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

love.

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.


THE STORY OF TAYLOR

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-

BANG

BANG

BANG

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.

The Past

My History is alive in my skin,

Dancing across my pores like sweat, oil, melanin.

 

My History is in my hair,

In my eyes,

Sparkling as I absorb the new world around me.

 

The life of my History may die.

It’s in the hands of a man who doesn’t even know

The history of himself.


About the Author

Myah Overstreet was born and raised in Oakland, California, and studies Journalism and English Literature at  San Francisco State University. She has always had a passion for creative arts and the written word. Overstreet worked on school productions at Berkeley High School’s Drama Department, produced short films, and wrote articles published in The Jacket, an independent publication of Berkeley High School students. Her love for working with nonprofit media arts organizations began during her time as Production Assistant intern at TILT, a project of Ninth Street Independent Film Center in San Francisco, with Jason Wyman. Wyman later introduced Overstreet to The Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, where she accepted the position as Producer of Youth Engagement and Blog Editor for The Alliance’s Youth Media program.

Mock Identity

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?

 

Megan Aubry’s 2016 Reel Stories piece, Mock Identity, follows drag queen Mona Diet through her physical and emotional transformation from one self into another. Mona’s work mocks ideas of woman and manhood, in a time where issues of gender equity and traditional social norms around female representation are at the forefront of progressive conversations.

https://youtu.be/rpND8FOAxxc


About the Author

Megan Aubry is a seventeen year old high school junior who is starting her filmmaking career with Mock Identity. She hopes to continue along this path and attend film school and/or major in English to write screenplays.

Lesson Plan: Are Teens Age 16 and Older Ready to Vote?

Author’s Note:

As a teenager, I was one of those political junkies who read the newspaper daily in my high school library, surrounded by a small knot of likeminded peers. So yeah, not the coolest, but definitely the most informed. I would have given anything to be able to vote at 16, especially since I’d been paying taxes since age 12 (through a job delivering newspapers, then working in a local restaurant). Unfortunately for my teenage self, passionate, action-oriented organizations like Vote16USA didn’t exist in the 1990s. No one in my small California town would have given more than an eye roll to the idea of 16 year olds casting a ballot. Fortunately for youth today, the issue of lowering the voting age in local elections is gaining the attention it deserves. As an educator, I was thrilled to write this lesson plan on an issue so close to my heart (going on decades now…). The plan is meant to give an overview of the issue and spur debate. Some young people are eager to vote; others may not feel ready. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, it’s important to talk about what it means to participate in a democracy—and what it means to be a taxpayer and rely on public services without having a voice in helping shape policy, especially at the local level.


Featured resources

Lesson Objectives

  • Students will evaluate the arguments for and against teenagers ages 16 and 17 being allowed to vote in local elections and reflect on their own views of the issue.
  • Students will respond both in writing and orally to argue their own position and counter opposing arguments.

Lesson Rationale

Youth civic action and participation has arguably never been more relevant. Recent environmental and civil rights protests have put the voices of young people front and center. Yet while these youth activists can post on social media, join protest marches, and even sue the federal government, they cannot cast a ballot until they turn 18. Efforts to lower the voting age to 16 are gaining traction, but are still largely unknown. The purpose of this lesson plan is to get students thinking and talking about whether or not they and their peers are ready to vote and what it could mean if they do, both now and in the future.  

Common Core Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.R.7: Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W1: Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence

Key Vocabulary

Word Simple definition
To canvass (v.) To speak or interact directly with people regarding their vote on a specific issue or for a political candidate
Disenfranchised (adj.) Not able to vote
Inclusive (adj.) Including all services, participants or items that are required
Municipality (n.) A city or town that has a local government
Ordinance (n.) A law or piece of legislation

Essential Questions and Lesson Context

What are the best strategies for getting teens under 18 involved in political issues that affect their lives? What are the reasons for and against lowering the voting age?

Several countries, including Brazil and Great Britain, and two towns in Maryland have lowered the voting age to 16 or 15 for local elections. Arguments in favor of lowering the voting age point out that teens deserve a voice since they often work, pay taxes and rely heavily on local services, like public transportation and education. Research also shows that when teens vote earlier they are more likely to vote as adults, thus boosting voter turnout nationally. Counter arguments claim that 16 and 17 year olds are not mature enough to vote, as demonstrated by other laws that view those under 18 as minors. San Francisco voters didn’t pass Proposition F in November 2016, which would have made San Francisco the first major city to lower the voting age. However, efforts to lower the voting age continue throughout California and the nation.

Lesson Opening: Quick Write   

Do you think 16 year olds should be allowed to vote in local elections? Why or why not? If it were legal, would you choose to vote at age 16? Explain your answer.

A quick write allows students to write down their thoughts before discussing the opening question in order to increase participation and make the discussion more accessible to English Language Learners.

Guided and Independent Practice

  1. Discuss the quick-write prompt. Do students think 16 year olds should be allowed to vote?
  2. As a class, watch the video featured in The Lowdown post, “Should San Francisco Lower Its Voting Age.” After the video, let students know that Proposition F didn’t pass, but several cities around the world have lowered the voting age to 16. The issue isn’t dead, as the following readings will show.
  3. In small groups or individually, students read the text of The Lowdown post and the Forbes article, then make a list of the arguments in favor and against the issue.

