are truly foundational in our global community. As a mentor to youth, I encourage in my students this critical understanding of the connectedness of their actions to the past and future, especially as they decide what stories to tell and the messages they want to send. How has the past limited people like them, and people unlike them? How is broad access to media in the present important in shaping cultural narratives? How are they, as citizens and creators, responsible to themselves and others in creating a future they can feel safe in and proud of?

Mary Nejatifar and Peque Curiel’s Dancing with Thorns, a PitchNic 2016 documentary short, follows three Utahans diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease as they use modern dance as movement therapy. The film explores how time, a fundamental feature of dance pedagogy, can be controlled and manipulated within a body ailing from the effects of time.

About the Authors

Mary Nejatifar, is a student at Salt Lake Community College.  Dancing with Thorns is her first film project.  She is hoping to pursue a career in movement therapy in the future.




Peque Curiel, 18, attends Salt Lake Community College. He loves to do Art & Media, and is proud of his culture and beliefs. He plans to live and start small in León, Mexico.


Mapping Our Desired Futures Lesson Plan

This lesson plan was developed for Free Spirit Media’s Pathways initiative, a professional and creative workforce development program that helps emerging creatives 18-25 years old develop careers in the media and film industries. The prompt was inspired by The Alliance’s 50 states Dinner Party Project, where youth media practitioners and participants from around the country come together to reflect on the future of youth media, the wider media landscape and the world. Students who participated in this lesson have been involved in our programs for over a year, and we wanted to explore with them how the program has helped them achieve their goals, what goals they had for the next chapter of their lives that we could help them achieve, and their desired future was for their career and the industry.  

To learn more about the project and our student’s desired futures, please see the accompanying article, Mapping Our Desired Futures: Dreaming with the Next Generation of Creators and Crew.


2 hour approximate

Intended Audience

Young adults pursuing careers in the film and media or any creative industry; anyone who has a dream and a desired future; works well with groups that already have built some relationship and community

Overview & Context

This exercise is focused developing a core 21st workforce development skill (as defined by MHA Labs)—Planning for Success. Students reflect back on what they are proud of in the past year while charting ambitious goals for next year. Students are challenged to dream of their desired future for the film and media industry and where they see themselves in it. The exercise is also a helpful tool to explore how a program has impacted participants in unexpected ways.


  • Students own at least three points of pride from the past year.
  • Students map at least three SMART goals for the next year.
  • Students define/redefine what long term success looks like for them.
  • Students make a plan to hold themselves and each other accountable to their goals.
  • Program gathers valuable insight to inform future planning and understand impact.

Materials Needed

  • Meal or Snacks
  • Post It Notes galore
  • Digital/Video Recorder
  • Pens & Markers

Lesson Plan Overview

    • 20 min / Warm Up + Eat
    • 15 min / Open the circle + Introduce the exercise
      • Go around the room, and state one next step you have recently taken on a personal or professional goal
    • 5 min / PROMPT: What are you proud of? List at least three things on different post it notes
  • Facilitator Notes: It does not need to be an accomplishment. Can be as small, or as big as you want. Don’t just think about things you did, but things you learned, behaviors you changed, ways you opened up to possibility in your creative life.
    • 10 min / Students go around the circle and share out one to three things they are proud of, depending on size and time allotment. Once shared, post it notes go up to a wall, self sorted by common themes
      • Facilitator Notes: Be sure to acknowledge each other’s triumphs with snapping or clapping or whatever you do.
    • 5 min / PROMPT: What do you hope to be writing on a post it note one year from now, as something you are proud of in 2017? List at least three things on different post it notes
  • Facilitator Note: One fellow had the excellent idea of starting statements with “ I Will…” as in “ I will produce a web series about being a young artist in Chicago” to bring about the powers of manifestation
    • 10 min / Students go around the circle and share out all of their goals (one at a time, around the circle multiple times or all together, depending on time. Once shared, post it notes go up to a wall, self sorted by common themes
      • Facilitator Notes: Be sure to acknowledge each other’s triumphs with snapping or clapping or whatever you do.
  • 5 min / PROMPT: What is your desired future for our industry —the film and media industry–here in our city, our country or our world?
  • 10 min / Students go around the circle and share out their desired future. Once shared, post it notes go up to a wall, self sorted by common themes
    • 5 min / PROMPT: Finally, imaging that the desired future for our industry is true, where do you see yourself in it? What do you aspire to?
    • 5 min / Students stand and reach their aspirational statements
    • 10 min / Wrapping up: Our group decided we wanted to hold each other accountable by meeting every two months to check in on our goals, see how we could support each other, and continue to measure success as the year progressed. We decided next time to make it a potluck.
  • Be sure to either collect post it notes, or take photos and type up for program records.
  • 5 min / Closing Circle: PROMPT: What’s your one word for 2017?
  • Follow up: Consider documenting/ collecting participants goals on a google spreadsheet and share with the group, and then continue to add onto the document through the year, as participants take steps to document collective progression, accountability and success.
  • To see Free Spirit Media Fellow’s Desired Futures, see the YMR Article Mapping Our Desired Futures: Dreaming with the Next Generation of Creators and Crew.

