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 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.

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


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.


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


  • 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.


  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.

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.

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.


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.

YMR Retreat Report-Out

retreat 3
Attendees at YMR 2013 Retreat at Muhlenberg College


It is a pleasure to share this report summarizing conversations that took place at a retreat in September 2013 convened by the Youth Media Reporter’s editorial team.  The retreat, gathering together fourteen stakeholders from diverse youth media organizations and regions, occurred at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  The report, issued on the eve of a youth media pre-conference at the ACM & NAMAC State and Main Conference in Philadelphia, is long overdue but provides nonetheless a record of critical conversations on issues that continue to shape the landscape of the youth media field.

The idea for a small convening of longtime advisors and critical friends of YMR first emerged in Spring 2010, when Steve Goodman, Educational Video Center director, spent three days in residence at Muhlenberg College.  Conversations during Steve’s residency shaped our belief that significant shifts in the field demanded collaborative, informed political and cultural analysis, and that Muhlenberg College would be an ideal setting for a retreat to occur.

We did not know at the time that Muhlenberg would become the future institutional home of YMR.  But over the next two years, former YMR editor Ingrid Hu Dahl and I worked through a slow transition to move the journal from FHI 360 to Muhlenberg College.  Ingrid noted at the time, “That YMR will be led by a team of students at Muhlenberg College ensures that the journal’s evolution will be in the best of hands—inquisitive minds, investigative hopes, determined best practices, and the finger on the pulse of change.”

Situating YMR at Muhlenberg leverages the talents and learning of undergraduate students.  A small but dedicated group of students connect their learning and growth to the HYPE youth media program and are transformed through their work with HYPE teens.  The journal will benefit from their interest in contributing to the field of youth media as they take up roles as article editors, researchers, book reviewers, and help increase YMR’s ability to leverage social media to broaden awareness of and connectivity throughout the field.

Early in 2013, Muhlenberg College provided a welcoming site for a youth media retreat bringing together a small group of leaders representing a diverse range of youth media and media arts organizations for two days of intensive discussions. The group was intentionally small, gathering not with the purpose of setting an agenda for the field, but to think about YMR’s role in the field.  The participants were longtime practitioners, organizers, scholars and supporters of youth media, interested in various and allied efforts to build the field and its visibility with and through YMR.   Our face-to-face gathering provided a much desired and needed opportunity for sustained conversation, collective inquiry, and planning around key issues facing youth media.  A premise of the retreat’s organization was that youth media scholarship and youth media practice will benefit from greater mutual exposure.  Some participants were returning to a conversation started in 2009, others were new to the table—and some are part of the youth media pre-conference occurring at the ACM & NAMAC National Conference in Philadelphia, August 6-8, 2014.

ymr retreat1


Mapping the Field

When we gathered together nearly a year ago, we were especially interested to map some of the major and still evolving transformations within the landscape of youth media since YMR’s previous 2009 retreat and since its last publication in 2010. The nature and scope of change has yet to be fully defined, but some broad significant shifts are notable:

  • New types of media—digital, social, networked—and new media practices are increasingly central to many youth media experiences.
  • New regional networks of youth media programs have emerged, providing new models of strategic partnership and alliance and new pathways for youth leadership in the field.
  • An emergent national youth media network gaining membership and momentum and defining its role within the field and in relation to other field building resources.
  • While many innovative new programs focused on digital technologies are multiplying, a number of flagship youth media programs have closed or are struggling to keep their doors open.
  • Key intermediary organizations—NAMAC, NAMLE, ACM—have become more central to efforts to ally with, build and sustain the youth media field, and a National Youth Media Network has emerged to help create stronger connections within the field.

Key Questions

Much of our retreat dialogue explored these critical developments, trying to understand their roots and implications, and sharing effective strategies for responding to them. The following questions framed our discussions, as part of a broad exploration of how – if at all – to define the field and how our various definitions might serve our collective progress.

  • What is the current state of the youth media field? Where do we see it going and how do we continue to evolve as a field while maintaining the principles and values in which youth media is anchored? Are there shifts in the principles and values informing youth media education and practice and what do these shifts mean?
  • How are definitions and practices of youth media changing and what economic, political and cultural forces are shaping these changes?
  • How are the changing state of the fields of education and afterschool (or out-of-school time) impacting the state of youth media, and impacting youth?
  • Where are there intersections and creative tensions between youth media and “digital media learning” and “connected learning” approaches highlighted and promoted by major current funding initiatives? Are there meaningful distinctions between these concepts and practices?
  • How can youth media leaders and allies have a stronger, more unified voice at the broad funding level? How can youth media leaders craft effective strategies to help shape alternative futures for the field?