    Model making the pro/con list if needed by starting the list after watching the video. Then have students break into small groups to read the suggested articles, which offer further arguments.
  4. After students have made the pro/con list, ask them to choose any argument they personally disagree with and make a case for their own viewpoint in writing. They should prepare their argument in a way that can be shared with the class, either orally, on paper, or in an online document.

    Model the written response, if needed. A response could look like: I disagree with ____________(name of person or writer who made the argument) when s/he said, “___________” (direct quote from article). Instead, I believe ___________(what the student believes) because _____________ (student supports argument with evidence.)
  5. Have students share their responses with the class or in their small groups.

Discuss the following questions or ask students to complete them in writing as part of a lesson reflection or exit ticket.

  • One of the arguments against lowering the voting age is that 16 year olds aren’t mature enough to vote. If you disagree, what could teens do to prove to their local election commission that they are responsible enough to vote?
  • One of the reasons in favor of lowering the voting age is that it may encourage people to continue to vote as adults. Do you think this would be true for you if you could vote at 16?
  • Do you think lowering the voting age is the best way to get teens more involved in civic issues? If so, why? If not, what might be a better way to get teens involved?

Extension/Homework Options

  • Don’t hate, annotate: Students comment on each other’s written arguments on lowering the voting age and can respond directly to the featured articles online using an annotation platform like Hypothes.is. Visit these sites for a quick teacher tutorial and further resources.
  • Write/speak locally: Students turn their pro or con arguments into a letter, short speech or presentation, then research ways to make their voices heard in their community. (Example: Speaking during the public comment section of a city council meeting, posting on an online forum, etc.).  

Author’s Concluding Note

Regardless of their stance on lowering the youth voting age, young people can make their voices heard in many ways beyond the ballot box. Encouraging active civic participation is not a partisan issue. It is necessary for a democracy to flourish. All of our voices matter—and the earlier young people come to see themselves as active and engaged, the healthier our democracy will be. The debate surrounding the youth voting age reminds us of this. Whether your students are reading the newspaper every day as I did, protesting policies they disagree with, writing letters, speaking to elected officials or simply trying to figure things out, helping them make their voices heard will always make a difference.  


About the Author

Rachel Roberson is KQED’s news education manager. Previously, she was a writing and humanities teacher leader on three continents, having served on the founding staff of KIPP Bayview Academy in San Francisco before moving to schools in Abu Dhabi and Austin, Texas. She started her teaching career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon. After 11 years in the classroom, Rachel worked in Oakland public schools as a senior program manager for Reading Partners and later as a trainer and staff development consultant for nonprofits, schools and women-owned businesses. A graduate of Northwestern University, Rachel was a journalist in the Bay Area before becoming an educator.  

Using Play to Envision New Narratives

Author’s Note:  

A few years ago, after reading Peter Gray’s 2013 essay, The Play Deficit (cited below), I was so reminded of my own childhood learning through play that I felt obligated to discuss the article with my closest childhood friends, with whom I’m privileged to still have as integral part of my social circle. At the time I didn’t know if I would continue working in youth development, but now, as I coordinate the Youth Media Department at a community media center, I keep coming back to this conversation; my thoughts in that conversation, updated with further research and experience, formed the foundation for this essay.


“The imagination is essential for moral action. Because unless one can imagine predicaments other than one’s own, one would never act to alleviate or to remediate those predicaments. We would all be narcissists. And the only cure for the narcissism that comes of the natural parochialism of inherited circumstances…the only thing that corrects for that is empathy, the only thing that creates empathy is imagination, and the only thing that schools and trains the imagination are the arts and the humanities. So in a sense, art is a foundation of empathetic, ethical action—the very foundation for it…. It is that fundamental.”

-Drew Gilpin Faust 1

 

Where I live, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul, we have one of the largest achievement gaps in the country—a divide between those students who are afforded the conditions to succeed, and those who are not. And although our conventional definitions of and requirements for “success” are certainly part of the problem, it’s no doubt that there’s a lot of work cut out for those of us involved in the education and support of Minnesota youth.2  Resonant, engaging storytelling will be an understated but vital part of our local and national healing, more important now than ever before. In an era of media quickly becoming defined by fake news, a denial of bias3 and the miscalculation of media literacy training4, how do we identify and relate stories that can bridge the gap of understanding, let alone of academic and professional achievement? When the stories of our collective futures are still so hard to see, we need to invest in play to help us imagine them. Because play is necessary to investigate the imagination, and imagination is necessary to envision new ways to understand our past, our current standing in the world, and our potential futures. And we can go even further with play that is collaborative, to network our imaginations into wholly new visions altogether.

As media makers and educators, there should be play in everything we do. Without it we lose our ability to create new ideas, to inspire ourselves and others, and to rejuvenate our minds. That may sound bold, depending on your definition of “play”; it is a word that means a great many things, depending on who you’re talking to. For us, let’s define “play” as the practice of taking risks on matters of the imagination. When we play, broadly speaking, we engage in imagining a potential (even if only a fantastically potential) event or sequence of events. And within that realm of the imagination, we make educated presumptions and actions based on these presumptions. This doesn’t just apply to well-defined games and young children playing pretend. Play is trial and error, helping us find what works and what doesn’t. Play is internal, private, and play is social and collaborative. Play is the basis for all creative experimentation.5 And this of course is a necessary aspect of creative problem solving and overall youth (human) development. People who frequently engage in play can learn more from their mistakes because they’re doing it all the time. And it’s only through taking risks, often failing more than not, that we can learn new ways to succeed.