“Planning for Success.” MHA Labs. Accessed Jan 19th, 2017

“The 50 States Dinner Party Project.” The Alliance for Media and Culture. Accessed Jan 19th, 2017

About the Author

Lucia Palmarini is an educator, program manager, and mobilizer with Free Spirit Media whose mission is to bring people together through the creation and experience of the media and creative arts. As Pathways Manager at Free Spirit Media, she oversees FSM’s professional and workforce development programs that help emerging creatives build careers in the film and media industries. Before Free Spirit Media, Ms. Palmarini was a driving force as Director and Festival Manager at CIMMfest, the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival, and Community TV Network, Chicago’s oldest youth media organization. She started her career in non-profit program development and strategy with the co-founding of Cincinnati’s first community based bicycle shop, MoBo Bicycle Co-op in 2007 before turning her focus to developing youth & community arts programs. Ms. Palmarini has designed and facilitated numerous intergenerational community arts programs in topics from hip hop arts, photography, peace education, oral history,  creative writing, artrepenuership, community exploration, documentary filmmaking and more.  With a Masters in Arts Management from Columbia College Chicago, and a Bachelors in Documentary Studies from the College of Santa Fe, Ms. Palmarini strives to connect the bridge between vision and strategy, program and process. Her passions include but are not limited to storytelling, databases, potlucks, film screenings in unlikely places,  social entrepreneurship and making the impossible possible.

The Big Bang of Collective Action

The “Big Bang of Collective Action” is a nonlinear list essay by me, Jason Wyman, Impact Producer for The Alliance for Media Arts and Culture. It is meant to be read in whatever manner moves you.

Each post is represented by a CODE. These codes are visual representations of an underlying metaphor / thread / concept  within The Alliance’s Youth Media Collective Action Initiative. These core “concepts” include, The Question, The Origins of the Universe, Symbols of Our Desired Futures, The Value of Age, and a few more too.

Each CODE is composed using only 12 circles. And each circle represents a post in this nonlinear list essay. They were discovered using an iterative design process similar to the way in which The Alliance’s Youth Media Collective Action Initiative is being designed.

It starts with an idea, a question, a line of inquiry. This line of inquiry -- what are our desired futures -- is asked not just of others, but of self.  Data from others and from self is collected and put into folders and forms that help one see and intuit patterns. From these patterns, a framing device emerges, and as the frame emerges a stronger, deeper language starts getting crafted that can better communicate the underlying psychology of the emergent frame. That language can unify disparate thoughts and can demonstrate the relationships between ideas / concepts / people / actions.

For me, these CODES represent my best thinking / intuition into the deeper psychology of The Alliance’s Youth Media Collective Action Initiative. The CODES, rooted in the circle, reflect the way in which the work itself is being done: continuously developing / improving / iterating, playing with both positive and negative space, and connecting to something larger than the self / the single.

These CODES also link to core concepts within The Alliance’s Youth Media Collective Action Initiative. These concepts / threads / metaphors contain more than just my words. They also contain the collective wisdom of many who have contributed to the work of The Alliance’s Youth Media Collective Action Initiative over the last year and two months (and even some work that predates it, too.)

They are simply circles within circles within circles.

So start with what moves you, what catches the eye, what makes you want to click. See where that takes you and what it inspires. Then, come back “HOME”. See all of the CODES and click another. Repeat until you no longer feel moved to click.

And please know, “The Big Bang of Collective Action” is also a tool. It is meant to be used. So I request that you interact with it. Please:

  • click the links
  • leave a comment
  • share
  • sketch an idea
  • record a video response
  • write your own posts in response.

Thank you for going on this journey. And I look forward to co-creating with you.


About the Author

Jason Wyman is many things. Today, they are a social practice producer designing experiences, media, and strategy that weave singular narratives into plural platforms. Wyman is committed to amplifying the experiences, perspectives, and voices of peoples and communities historically confined to the margins of institutional and systemic power. Wyman is currently an Impact Producer for The Alliance for Media Arts and Culture co-heading the Youth Media Collective Action Initiative with Myah Overstreet.