Our goals for our short time together were ambitious and, in retrospect, beyond the scope of what was possible to address in just two short days. But these goals will continue to inform YMR in its role as a field building journal and resource:

  • To gather diverse perspectives on the state of youth media today and on its possible futures.
  • To create an agenda for YMR that identifies key questions and themes that will shape and organize upcoming issues.
  • To sketch out a concept paper for working with allies to imagine and build youth media alternatives that place the value of youth voices and civic participation at the center.
  • To map recent research in or related to the field that has inspired or helped us to think about our work in new ways.
  • To identify core competencies of the national intermediaries (NAMAC, NAMLE, ACM) and discuss how these can be called upon to support the youth media sector.
  • To explore new potential allies in intersecting fields who might help youth media leaders advance and deepen our work.
  • To consider models and strategies for organizing a larger, youth inclusive youth media conference.

Participants were asked to reflect on developments within the field that are engaging their time, capturing their focus, and currently driving their work. The responses were wide-ranging but some broad themes rose to the surface of our robust discussions and at times animated debates:

  • Connecting youth voices to community organizing issues and supporting youth as they become more actively engaged in their communities.
  • Field-building dialogues and partnerships with schools, libraries, the tech sector, community colleges, and other media arts and education institutions.
  • Shifts in landscape for funding and support.
  • New media frameworks, including video games and app development, intersecting with longstanding youth media engagement with radio, video, and print media.

 Identifying Priorities

Among the topics that retreat attendees identified as priorities for collective inquiry and attention, nothing resonated as strongly as the need and desire for strengthening the national youth media field. A strong, connected field will help youth media organizations collectively:

  • Increase the visibility of youth media expertise in broad narratives about digital media and learning currently trending and driven by MacArthur’s DML initiative.
  • Share information and innovation to promote the collective interests of youth media organizations.
  • Find allies and collaborating partners – in formal and informal education sectors — who are resisting the trends in their fields and institutions that deny youth voice and agency.
  • Navigate youth media’s identity and location in emerging new/transmedia spaces and keeping youth voice and critical social engagement at the center of what we do.

ymr retreat2


Defining Youth Media

Throughout our two days, participants frequently returned to questions about the definition of youth media. How do we define our organizations, practices, and purposes in a 21st century landscape requiring us to wear multiple hats? While our goal was not to arrive at or impose a singular definition to capture (or control) the array of innovation and activity that identifies itself with youth media, we did challenge ourselves and each other to clarify what we think we are talking about when we talk about youth media.

Youth media work is interdisciplinary and practice oriented, combining pedagogies and scholarship with efforts to improve the lives (and life chances) of youth and the communities in which they live. We might usefully think of our work as varied currents, flowing in similar directions, rather than converging together into a single stream. But it was clear from our retreat discussions that there is significant and meaningful overlap and confluence apparent in our missions, values, and practices.

The retreat emphasized that youth media’s strengths are amplified by drawing on the combined resources of multiple lenses, and its power in practice is enhanced by partnerships with diverse coalitions, goals, and visions. The retreat also highlighted that at times we bring different motivations to the work, which are no doubt shaped by the particular histories and contexts in which we work: intellectual conviction, civic responsibility, community media, youth advocacy, human rights, arts advocacy, etc. But we did come to some agreement—perhaps tentative and fragile—that our work embraces a common value orientation rooted in care for the lives, learning, expressions, voices, and opportunities of young people. Surfacing in our discussions was a collective belief in the importance of free and fair access to communicative and expressive opportunities for youth and a commitment to advancing the field. Some of our conversation intentionally pushed back against the kinds of ideological line drawing around what constitutes “real” youth media, and chose instead to keep clearly in sight some loosely agreed upon goals and principles, especially the following:

Youth media is critical to the broader media democracy movement

Youth media is youth activism

Youth media provides space for a kind of learning that typically doesn’t occur during school in an era of high stakes testing and assessment

Youth media is dynamic and differentiated in practice and form but builds on some common ground

Topics for Further Discussion

Our time was short and we were acutely aware of the need for more opportunities for sustained conversation. In particular, participants desired more time for thinking and planning collectively around the following issues and priorities:

  • Organizing a youth-inclusive retreat
  • Assessment (in particular a longitudinal study of youth media participants and educators to measure impact)
  • Professional development for the next generation of youth media educators
  • Engaging youth media alumni to help tell the story of youth media’s impact
  • Sustainable funding models in an era of grant scarcity
  • Developing a long-term vision and strategy for youth media
  • Bring the experience and voice of the field more powerfully to bear on national discussions of digital media learning and literacy
  • Strategizing youth media’s presence online—a clearinghouse or hub both for youth produced work and also ongoing dialogue among educators, leaders, practitioners, scholars

Retreat Survey

Responses to a post-retreat survey provide helpful information for thinking about and shaping future gatherings. The issues and topics participants identified as “most important” include:

  • Developing multiple models for sustainability without sacrificing mission
  • Strategizing to make youth media more visible
  • Mentoring emerging leaders in the field

Participants considered the retreat successful in providing “space for conversation and collective thinking” but missed greater opportunity for more focused “planning around key issues.” Identifying and mapping key issues in advance of the retreat using online collaboration tools would create more face to face time during the retreat to focus on planning. These responses suggest that youth media retreats that aim to engage participants in planning provide both pre-retreat resources and activities, and facilitation during the retreat that is tightly focused on planning and defining action steps. Overall, the value participants found in this retreat included:

  • Community building with limited distractions
  • Relationship building and thought sharing
  • Encounter with a diversity of voices around the table
  • Seeing youth media work (youth-produced videos) in conversation with each other

YMR and Field Building

The two-day retreat generated a range of vital suggestions and questions for rebuilding YMR. Participants shared their particular interest in seeing YMR evolve to provide the following kinds of resources and connections of value to the field:

Use YMR to establish deeper connections with education schools to help in teacher professional development.

Share best practices and experiences to learn from colleagues in diverse communities and organizations.

Retreat attendees universally conveyed their interest in supporting YMR in a variety of capacities—advisory board members, reviewers, editors, writers, and interviewers. Future issues of YMR will certainly feature programs and models innovated by the leaders around the table and their colleagues. All were interested in and dedicated to finding ways to more dynamically include youth media artifacts on the YMR website and perhaps as well a regular column produced by a young person from within a youth media program.

Concluding Observations

The YMR 2013 retreat was premised on the belief that youth media practice and scholarship benefits from greater mutual exposure. Rather than a synthesis of the youth media field, the retreat provided a panoramic view of an arena of practice drawing from different traditions: media activism, social justice, education, and arts. Our objective was modest: to provide a space, a starting-point, or a point of return if you were around the table in 2009, to long hoped for and long overdue conversations among youth media leaders.

Several developments gave impetus to our gathering, and have since then continued to animate conversations in the field: crises in education, politics, funding, and depending on your perspective, crisis in the field itself. But there are also compelling and positive forces driving the conversation: the emergence of more regional networks; a growing national network; and burgeoning dialogue about the role of key intermediaries supporting the field.

As youth media practitioners and leaders continue to build and sustain those networks and coalitions, it is vital to bear in mind that media reform coalitions—and youth media is the only space where young people contribute to wider media democracy movements—have historically been split apart by internal ideological differences and divisions. One of the many strengths of the youth media field is the multiplicity of views, practices, models, and pedagogies that give shape to the work. While retreats, conferences, face-to-face and virtual gatherings need to continue to provide space for sharing our diverse work, the difficult effort to surface and map our shared strategic goals is also critical to our ongoing field building efforts.

List of Participants

The retreat was purposefully small, bringing together a gathering of longtime supporters and advisors of YMR as well as leaders in the field who are active in national field building efforts.  We did not intend to represent the entire range of youth media, nor did we aim to set an agenda for the field.  Our hope was to hone our understanding of the efforts required to continue to build the field’s momentum, visibility, and connectivity, and to consider in particular the role of YMR in this ongoing effort.  Attendees included:

Jenna Azar
Co-Director, Healthy Youth Peer Education (HYPE) youth media and leadership program, Allentown, PA.  Manager, Senior Year Experience Manager and Learning Assistant, Muhlenberg College.  Jenna has lead HYPE since 2007 and launched several service-learning partnerships between HYPE youth and undergraduates at Muhlenberg.  She is part of the YMR leadership team.  Jenna is currently completing her Masters in Educational Leadership at Lehigh University.