There’s much more to play than having fun. It helps us develop strategies and understand experiences that occur in the rest of our lives. It’s an integral part of our lives, and we’ve been doing it for as long as we’ve been a species. As play-theorist Bernard de Koven recollected last year:

“The excitement that kept me writing came from the discovery that I wasn’t really writing just about games and play. Every time I put the practices of play into words I experienced a kind of resonance with something that penetrated much deeper: into society and morality, community and culture, art and religion, politics and human nature. I’d write about strategies for a game kids play in kindergarten and learn, some thirty years later that I was also revealing strategies for surviving in the Death Camps. I’d describe an experience I had playing ping pong with a friend and find that I was writing about an experience of communion with the divine.”6

But keeping play at the heart of our work can be difficult in the context of curricula standards, grant reporting requirements, and the ever-growing need to find measurable data to keep the lights on and the cameras running. Play, and its role in imagination and creativity is not always able to provide us with the tangible data funders of youth development or the arts like to see. Likewise, media literacy is inherently harder to measure than, say, English literacy, and one student’s new ability to share her truth is harder to prove than how many students passed a test on using this or that kind of software. Both are important, sure, but our priorities often slide into numbers and graphs—things that can be represented in a PDF for easily consumable grant reporting. As much as out-of-school-time youth workers may try, we end up falling into traps of borrowing from rigid standards, to fit into often too-narrow funding restrictions.

I would never claim that English literacy isn’t an important skill in the 21st century United States. But when you think back to the learning that defined your childhood—the things that really made you “grow up”—were they reading tests? I doubt it. Standardized tests, as are so often derided by us education professionals, are anathema to learning. Instead of diagnostic, they have become prescriptive. Teachers spend precious time and resources ensuring that their students will be able to pass tests, and are left without enough time to invest in the kind of learning our students will really need for a rapidly changing future. The kind of learning that expands divergent thinking. We all have the capacity for divergent thinking as children—the ability to see many possible ways to interpret a question, and many answers—but it generally deteriorates as we go through the education system, rather than develops; as a society, we’re having our creativity educated out of us.7 And as educationalist Ken Robinson has said, “in place of curiosity, what we have is a culture of compliance. Our children and teachers are encouraged to follow routine algorithms rather than to excite that power of imagination and curiosity…. We all create our own lives through [the] process of imagining alternatives and possibilities, and one of the roles of education is to awaken and develop these powers of creativity. Instead, what we have is a culture of standardization.”8

That leaves a lot of this work to out-of-school-time learning. As a child, I was always encouraged to join more extracurriculars. “Colleges like to see that,” I was told. This may be true, and I did join a few structured activities, between Cub Scouts, summer camps and organized sports. But looking back, what had the greatest effects on me—the activities that taught me how to think about things differently and adapt to new problems— weren’t these structured, organized activities where I was told what to do and how to do it. What outlined the greatest learning in my childhood were the moments of unstructured, creative play—independent and collaborative—that I engaged in.

The play I engaged in as a kid revolved around media—writing stories about my favorite cartoon characters, making stop motion Lego animations, recording angsty songs. Looking back, I can’t help but cringe. But I also can’t deny what that play has done for me. Writing stories about fictional characters helped me see my own actions and the actions of my friends from an outsider’s perspective. Using Legos to create science-fiction animation made me think about the technical process of animation, but more importantly, made me consider what a future world might look like, visually, culturally and ethically; it made me consider why the “bad guys” did what they did, and wonder if the “good guys” could ever be misguided. Role playing on the playground during recess helped me define my values; who I wanted to be and who I didn’t want to be. And more than anything else, these things helped me find voice. My friends and I learned systems of play together—N64 and Xbox, the board games we made, the music we produced together—and once we taught each other how to be proficient in those systems, we continued to negotiate, react to and create narratives around them. We used them to analyze our own lives and desires for our futures, and we learned to point to and create analogies between fictions and realities.

Between pulling each other on skateboards with bungie cords connected to the backs of our bikes, or putting our most vulnerable selves on stage for all our friends to judge, we learned through these risks—playful experiments—with stakes that we set for ourselves. This sort of unstructured play, and the community we built together, was so vital to our development as people—but what if we’d had access to greater resources and mentorship? My grandfather, for example, instilled in me a love for craft, by teaching me how to make model cars and airplanes. This fueled my imagination for career, for working with my hands, and for an eye for detail. Now imagine if the games that my friends and I had created had been backed by mentoring relationships with older peers who could’ve helped us learn and inspired us to continue learning? Or the music, or the animations? What could we have done under conditions where we had better mentorship, resources, and community? Where those mentoring relationships would have been able to teach us not just the skills of our interests, but been a one-stop resource for all our questions, be them social, professional, or whatever.