Wyman has worked with The Red Poppy Art House, the Asian Art Museum, Adobe Youth Voices, SOMArts Cultural Center, In Our Words: A Salon for Queers and Company, Ninth Street Independent Film Center, Frameline, The Bay Area Hive (an initiative of the MacArthur Foundation), San Francisco Public Library, and the California School-Age Consortium.  Wyman lives in San Francisco with their beautiful husband, a neurotic house kitty, and a pride of backyard feral cats. When not creating or plotting, Wyman can be found binge watching pop media, playing video games, or hosting potlucks.

Do Things Together We Can’t Do Alone: A Report from the Chicago Youth Voices Network

Author’s Note:

I am so positive about the power of youth media and I wonder how we can make it bigger and available to more young people.  I wanted  to share our Chicago journey with the field so you can catch up with our work.  Please feel free to use the study to raise funds in your locale!  

Youth media organizations have both unique individual features and common goals. Some of the common goals are to amplify the voice of young people as well as to raise the importance of youth perspectives for understanding school, community, and social issues.

In 2006, youth media organizations were brought together by staff of the Robert R. McCormick Foundation to learn about  the best practices of the non-profit field and to collaborate on projects. Out of these meetings, the Chicago Youth Voices Network (CYVN) was formed. Throughout the past ten years, a number of independent, non-profit youth media groups have met together to figure out how to accomplish more using a team effort.

From 2006 to 2013, CYVN organizations collaborated on a number of projects including: Youth@theCore, a project that gathered youth-created content and made it accessible to Chicago Public School teachers; Nuf Said, a reporting project that gathered data about youth and shared it on a website; and, a project where young people created content while visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s “The State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.” .

In 2013 the McCormick Foundation commissioned a study, “Life After Youth Media: Insights about Program Influence into Adulthood.”  The study explored youth media’s influence into adulthood with questions like: Do the skills, attitudes, and behaviors imparted in youth programs “stick” into adulthood? Does program intensity matter? How do youth media participants’ outcomes differ from the outcomes of youth who are involved in other programs?  

One of the outstanding findings from the study was youth media alumni feel better equipped to understand issues, and they participate in elections at a higher rate than their peers. To promote and celebrate the results of this study, CYVN members worked together to present the key findings at a formal breakfast. Invitations to the event were sent to lead persons and influentials in the fields of education, journalism, media, as well as funders. The breakfast program was hosted by local news anchors; the program included a slideshow of infographics from the study and youth speaking about their involvement in youth media programs and how this involvement positively impacted their lives. Before leaving the event, each attendee was asked to fill out a 3 x 5 card to comment on how they would support youth media in the future. This event not only publicly announced the study and promoted the work of our organizations, it also brought CYVN members together as an effective team.

Today, in 2017, CYVN core membership consists of nine youth media organizations working in different schools and neighborhoods, representing a variety of youth media subjects and approaches. One is oriented to teach spoken word, one teaches youth radio, three teach writing and digital media, three train youth in digital media production, and one organization is focused on civic engagement. This diversity and range brings strength to the collective organization.  

In the spring of 2016, two experienced strategic planning consultants led CYVN members through a process resulting in the CYVN Strategic Plan 2016-17. Goals identified in this process included:

1) Build our capacity to do our envisioned work by increasing the membership base and re-energizing commitment to investing in the Network.

2) Use CYVN to support and showcase our individual organizations while we promote our shared goals. This will include strengthening each organization and creating ways to share knowledge and formal professional development. Part of this work entails the creation of a new website and hiring a social media consultant, steps that will make our work more visible and support our goal of amplifying youth voice. 

3) Learn and share best practices in media literacy, pedagogy, and non-profit organizational development. This agenda item includes professional development sessions and formal presentations.

4) Build relationships and collaborate on projects that promote and disseminate youth voice. Do things together that we can’t do alone. Create a public event that promotes and celebrates youth voice. This will keep the public and influencers aware of our importance to young people’s futures.

We kicked off the plan in the fall of 2016 and look forward to some awesome accomplishments that will upgrade the field and build more opportunities for Chicago youth. We aim to generate funding support, greater public awareness, and increased inclusion in schools with media as a vital subject. We are most interested in finding out about other youth media collectives’ endeavors and directions. Sharing and discussing our on-the-ground trials and outcomes will be the stuff that fosters and builds the field of youth media.

About the Author

Denise Zaccardi is the founder and executive director of Community TV Network, a Chicago youth media arts education and production organization. She is a long time education and media arts activist.

Media Arts Education for the Electorate

Author’s Note:

Dr. Brian Purnell reminds us that we are in an ongoing cycle of struggle and progress. It is circular. It is iterative. It is spiraling. Our spot in the rotation at this moment feels low, and dark, and I hope these thoughts help us look toward the curve of the arc. Though they celebrate the power of the moving image, they are shared in the language of our last century: words. We still need them too.