Aggie Ebrahimi Bazaz
Program and Member Services Manager, National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture.  Aggie is active in several youth media field building endeavors including providing vital support for launching the National Youth Media Network and its bi-monthly Webinar Connector Sessions. Her documentary film, “Inheritance,” is the 2013 selection for the Loni Ding Award for Social Issue Documentary.

David Cooper Moore
David Cooper Moore is a filmmaker and media literacy educator based in Philadelphia, PA. Currently the Program Director of Powerful Voices for Kids, a university-school partnership model from the Media Education Lab at the University of Rhode Island, and various K-12 partnerships through the Center for Media and Information Literacy at Temple University. David is on the board of the National Association for Media Literacy Education, serving as chair of the Professional Development committee.

Laura Deutch
Coordinator of the Philly Youth Media Collaborative ( and Creative Director of Messages in Motion  Laura teaches classes at University of the Arts, and various media arts organizations throughout Philadelphia. She serves on the board of Termite TV Collective.

Steve Goodman
Founder and Executive Director of the Educational Video Center.  Steve is the author of Teaching Youth Media: A Critical Guide to Literacy, Video Production & Social Change (Teachers College Press 2003) and a longtime advisor and contributor to YMR.  Steve teaches a course in youth media at New York University.

Antoine Haywood
Director of Membership and Outreach at PhillyCAM, Philadelphia’s public access television station.  Antoine is a longtime member of the Youth Media Reporter advisory board and has served on the board of the Alliance for Community Media, Radio Free Georgia.

Ingrid Hu Dahl
Director, Next Generation (youth) programs at Bay Area Area Video Coalition. Ingrid is the past editor-in-chief of Youth Media Reporter and youth media program officer at the Academy for Educational Development.  Ingrid lead a National Youth Media Summit in 2009.  Prior to BAVC, Ingrid launched a middle grade “Youth Create Media Project” throughout the boroughs in New York City and Newark, NJ and helped found the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls (Brooklyn, NY).

Danielle Martin
Knowledge Manager, Intel Computer Clubhouse Network. Danielle is in charge of the knowledge-sharing strategy among all Computer Clubhouses, in collaboration with colleagues at the MIT Media Lab, including the content, community-building and outreach for the Clubhouse Village intranet social network.

Roberta Meek
Lecturer in History and Media and Communication at Muhlenberg College. Roberta is the founding co-director of HYPE, member of the Pennsylvania Diversity Network Board and long time activist and organizer for civil rights work, youth outreach, and peace efforts in the Lehigh Valley. She teaches courses in media and social movements, African American history, music and the civil rights, and race and representation.  Roberta will step into the role of facilitator for the YMR retreat, helping to shape a context for critical, inclusive conversation and goal-directed dialogue.

Alyce Myatt
Working at the intersection of media arts and philanthropy, Alyce served as Media Arts Director, National Endowment for the Arts from 2011-2013, managing NEA grantmaking in film, video, audio, web-based, and other electronic media.  Alyce continues to provide a leading voice for the media arts field as a consultant.

Lora Taub-Pervizpour
Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Media and Communication, Muhlenberg College.  Lora is the new managing editor of the Youth Media Reporter.  She co-directs HYPE and teaches a course in youth media with Jenna Azar.  She is the co-editor of Media and Social Justice (Palgrave, 2011).

Kathleen Tyner
Kathleen Tyner, Associate Professor in the Department of Radio-Television-Film at The University of Texas at Austin, participated via Skype to share preliminary findings from the NAMAC Youth Media Survey 2013, “Mapping the Field of Youth Media.”

Lalitha Vasudevan
Associate Professor of Technology & Education, Teachers College, Columbia University.  Lalitha is the editor of two books exploring youth media:  Arts, Media, and Justice: Multimodal Explorations with Youth (with Tiffany DeJaynes; Peter Lang, 2013) and Media, Learning, and Sites of Possibility (with Mark Lamont Hill; Peter Lang, 2007).  She helped launch the Youth, Media, and Educational Justice Project, a consortium for re-imagining justice for court-involved youth through media making, mentoring, education, and research.

Kasandra VerBrugghen
Executive Director, Spy Hop Productions, Salt Lake City.  Kasandra is deeply involved in building the field of youth media and is a leading coordinator of the burgeoning National Youth Media Network, which currently organizes online Connector Sessions on issues of importance to the field.

Media That Matters 11 | Call-for-Entries

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

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

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

Letter from the Editor

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

This is Our Generation: Sierra Leonean Youth Views through Film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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