Hopefully many reading this have experienced those conditions for themselves. As an educator in the media arts, I see my students and teen interns engaging in the same kind of play. And I am privileged to serve as that mentor. Working with youth to guide their passions (or sometimes just their curiosity) for media production through an in-depth process of creation proved to me that when teens craft media that speaks to their lives and concerns, they develop new ways of seeing the issues they’re approaching. It’s often the kind of collaborative play that Henry Jenkins talks about in regards to participatory culture—online and other communities that embrace multi-level learning to teach and produce social narrative-creation, and then using the skills they develop to, in his words, “find a vehicle to think politically through these kinds of interest-driven networks,” whether that be through political advocacy for domestic labor rights, or fighting human rights abuses abroad.9 The ability to define and craft narratives about our lives and socio-political contexts takes us to the next step of redefining how we understand our lives and contexts—in past and present—and of devising steps to understand and make happen our desired futures.10

By providing teens with a place and space to engage with narrative creation, to dissect the stories they watch and to gradually—and often chaotically—piece together new stories through negotiating with each other, we’ve formed a community that continues to grow and develop, based around our mentorship. We empower them to investigate their passions and create the narratives they want to tell. And on top of that, they learn technical skills, job preparation, and are guided in social-emotional development like collaboration and self-reflection. After all, we’re not just preparing them as media-creators and fellow people; we have a duty to help prepare them for a future that we can’t yet imagine, where work may appear wholly different than it does today.11 12

Lately I’ve noticed some of our students are moving away from interests in documentary media. They say “I just want to help people laugh. To help people de-stress.” There’s a need for escapism there, but there’s also a vision for a reality that’s more lighthearted than our everyday experiences. A vision of optimism.  For a couple years now, I’ve assigned a day for students to compete in our own Worst Short Film Ever competition. This is one of the most playful days of the year, and helps teach our teens what not to do the rest of the time we meet. Students have an hour to write, film and edit the “worst short film ever”; the results can be hilarious or excruciating—and sometimes both—but they are always great stretches for teens to think about what they could possibly do to produce something worse than their peers. And in being asked to imagine a pinnacle, they take step one to make it happen.

For me, that’s the true power of youth media programming. Some of our teens are already making innovative, creative, sometimes weird and sometimes civically-engaged work before they walk in our doors. Some of them don’t have the resources until they get here. But our programs and mentorship serve as a one-stop resource for their systems of play; play that results in professional development, new visions for their futures, new skills and new friendships. As psychologist Peter Gray wrote, “children are biologically designed to educate themselves, through play and exploration; we don’t need to educate them, we need to provide the conditions to allow them to educate themselves.” 13 What are these conditions? In our field, they include access to equipment and a safe space—a place and space to hang out, mess around, geek out. As media makers, both youth media educators and learners, we have many unique responsibilities. The most important of those might be to be able to create new narratives with which we can understand our lives and our possible futures. Without being able to speculate our future narratives, we have no way to imagine new ways to guide our futures for the better.

This isn’t the final solution to closing the achievement gap of course, locally or nationally. This isn’t going to make our students’ or our own hardships go away, or change every policy creator’s mind about serving the needs of those students who continue to be disserved. But it can be a beginning. And it can provide hope where seemingly none may have existed before. Play is, above all, about taking risks, failing, and learning. There’s a lot of talk about taking risks, but it’s about time we normalize the latter two as well. Because the most impactful lessons start with making mistakes together, and end with making change together.


About the Author

Jordan Lee Thompson is an art worker and educator who has been working with digital media production since he was 12 years old—starting with stop-motion Lego animations, through a period of recording angsty folk-rock in high school, to creating obscure projection-performance art in college. Jordan now works in a variety of mediums including performance, installation, video production, projection, drawing, animation and other new media to combine his passions of participatory art, critical theory, sociology and storytelling. Jordan spends his days at CTV North Suburbs where he directs the Youth Media Department, helping teens write, produce and distribute their own short films, and serves as the Film Festival Coordinator for Mizna’s Twin Cities Arab Film Festival. Most recently, Jordan co-produced The Beginning of Things + Fictions in a guest residency at the Southern Theater’s ARTshare program as Creative Director of Dance & Other Behaviors. Jordan has also worked with organizations including James Sewell Ballet, the Minneapolis Television Network, and the Twin Cities Media Alliance. Jordan holds a BFA in Painting, a BA in Art History and Arts Management, and a certificate in Museum Studies from the University of Iowa.

  1.  The Aspen Institute, “Do We Need to Rescue the Humanities?,” July 1, 2016, youtu.be/OQy5Y4FxYEo&feature=youtu.be&t=20m18s.
  2.  Laura Yuen and Brandt Williams, “Without support, Minnesota students left behind at graduation,” MPR News, March 7, 2016, mprnews.org/story/2016/03/07/graduation-gap-minnesota.
  3.  Maha Bali, “Fake News: Not Your Main Problem,” dmlcentral, January 2, 2017, dmlcentral.net/fake-news-not-main-problem.
  4. danah boyd, “Did Media Literacy Backfire,” dmlcentral, January 12, 2017,  http://dmlcentral.net/media-literacy-backfire.
  5.  Bernard De Koven, “The Infinite Playground,” Deep Fun, April 30, 2016, deepfun.com/the-infinite-playground.
  6.  De Koven, “The Infinite Playground.”
  7.   Ken Robinson, “Changing Education Paradigms,” October 2010, ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_changing_education_paradigms.
  8.  Ken Robinson, “How To Escape Education’s Death Valley,” April 2013,  ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley.
  9.  Edutopia “Henry Jenkins on Participatory Culture (Big Thinkers Series),”  May 7, 2013, youtu.be/1gPm-c1wRsQ.
  10.  Mia C. Zamora, “The Importance of Imagination, Part 1,” dmlcentral, November 17, 2016, dmlcentral.net/importance-imagination-part-1.
  11. Doug Belshaw, “How Well Are We Preparing Students for the Future of Work?,” dmlcentral, December 19, 2016, dmlcentral.net/well-preparing-students-future-work.
  12. Frithjof Bergmann, New Work New Culture, newworknewculture.org.
  13. Peter Gray, “The Play Deficit,” Aeon, September 18, 2013, aeon.co/essays/children-today-are-suffering-a-severe-deficit-of-play.