September, 2016 marked the 15th anniversary of the Jacob Burns Film Center, as well as my own personal tenure with the organization. The milestones prompted celebration, remembrances and reflection. How good we all felt about the work we did every day to cultivate new voices, engage our community in conversation, and develop students’ empathy. Meanwhile, the fall also devolved into the politically turbulent election cycle we all watched with horror. As I reeled, alongside the manic media establishment, artists, writers, and many of you, from the outcome on November 8, the simultaneous experiences were confounding.

We all witnessed how despite a decade of the explosion of distribution channels online, and the proliferation of consumer production devices, the narrative was still being controlled overwhelmingly by those of privilege. The JBFC was, in fact, its own echo chamber, located just one mile from the Clintons’ Chappaqua home, sitting contentedly in the progressive east coast corridor.

A new level of self-assessment became necessary, and one not quite so self-congratulatory. The thoughts reconciled themselves, ultimately, in hope and a recommitment to the impact we and colleagues around the country can make to bring media arts education to young people as the best protection of our democracy. The opportunity for students to find, learn, and use the modes of visual communication are just still too few and too hidden.

At the East Flatbush Community Research School in Brooklyn, NY Roosevelt School in Bridgeport, CT and the ReNEW Cultural Arts Academy in New Orleans, LA, teachers are helping students find their voice by bringing media arts into their academic instruction. These schools are all part of Turnaround Arts, a program of The Kennedy Center, in partnership with the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities- one of the Obamas’ many significant legacies. This initiative believes student achievement is grounded in access to and experiences in the arts and works with schools in 36 school districts in 15 states and the District of Columbia, all of which are “priority-designated,” meaning they are in the lowest performing 5% of schools in their state. The schools are in red, blue, and purple dots and all represent communities that are vastly underrepresented in our cultural landscape. As part of Turnaround Arts, schools receive an array of arts education services designed to increase students’ chances of success, engage the local community, and raise the visibility of students’ achievements. The JBFC is proud to be the first media arts organization to collaborate with Turnaround Arts on a variety of national and local film, literacy, and arts-integration partnerships. The partnership has sharped our conviction that the revolution in diversifying the media landscape will not begin in film school, but in kindergarten.

The young people in Brooklyn, Bridgeport, and New Orleans are encountering the JBFC’s curriculum, Image, Sound, and Story. More than lesson plans, this approach believes in a whole-child, whole-school strategy – that immersive and embedded media education can have meaningful impact on the lives of all students. It is fundamental to recognize that the children in our fourth grade classrooms will be part of the electorate in the 2024 presidential race. What capacity will they have to share their particular and unique context? To thoughtfully consider the rhetoric of pundits? To distinguish constructed realities from authentic experience?

In Image, Sound, and Story, young people encounter literacy concepts common to both print and visual texts:

We are now ready to take up the next questions: 1) What happens for students and teachers when there is a school-wide commitment to media arts education? 2) Can a school’s definition of literacy expand to include the many forms visual communication throughout its teaching and learning? 3) What happens for a cultural organization and its staff and teaching artists when work in public school classrooms becomes front and center?

Media is unique amongst the arts disciplines in that its core activities of viewing and creating are as essential as reading and writing. It is truly a language that students must have facility with in order to be active participants and engaged citizens in a screen-saturated culture. Image, Sound, and Story is unique in its approach to teaching the grammar and language of visual communication, approaching visual texts as a central component of a child’s literacy instruction, not simply a one-off or enrichment opportunity. We meet the challenge of impacting teaching practice, and in turn, offering young people alternative entry points to content and instruction.

This image says it all: the future of the background relies on the future of the foreground.

Students from Turnaround Arts Schools in Bridgeport, attending the March on Washington Film Festival through their participation in Image, Sound, and Story.


“The overall goal of education is empowerment. What better way to empower than through media?”

—Turnaround Arts Principal

About the Author

As Director of Education at the Jacob Burns Film Center, Emily has overseen the development, implementation, and expansion of the education programs since their inception in 2001. The JBFC is now the most successful suburban art house in the country, featuring 400 films a year from 50 different countries. The education programs are achieving national impact, equipping and inspiring nearly 15,000 students a year to communicate in the language of our visual culture: image, sound, and story. With programs on the JBFC campus, including a 5-screen Theater, 27,000 square foot Media Arts Lab and Residence for International Filmmakers; as well as a robust online interactive teaching and learning platform, Emily has established the education programs as a model for innovative media education.

Emily has published and presented on the imperative for a redefinition of literacy and the joy and creativity of “Viewing & Doing” at conferences hosted by the New Media Consortium, MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Research Hub, the National Association for Media Literacy Education, the Turnaround Arts National Retreat, among others.