Mapping Our Desired Futures

Author’s Note:

In this article, I explore how I used the key inquiry of “What is our Desired Future” to inform program design, evaluation, and personal and professional development of the young emerging filmmakers in Free Spirit Media’s Industry Pathways program. Using the Mapping Our Desired Futures Lesson Plan, we explore how these participants define and plan for success in their creative journeys, while envisioning a desirable future for themselves and the film and media industry. The embedded quotes are the aspirational visions of the program participants.

Background of Free Spirit Media Pathways & The Chicago Track

In 2014, The City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events partnered with Free Spirit Media and Young Chicago Authors to launch “The Chicago Track”, a creative workforce development program for diverse 18 – 25 year old young creatives from across the city of Chicago interested in pursuing careers in the film and music industries. Through panels, workshops, and networking events with industry leaders, The Chicago Track was formed to create pathways for young people to develop the knowledge and skills needed to advance their careers in film and music, while building relationships with professional industry mentors who can link them to their next opportunity. At Free Spirit Media, the Chicago Track aligned perfectly within the vision of our Pathways initiative—-to equip the next generation of creators, producers and crew, contributing to a diversified media industry that values & amplifies stories & voices of marginalized peoples.

In the first year of the program, Free Spirit Media led the film track, serving ninety six students in seven workshops with a total attendance of two hundred and forty. Workshops featured over twenty industry professionals as mentors and instructors in camera, post, documentary, producing, and more. Curricular content was focused on career exploration, developing professional and technical skills, and networking with peers and industry mentors. The primary outcome of the program was defined as, “ Participating aspiring/emerging creative professionals gain awareness of the breadth of jobs and career paths in the creative industries, and are linked to professional resources and job opportunities that can advance their careers in the regional creative sector.” Survey feedback demonstrated that we were successful in engaging participants in connecting with peers and mentors, and building skills and knowledge:  85% of participants surveyed developed skills needed in order to compete for jobs/ opportunities in the industry;  89% connected with professional mentors, and 89% connected with other aspiring / emerging mentors.

Free Spirit Pathways Program Model and Participant Progression

Drawing on the first year’s success, the program expanded in 2015 to serve one hundred and thirty one students in sixteen workshops with a total attendance of two hundred and eighty six. We deepened our engagement with our most passionate and dedicated students, recruiting a cohort of twelve students who received over ten additional intensive skill and technical based opportunities. These students were then connected to paid summer apprenticeship opportunities through an expansion of our high school summer internship program, as well as other next level paid production on set gigs and opportunities. With our 2015 expansion, we realized that we could have greater impact not by increasing the reach of the program with more participants, but by deepening our investment in a cohort of students who would receive consistent, comprehensive and ongoing technical and professional training and career placement and support services.

Learning from the pilot cohort, we developed a new comprehensive curriculum in 2016,  launching an Industry Pathways Certification Program for ten students in the Spring of 2017. The program will encompass over hundred hours of training in career exploration, professional development, production bootcamp, on set project based experience, portfolio development and a culminating apprenticeship and mentor matching fair. By building a clear, scaffolded career pathway from the cohort program to the apprenticeship program, we ensure that students are equipped with the knowledge, skills and mindsets they need to be successful in the fast paced, competitive environments the film and media industry is known for.

When apprentices graduate from the program, they become fellows, receiving continued support from the Free Spirit Media team in the form of career counseling and referral to paid production work and other opportunities. Our vision for the fellows as they level up to become trailblazer in the industry is that they have creative, fulfilling, financially stable independent lives of their own choosing, built by leveraging their strong social network of professionals that open doors for the next generation and peers that lift each other up by holding each other accountable to their goals, vouching for each other and collaborating on creative projects.

As we expanded the logic model of our Pathways program to chart the progression from Participant/ Member to Trailblazer, we turned to our first cohort and current fellows to learn what success looks like from their perspective, and what long term outcomes they have for their careers, and by extension, our program.

While we knew that the the fellows were setting and reaching milestones in their career, we had no standard benchmarks to chart their progress. In an industry full of freelancers, short term gigs, and fluctuating economies, there is no straightforward precedent for long term outcomes in creative workforce programs. Inspired by The Alliance’s 50 States Dinner Party Project central question of “What are our desired futures?” and a need to understand the existing and potential impact of our program, we gathered the fellows together for a night of reflection and prophesying.

While sharing a meal of tacos on a full moon, we pondered the question of success and of our desired futures—for the program, the industry, and ourselves. We used the Mapping Our Desired Futures lesson plan format to reflect on what fellows had accomplished in the past year, and their dreams for this year and beyond. By combining collaborative inquiry as a tool for personal and professional development,  focus group evaluation methods, and the fundamental components of the 50 States Dinner Party Project, we learned from the fellows what success looked like and could look like in their future.

When charting and defining success, three themes emerged as critical:

  • Creating and chasing opportunity
  • Activating network of peers and mentors
  • Creating Content

When reflecting on their aspirations for themselves and the industry, consistent themes were:

  • Equity of representation on and off screen
  • Intentional Inclusion
  • Original Content by Creators of Color

The thread from defining success to aspirational achievement is apparent. Students must both create and be connected to opportunities to grant equity of representation on and off screen. Both peers and mentors are key drivers of intentional inclusion, opening doors and supporting the next generation in creating a more open and diverse industry. Finally, content is the driving force of all mediamakers, and representation as both creators and crew is necessary to change the narrative landscape of the media we create and consume.

The following graphics summarize the fellows vision and journey as they become the next generation of trailblazers.

 

About the Author:

Lucia Palmarini is an educator, program manager, and mobilizer 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.

Lesson Plan: Creative Lens Autoethnography Sessions (CLAS) Part I

Goals

The goals of CLAS are twofold: 1. To provide educators and youth workers with a lesson plan to use with teens and transitional-aged youth from marginalized communities to explore identity and personal narratives through autoethnographic research. 2. To provide youth from marginalized communities an opportunity to explore the topic of identity through the lenses of research, art, and personal narratives.

Intended Audience

Transitional-aged youth (16-24) part of marginalized communities and identities.

Size 

7-12 people

Learning Objectives

  • Youth will be introduced to and learn the basic concept of autoethnography
  • Youth will be introduced to the practice of grounding meditation and self-reflection as foundational elements of personal narrative development
  • Youth will be introduced to creative research methods in PhotoVoice and Digital Ethnography

Materials

  • Paper in various colors
  • Markers
  • Pens and pencils
  • Music for meditation if desired
  • Poster paper
  • Auto-Ethnography Templates

Time: 2 Hours (Session 1)

Overview & Context

Transitional-aged youth from marginalized communities and identities experience political, social, and cultural exclusion during one of the most critical developmental periods of their lives. Identity formation is the defining developmental characteristic of the teen and emerging adulthood years. For marginalized youth, identity is an especially complicated issue because identities have been imposed on them through media, culture, and socialization through a negative and incomplete lens, leaving youth with a fractured sense of self and loss of autonomy. It is important for those who work directly with youth during this developmental period to acknowledge the importance of identity formation within the context of marginalization and to develop strategies that empower youth to control identity formation.

Through the Creative Lens Autoethnography Sessions (CLAS), young people can explore their past, present, and future through their own lenses, providing space for positive and whole identity formation. Proposed below is the first session of the series, culminating in a final online autoethnography gallery.

The Creative Lens Autoethnography Sessions draw on the theoretical frames of critical race theory in education, mindfulness, growth-mindset, participatory research, autoethnographic research approaches. We believe that when youth are provided with safe, inclusive spaces that offer opportunities for reflection, introspection, and personal narrative, issues of identity surface, as this is the main developmental task of adolescence. When this occurs in groups of marginalized youth, it is important to frame discussion through critical race theory in education.

Procedure

  1. Introduction (5 min): Ensure there are community agreements on the wall for all to see, and that the day’s agenda is visible to everyone. Greet participants with snacks if possible. Explain what community agreements are for, how they can help groups work safely together, and how we intend to use them to create a safe emotional space for our group. Talk the group through the agreements and the agenda. Provide opportunity for people to make suggestions or ask questions.
  2. Opening the Circle (15 Min) – Learning Objective: 2
    1. Prepare the room so that chairs or cushions form a circle with space to enter.
    2. Ask the attendants to enter the circle and take a seat or lay down, and get comfortable.
    3. Begin by setting the intention to “open the circle” and ask the youth to consider what circles or cycles represent in their lives, and why they are important. Have youth close their eyes and take five minutes to talk them through a guided meditation (perhaps imagining circles of all types, walking in mazes, or envisioning mandalas). Then ask them to visualize a circle within themselves, creating an opening and allowing the circle to form a spiral that goes on and on.
    4. After five minutes, give youth space to wake up and ask them to share their thoughts on cycles, circles, and spirals.
    5. The intent of this is to set the stage for CLAS’s approach to learning, growth, and development: it is often cyclical rather than linear, and most importantly, it is personal and interconnected. When we allow the circle to become a spiral, we add dimension and understanding to our lives. We are open to our own potential and we can grow.  
  3. Activity 1: Circles of Time 40 Min – Learning Objective 2
    1. This is a reflection activity. Youth create three circles on large pieces of paper with the themes “past,” “present,” and “future” using pictures, words or phrases that represent those themes to them. From these themes youth then reflect on their personal experiences and choose a word, phrase, or picture to represent their own “past,” “present,” and “future.” These personal circles are the foundation of their creative autoethnography projects.
  4. Break 10 Min.
  5. Activity 2: Choosing a Course 40 Min – Learning Objectives: 1&3
    1. This is a brief introduction into autoethnography, its purpose, and creative research methods (photovoice, digital ethnography, etc).
    2. Youth choose a preferred method to develop into their autoethnography project for a gallery at the end of the sessions.
    3. Youth create an autoethnographic proposal that outlines their chosen method, why they chose it, what their themes for past present and future are, and what they hope to learn in the process.
    4. Proposals will be displayed as posters that they will present to the rest of the group.
    5. Allow the group to ask questions and offer “props” or encouragement.
  6. “Hopes and Fears” 10 Min – Learning Objectives – 1 & 3
    1. Youth will sit in a circle again with an opening to symbolize the opportunity for growth.
    2. Ask each person to share one hope or fear they have about the journey in autoethnography that they are about to take. Provide space for people to ask questions or give encouragement.
    3. Ask youth to close their eyes again for a guided meditation. Guide them through a similar meditation as noted in Activity #1, but this time ask them to meditate on a spiral that represents their lives (past, present, and future). Ask them to visualize walking the spiral path and reflect on the people that show up in their meditation. Ask them to remember those people. Once they wake up from the meditation, ask them to write the names of the people they saw and to assign them to the past, present, or future as they showed up in the meditation.
    4. Collect their slips of paper for an activity for the next session and place them in individual folders to be placed in a locked cabinet for confidentiality reasons.
    5. Close out with thanking them for their bravery and creativity.
AutoethnographyProposalWorksheet

Additional Research and Supporting Materials 

This document provides citations and links to supporting materials.