Emily is particularly interested in close reading across texts, self-expression, and story as the most powerful tool we have to connect across age, race, and space. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Pace University’s School of Education where she teaches Writing Process and Media Production and Literature and Digital Storytelling.

She graduated from the University of Virginia with a bachelor’s degree in English language and literature and a focus in film studies and received a master’s degree in education, communication, and technology from New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education. Being married to a high school English teacher and the mother of 9 year-old twins keeps her closely connected to the realities and challenges of bringing innovation to public school education.

The Window

This post is part of a series submitted by Gabriella Huggins, Community Programs Mentor at Spy Hop in Salt Lake City, Utah. The four posts in the series — The Window, Mock Identity, CO2, and Dancing with Thorns — are all created by youth from Spy Hop. Gabriella offers a perspective on the series that offers her insight into the connective tissues between the media and how it connects to the central theme of this Special Issue.

Time is fluid. To disconnect past, present, and future is a nearly impossible and arguably irresponsible task. Though specific to each individual in the intimacy of the here and now, the time of “now” is inextricably connected to the events of the past and crucial in shaping transitions into the future. As an individual, a woman and person of color, the child of immigrants, I am always aware of how my person is connected to time. The past trauma of my ancestors lives in my body, challenging me in the present to learn self love, as well as to practice boldness moving forward, to imagine a time in which equity and understanding are truly foundational in our global community. As a mentor to youth, I encourage in my students this critical understanding of the connectedness of their actions to the past and future, especially as they decide what stories to tell and the messages they want to send. How has the past limited people like them, and people unlike them? How is broad access to media in the present important in shaping cultural narratives? How are they, as citizens and creators, responsible to themselves and others in creating a future they can feel safe in and proud of?

George Relyea shares an audio piece about perspective, blurred and distorted based on individual understandings of time and space. George shares his interpretation of how he uses his time, viewed through his eyes, and asks us to consider the value of including new perspectives in our personal windows on the world.


This post is part of a series submitted by Gabriella Huggins, Community Programs Mentor at Spy Hop in Salt Lake City, Utah. The four posts in the series -- The Window, Mock Identity, CO2, and Dancing with Thorns -- are all created by youth from Spy Hop. Gabriella offers a perspective on the series that offers her insight into the connective tissues between the media and how it connects to the central theme of this Special Issue.

Time is fluid. To disconnect past, present, and future is a nearly impossible and arguably irresponsible task. Though specific to each individual in the intimacy of the here and now, the time of "now" is inextricably connected to the events of the past and crucial in shaping transitions into the future. As an individual, a woman and person of color, the child of immigrants, I am always aware of how my person is connected to time. The past trauma of my ancestors lives in my body, challenging me in the present to learn self love, as well as to practice boldness moving forward, to imagine a time in which equity and understanding are truly foundational in our global community. As a mentor to youth, I encourage in my students this critical understanding of the connectedness of their actions to the past and future, especially as they decide what stories to tell and the messages they want to send. How has the past limited people like them, and people unlike them? How is broad access to media in the present important in shaping cultural narratives? How are they, as citizens and creators, responsible to themselves and others in creating a future they can feel safe in and proud of?

Logan Rosson and Maddy Willardson's PitchNic 2016 documentary film, CO2, investigates Utah's air quality and its impact on the health of locals. CO2 asks viewers to consider historical trends of governmental neglect and personal inaction, challenging us to take action in defense of the inheritance we will pass to future generations.

About the Authors

Logan Kingfisher Rosson graduated from Academy of Math Engineering and Science and is currently studying bio-medical engineering pre-med at the University of Utah in the Honors College. He plans to attend medical school in the future.

Madelyn Anne Willardsen is a senior at East High School. She is planning on attending Utah Valley University next year to study business. This is her second film class at Spy Hop, she previously participated in Reel Stories.

the future is a choir

the future is a choir.


people, all

of them hugging

and housed with

others who become home.


there is no war, for

our differences are minor

where our similarities are strong.


universal bonfire

with singing

and love and

love and love and


About the Author

Ash Tré Phillips is a genderqueer Bay Area born and raised poet. They made it to the Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam final stage in 2015 and 2016. Having graduated high school in 2015, Ash is currently working on their own chapbook ‘This World Has a Timestamp.” In the meantime they can be found feeding their coffee addiction as a barista at Philz Coffee Castro.