Final Thoughts

This lesson plan is part one of a series. Other sessions include inquiry into identity formation, social identity theory, critical race studies, PAR methods, creative writing and personal narratives, curating a personal art show, media, technology and art, autonomy, freedom, and the self.


About the Author

I am Andrea Juarez Mendoza, artist, philanthropist, student, and educator from San Francisco. I work with marginalized youth ages 14-24 to develop youth leadership opportunities through entrepreneurial youth-led social justice projects. I’ve worked with youth in non-profits and after school programs for nearly twenty years and have learned that the most effective ways to keep young people engaged and invested is by including them in meaningful decision-making and providing safe spaces for identity exploration. My work and studies center on the principles of participatory action research – collective inquiry, reflection and action, rooted in personal and social histories and experiences.

Connecting Moments to Movements Through a Digital Media History Timeline

Author’s Note:

History is more than the facts that you read in a book or see in a documentary. History is the YouTube video a young person creates in a media class or the Instagram photo they share with their friends. History can be a flash of fist-raised resistance during a Super Bowl halftime show or a movie that makes you see the world differently. An innovator in youth-led media for social change, Global Action Project (G.A.P.) recognizes that history is a big part of who we are, but that often we don’t see ourselves in history. In the following article, G.A.P. demonstrates how our new Media History Timeline supports young people to position our personal stories within greater movements for social justice!  


In a public computer center in New York City, media educators are walking through history. Long rolls of craft paper bursting with images of popular media hang from the walls, forming a patchwork display. The makeshift exhibition includes scenes from war, watershed moments in the advancement of LGBTQ rights, the uprising against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, the backlash against migrants and refugees of global oppression and many, many more.

Guiding educators through this media gallery are youth leaders and adult staff from Global Action Project (GAP), a youth media organization, based in New York City that works with young people most impacted by injustice and builds community power through media production, political education and leadership development. For this workshop, GAP staff and youth leaders are leading a professional development training for digital media educators working with youth in afterschool programs across NYC  who seek to bring curricula that integrates advanced digital skills, team-building and political education to their youth.

The media gallery walk is an activity from GAP’s curriculum that focuses on an online learning platform: the Media History Timeline. The Media History Timeline is a new program for the 25 year old youth media organization, with origins in the era of digital video tape. Today, GAP is moving into a storytelling space where non-linear stories move to the multi-linear rhythms of posts linked inside a dynamic and shifting Internet.  

Before moving to the online world, media educators in the workshop are asked to walk through the paper gallery version of the web-based timeline and look closely at the different media stories. Which stories stand out? Which stories do they remember? Which stories are missing?

A media educator working in Crown Heights, Brooklyn speaks up immediately about the torture photos from Abu Ghraib that she remembered seeing in 2004. She speaks of how these images shocked the consciousness of many and starkly conveyed the barbarity and dehumanization of war. The Brooklyn-based teacher also recalls how an artist took these images of torture and mixed them with contemporaneous advertisements for Apple’s new iPod. Vibrant colors of dynamic, silhouetted dancers in a frenzy of musical euphoria are replaced by hooded prisoners in postures of humiliation and suffering. As the group discusses this media moment, culture jamming comes to be seen as a mechanism to respond to a consumer media system that relegates critical and relevant stories to the margins.

A media educator based out of Harlem remarks, “how relatable things are by looking at a timeline.” He points out the interconnectedness of these stories by looking at the opening of Harvey Milk High School in NYC in 1985 and joins it to the 2008 release of the biopic, Milk, starring Sean Penn. One story is a movement story for LGBTQ rights with the founding of a high school designed for transgender, gender-nonconforming, gay, lesbian and bisexual youth. While the other is a story of mainstream Hollywood acceptance. A media educator observes how Milk, a film about the first openly gay politician elected to public office in California, is a story that needed to wait years for a popular retelling and release. GAP youth leaders encourage further conversation by asking what happened in the intervening years within our popular culture, our media policy, our movement history that prepared the way for a film like Milk? What other stories made this one possible? And whose stories still need to be told? Through processing questions, educators are invited to continue the discourse, examining how stories can affect change and how stories reflect the change or maybe do a little of both.

After the gallery walk through, GAP youth leader Giselle Bleuz, presents a story she placed on the timeline: Beyonce’s 2016 Super Bowl halftime performance of her new single, Formation. It is a video steeped in contemporary African-American history with images of oppression and resiliency: the flooded 9th ward of New Orleans, a line of militarized police, raised fists of the Black Power movement and a young boy dancing in defiance. It is a story that Giselle, a black woman of trans experience living in a city with one of the largest municipal police forces, connects with and a song that speaks to her reality. In response to the anti-Beyonce backlash by former NYC mayor Rudolph Giuliani and other “law and order” czars, Giselle counters that as a person of color she has never felt protected by the police. This song, this video, this performance by a strong and talented woman of color is one that Giselle recognizes as a media moment that has connections to the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the past and the Black Lives Matter movement of today.