The Story

Author’s Note:

I began writing this piece last year when I got the news that a girl I knew had died of an overdose. Years before her a popular kid in the area, he was a few years older than me, was stabbed to death during a fight. A few months before I began writing the piece a guy I used to take the bus with was locked up for 9 years for stealing a pair of sneakers from a white kid. He was 16. The inspiration of this piece comes from my surroundings, the deaths of people I knew, the injustices committed right on my doorstep. Having lived my entire life in the south end of Albany, New York and most of my life in poverty I am privy to these events, I see them, they affect me because I see them with my own eyes. But I have always been safe from them, I am not black, I do not have abusive or neglectful parents, I’ve been blessed to rarely be in the wrong place at the wrong times. But I felt that I had to do something, to at least show the pain, I may never be able to convey it but this piece aims to show and expose some of it. This is important pain, it’s real, visceral, and it is inflicted everyday on far too many people all over this country.

You might know the story of Taylor

You might not

I’ll tell it because what you must understand is that our last vestige of strength is held firmly in the hands of the stories we tell

Because if I don’t tell the story of Taylor his pain will never be able to be felt by those with skin akin to him

His reality will never understood by the eager pale faces bobbing in the crowd of every rap show

His life will never be understood as anything more than his thick red blood and the seeping wound that painted the final target on his back

His truth, the truth of many men of color in America, can never be understood by even the author of this tale, a man of color, granted, but one with a pale complexion

Maybe the author himself shouldn’t be writing the story

But I am

For better or worse.


In moments of pain you think back.

Back to when the guns and the drugs were only on TV, when Scarface was the scariest guy you knew. You think back to all those times you went to the city to visit your cousins. You see, shit was so much easier back then, back when summer days at the park seemed to morph into weeks, back when the sun used to streak across the sky like a time-lapse. Back when kids used to tease you for having curry for lunch at summer camp then ask you for more when you let them try some.  Shit wasn’t painful back then. In those last moments, as your breath came more and more ragged and your heart grew weaker and weaker you think back. You go back.

Your parents came from India at a young age, your pops was planning on finishing his degree in the city but they fucked up. Later on mummy would tell you it was false advertising, pops always just accepted where he was. They ended up having you in the third floor stairway of a project in the south end of the city. Not New York City, The City. Your city. Pops didn’t have a car; Taxi’s took twice as long to come if you had an accent. There you were. 7 pounds 8 ounces. Normal. Extraordinary, actually. They called you Taylor; they got it out of an American baby book. They didn’t want you to get bullied, later on, and after it was already much too late, after you read all those history books backward and realized what they could have called you, you would resent them for not connecting you to your culture. Growing up in the south end was like growing up to die. Most cats didn’t make it past 21, you’d probably be buried at the cemetery three blocks up pretty soon. You got your summer job when you were 14 but you spent every check on new kicks because what the fuck else was there to buy? Pops was a manager at a meat-packing factory, mummy worked at an elementary school. By the time you’re 1, pops needs a cane to walk, they had you late.

Mummy always told you that love conquered everything. “And all pain can be cured with a little love.” She told you with her sweet sing song accent. Crazy how you noticed it. They were from two different worlds back in India, Pops was Gujarat, Mummy was Banglorean. “She’s too dark for him,” Pops’ family said. It took 9 months and 5 proposals for the wedding to be approved. Then they got tricked into coming here. They didn’t mean to land in the city, they meant to land somewhere else, away from the projects. And sometimes when you looked deep into his eyes you could tell Pops had regrets, if you looked closely past the crows feet and the deep brown you could see a man raising a happy family back in the homeland, with a wife the same tone as him. You could see a man living the way his culture wanted him to live, the easy way, in a way that didn’t cause him all this pain. Love conquered all. That’s what she said, her dark skin shimmering in the sunlight as she tanned out back in the little yard you shared with 25 other tenants.

Summertime ’06, your favorite album of 2015, you bumped that shit so hard, you met mad dudes that summer, cool fucking cats, like you broke out. The thing with the south-end was that all you needed to be was from there. You met Jaquel, some dude who lived a few stories up, his Mom died when he was little and his father always told him her dream was for him to go pro. Every morning at 6 am, Jaq and his dad could be seen running drills at the court out back behind our project. Jaquel’s Dad caught a bullet half way into the summer.


Just another black face fading into the dying light, flailing arms fail to fight

The plague of white eating face, form and figure, making jokes at Thanksgiving dinner


That’s about the time you started writing your rhymes. You started slow, just journal entries. You became an observer; you didn’t expect to ever actually be affected by this shit. Like you were just interested, interested in where the nicknames your friends had came from. Jordan was Lil J, you called him that because he was only 5’4. Little dude. Trayvon was just Tray- pretty self-explanatory. Abel was known as The Prophet, you called him that because every time you all smoked together he would start getting deep about the world. Of your whole friend group only Tay survived to see past the next two summers.