At this time, Giselle models the interface of the Media History Timeline tool, showing how the Beyonce video runs along a track of media stories that show a chronology of policing alongside a track for youth organizing and another track for media policy. Weblinks expand the story and draw connections between stories to create a deeper and more comprehensive analysis. What happened in federal policy that led to high incarceration rates? And is this policy shift connected to the financing of local police? What about immigration policy reform and the simultaneous growth of private and public investment in surveillance technologies? Media educators are encouraged to look closely at the stories along the timeline as Giselle clicks through. What stories are there? What stories appear again and again? What stories aren’t there but should be?

An educator from East Harlem reflects on the entry that establishes origins of policing to the slave patrols of the 1800s, patrols that arrested freed blacks and escaped slaves and sent them to the South to be enslaved. Policing has a persistently brutal history, a history with an origin date, a starting point, a time when municipal police forces were established. Through stimulated discussion many in the room quickly draw the conclusion that this also means there was a time before the police existed. What was this time like? And how can we use this historical insight to imagine and work towards a future when there is no need for an institutional police force. A future where we have transformed our collective understanding and practices of creating safety and community well-being.

Digital tools like GAP’s Media History Timeline may one day develop and become digital catalysts that inspire the unimaginable. As online stories are connected by time and arranged across tracks that overlay, dissolve and alter elements around them, they become a new story because of their arrangement. Timeline stories have the power to take the past, identify connections to today, and with vision, build bridges to tomorrow.

To quote the writer and civil rights activist, James Baldwin, “The great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do.”

If we imagine a  history we can define and transform through the stories we share, then perhaps we can begin building a narrative for our liberation.


About the Authors

Giselle Bleuz is a youth leader working as a part of Global Action Project’s Outreach and Distribution Fellowship, SupaFriends program and Media History Timeline project. She has facilitated workshops at schools, organizations, and conferences and has produced several videos with GAP.

 

 

Carlos Pareja is Media History Timeline Coordinator with Global Action Project. He is a longtime media educator, digital storyteller, and activist who fights to change narratives, public policy and our world.

A Letter from the Special Issue Editor

It’s 3:00 am and I’m still awake with anxiety. I’ve been piecing together the remnants of a fragmented vision all day, with no will to stop until those pieces create a completed puzzle. What will this journal look like? How will it make readers feel? What will readers get from it? How is it a reflection of the world? My brain continues to churn these questions for a few hours more, until I eventually tire myself and fall asleep. Journals, for me, have always represented a collection of talented individuals that see the world differently. Individuals that want change, whose love for their communities and passions constantly overpowers their thoughts and forces them to act upon them. So it was, and still is, important to me that you take all that you can from this journal, and that this journal leaves your mind pondering and your heart hopeful.

This journal contains the desired futures, unforgettable pasts, and unavoidable realities of artists, educators, practitioners, students, and media makers across the country. It is a diary of experiences and dreams.

For this Special Issue between Youth Media Reporter and The Alliance, all media forms were accepted: audio, photography, essays, lesson plans, videos, fiction, and poetry are all present. And through these forms, a vast array of topics are covered in beautifully different ways, like how music can spark confidence, how African American women need a sanctuary of free expression, how mapping our desired futures can bring communities together. Lesson plans give educators a concrete way to teach students about issues that are never talked about, and audio is used as a gateway to another’s reality.

Through poetry, Ash Phillips builds a future created from people who make our homes, homes where love lasts on and on, quiets our minds, and secures our hearts. Jordan Lee Thompson theorizes how play time can be an educator to young kids. Thompson emphasizes how the imagination is essential to closing the achievement gap and fueling a lifelong excitement in young people to create. In Megan Aubrey’s  beautifully created Mock Identity, she sheds light on the mystical art and culture of Drag. And with photography, Ashley Rodriguez explores identity through the documentation of familial relationships.

Thinking back to when I was a young girl, dreaming up my future and my life beyond elementary school, I always envisioned my life in color. Color gives us life, it gives us joy, it opens our eyes and wakes us up. This was my reasoning for asking Jason Wyman to create pop-art portraits, my personal favorite aspect of this journal, for each of the writers and artists that contributed to this journal. Each headshot is brought to life with each color that is used to re-imagine their faces. And hopefully, they help you to look at each of the contributors as artists and humans, rather than by the title of their occupation.

My team and I put everything into making this journal. It means so much to us have created a work of art that dreams up a future for our world. To me, this journal holds the key to building a brighter future– a future of understanding, empathy, unity regardless of our difference.

This journal is meant to make you think. I urge you to do more research on the topics that capture your attention, let your mind settle on something you’ve never paid attention to. The only way this journal will change your perspective on life is if you open those eyes and let your brain visualize what is being expressed. I promise, it is worth it.

Sincerely,

Myah Overstreet


Myah Overstreet was born and raised in Oakland, California, and studies Journalism and English Literature at  San Francisco State University. She has always had a passion for creative arts and the written word. Overstreet worked on school productions at Berkeley High School’s Drama Department, produced short films, and wrote articles published in The Jacket, an independent publication of Berkeley High School students.

Her love for working with nonprofit media arts organizations began during her time as Production Assistant intern at TILT, a project of Ninth Street Independent Film Center in San Francisco, with Jason Wyman. Wyman later introduced Overstreet to The Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, where she accepted the position as Producer of Youth Engagement and Blog Editor for The Alliance’s Youth Media program.