So the rhymes kept coming and Prophet started teaching you how to flow, “Listen to Kendrick,” he would always tell you, before taking a long drag of the joint and sinking deeper into the sofa. You listened to Good Kid, M.A.A.D City twice a day at least while making sure to still keep up with Future, Thug and Carti’s new shit. Soundcloud became your obsession, finding new flows, crafting yours. Late summer ’15 you started going to the open mics. You would walk a mile up past the invisible Mason-Dixon line of the city to spit your baby bars to a room full of white hippies who had unnatural obsessions with young brown kids from the hood. They would come up to you afterward and ask you where you got your talents, you always said the same thing “I’ve always wanted to rhyme.” What? Really? That’s your reason for having talent. Nah the real reason was a lot more sinister, what you wanted to say was something along the lines of: “Honestly I want to move up here, with you guys. Since the city got split in half in the mid 90s when they built your shiny plaza the areas below your domain have been dying. My friends’ friends get shot every other day, I know 5 drug dealers by first name. My beat cops have probably killed a dozen innocent black or brown people during their careers. I wanna be a good raghead, is that what you call me up here? Raghead? Maybe it’s just nigger, maybe you can’t tell us apart.”  But you don’t, you keep your mouth shut and keep it moving.


Black skies burn as white lightning arcs to the ground

Slicing your soul in two you’re bound by the idea of them and you

Captured in the net of oppression

Writhing around with your stolen brethren

You look up, white lightning smiling

Your check still pendin


Skip to Summer ’16, you’re 17, Abel has been in the hospital for 3 months now. Back in March he got busted up trying to cop loud off a new guy, he was undercover, Abel ran. That silver bullet ripped apart his back, cutting through his spine and paralyzing him. But it was fall that put him into a coma. His Mom doesn’t have enough money to keep him alive for much longer, she keeps telling Mummy that God is gonna bring him back, Mummy holds her hands while she cries and sends her home with whatever money she can spare. You brood. You miss Abel’s funeral, you miss his last breath. You listen to Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly, Kendrick scolds you.


“Guess you thought he would recover well
Third surgery, they couldn’t stop the bleeding for real
Then he died, God himself will say “you fuckin’ failed”
You ain’t try” – Kendrick Lamar to Taylor Singh, 2016.


That summer, though, shit changes. Before the end of you year you decide to write a play, it covers 3 black teens who have an encounter with a racist beat cop that ends in the death of one of them. You win a school contest to get the play produced, you hold auditions. This one girl auditions. She stands up on the stage to read her lines; she looks at you like some corny notebook type shit. If you knew how it would all end now you wouldn’t have looked back. She delivers those lines so well, her voice floats into you and threatens to change you. You stop brooding. By the end of the third rehearsal, you’re both sweating, sitting half clothed in a back corner of the auditorium after everyone has already left. Her name is Lily. She’s as perfect as they come – this dark chocolate skin, eyes like little galaxies hiding as much as they reveal – dream type shit. You’ve never wanted to bring someone to dinner more than her; you wouldn’t even mind if she didn’t like the curry. You stop brooding. Briefly.

But Lily has her own burdens. A torn household has left her mind broken and bruised beneath her. She sings like an angel fighting back hell. Beautiful, with this melancholy tingle that makes you shiver whenever you hear it. You add a musical number to your play. The night after the first performance, you tell her you love her. But Lily has her own demons. Her own pain. Jordan gets popped over a pair of J’s the next week. Your heart burns with regret not just because Jordan was your brother but also because you were with Lily that night and Jordan always said “Bro’s before bitches bro, never forget, even if she got yo heart. You never know when you gonna have to have a nigga’s back.” He had a girl, Ciara, she was 5 months pregnant at the time. She lost the child. Grief they said. The hood seems to seem more and more like a movie. You listen to Brenda’s Got a Baby. You scheme. You write more. You and Lily get more serious but you decided to wait.


Take no chances in this valley of death

Pain and destruction rain like lead

Lost lottery tickets tumble along the sweaty blocks

Lost dreams, fast ticking clocks

Seems like yesterday we were throwin rocks

Now in my hand I firmly grasp this Glock


Lily loves your rhymes; she listens to you spit slowly in your bedroom as you trace your bars along her smooth skin. It’s really summer now. Do The Right Thing hot. You two take these long peaceful fucking walks all the way up town and it feels so good to leave the block, like breaking the top of the water after a deep dive and feeling all the oxygen sprint back into your lungs all at once. But at night you still hear Mummy crying in the next room, her soft sobs remind you how hard things are. They’re behind in rent this month and the every time she goes to the bank to ask for a loan she is forced to defer to you because they always say her accent is too thick. But they don’t “talk finances with kids.” Pops is losing his leg; it got caught in a grinder at work when one of his workers got angry and pressed him up against the wrong piece of machinery. He’s in a wheelchair until the procedure. At least he’s getting a raise, you don’t want to have to go looking for another job. You go to parties. You don’t cheat though, Lily deserves a lot more than that. She’s more beautiful every day. On particular hard days for us I remind her that “Love conquers everything.” Jaquel from upstairs finds out he got into Duke, full ride. You and Pops host the celebration, his last family member is his aunt, she comes all the way up from NYC. He bursts into tears when we cut the cake. His father’s candles are still outside your building just to the left of the doorway. “RIP Don’tay, you will always be loved.” It’s the last week of summer. Lily’s Dad wants to meet you, he seems like a really cool dude, you talk to him briefly on the phone, he seems cooler than cool, he’s dope. She’s dope. Life isn’t too bad, you’re mad in love. You get a call at the end of August; it’s a dude named Branson. He introduces himself as a music agent, and he tells you that you’ve been noticed. All the SoundCloud shit paid off foreal. You tell Mummy and Pops, Mummy smiles wanly and stirs the curry, Pops tells you to get a job. His procedure is in a week, he’s in a lot of pain, but he’s optimistic, he tells you the doctors think they can save his leg.

Then one day a little kid gets shot on the block. The police say on the news that it was a drive-by gone wrong. You call Lily bawling your fucking eyes out. “I fucking hate all this shit.” She says she knows, she understands. You know she understands, her skin is two shades darker than yours; she’s lost a family member to violence. You scheme more, you’re gonna make it out, you promise her. She says she loves you, she says she believes you, but you don’t believe her. The last song you listen to is Sing About Me I’m Dying of Thirst before you go out Sunday morning. Mummy kisses you on the cheek, she reminds you to bike to the hospital, not home on your way back. You tell pops good luck and give him that handshake you been practicing because he’s “gotta learn how to be down.” They smile as you walk out the door. You talk to Lily on the phone as you walk to the court. You guys are gonna go on a date to see the new Star Wars joint. “The trailer looks good, me and Pops always watched those when I was younger.” Lily isn’t impressed, “As long as we can go shopping after.” Of course baby. You meet Tray and a few others at the court. You’ve never been great but you got a 3-point shot so you fill the Indian boy baller role pretty well, it always satisfied you. You emerge sweaty and breathing heavy from a best of 3. As you sit on the bench everyone starts asking you to rap. You’ve been waiting for this. But just before you begin to spit, some recent shit you wrote the week before someone from across the street yells, “Yo bitch!” Everyone pops up to pop out. Tray looks heated, “Those bums were over here last week.” Once the first one of you went for blood, it’s a free for all. You got in on that shit because that’s what you do, not cause you liked it, just because you’re brothers. Then the sirens blare, normal shit, you scatter. Shit happens too fast though – way too fast. As you make your way raggedly up the hill back to the project, your phone begins to buzz, it’s Lily, you remember you were supposed to go meet her pops that afternoon.

“Stop running!”

That wasn’t for you. You didn’t do anyth-




Every rhyme gets ripped out of your chest by the force of four small thimbles of metal. Your lungs no longer force clever conjecture out of your thin lips, instead they begin to focus entirely on controlling the weak pounding of your heart. In those moments of pain you think back, all the way back to the plane Pops and Mummy board all those years ago, 6 months pregnant, heading to a place they wouldn’t reach. You think about Lily, you think about how her Dad will never hear any of your poetry. You think about Prophet, you think about how his lungs must have collapsed like yours, giving up on each other and falling in a pile of utter surrender. You think about Lil J and his girl. You think about Jaquel and his Dad. You think about your block. You think about your future. As your visions darkens and the end of the tunnel rushes ever closer you can’t help but wonder how things would be if you were lighter, if Pops had finished that degree. If Mummy ever got approved for those loans. Kendrick lyrics swirl in your head like a poorly mixed drink. You’re passing. One last prayer.

When the lights shut off
And it’s my turn to settle down
My main concern
Promise that you will sing about me
Promise that you will sing about me

I could have been Taylor, I could have had his darker skin, and my parents could have had his parent’s perilous story. Taylor and I have the same genetic makeup essentially; the only thing that separates us is two blocks and two skin tones. Taylor is me and I am him. His only sin was the color of his skin and the reputation of his kin. Taylor was hope and surrender, love and hate. Taylor was more than the sum of his multi-colored parts. Remember Taylor, remember this story.

About the Author

Aden Suchak is a filmmaker and visual artist based in Albany, NY. Aden has been acting, writing and directed short films since he was 12. His short documentary “Make it Float” was one of 5 finalists selected to Tribeca Film Festival’s America I Am program in 2016. Aden is currently studying Documentary Studies at The University at Albany.