Youth Media against Violence

Chicagoans and many people throughout the country have seen news reports that either open or close with a body count—at the time of this writing, for example, 36 Chicago Public School students have been killed since the beginning of the academic year.
But much is missing from this macabre recitation of numbers. The focus on murder blurs our perception of the range, depth, and pervasiveness of violence. Perhaps most troubling, youth voices are systemically excluded from coverage—not only in the mainstream media, but in almost all media—and young girls are increasingly perpetuating violence. One consequence is that the media misrepresent youth involvement in violence, routinely characterizing them as either victims or perpetrators.
We call on the youth media field to forge visible spaces for young people—particularly young women—to talk as authorities on the violence in their lives, and to reflect on strategies for avoiding, combating, managing, and surviving violence. By unveiling violence through their conversation and projects, young people become active creators of constructive, educative media, rather than passive consumers of media that depicts teens as marginal, menacing, and intractable problems.
When Youth Leadership Council member Crystal was asked why she is involved youth media to combat violence, she replied, “I feel like as of now we don’t have a voice, we don’t have a way we can express what we’re feeling.” With the inclusion of young people’s insights in an analysis of violence, the chance that we will understand it in all its complexity and develop effectual solutions is greatly increased.
Beyondmedia Education, Girls, and Violence
Beyondmedia Education, a non-profit organization dedicated to using media and workshops for greater understanding of women’s issues, works primarily with young women. We have become increasingly concerned with the continual rise in both arrests of and acts of violence committed by girls and young women (1). More than ever, adolescent females are entering gangs—some female-only, like the Chicago-based “Lady Taliban,” which has begun to communicate their membership and display weaponry on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook (2).
The new uprising of girl gangs is occurring in conditions of almost unthinkable violence. For example, one south side neighborhood where Beyondmedia works is Englewood, which tops all Chicago neighborhoods for reported crime (3). In a recent media literacy and production workshop one young teen was absent from our Dreamcatcher workshop. Her friend recounted how over the weekend this young woman had gone to a friend’s house, where she and three others were kidnapped by the friend’s stepfather, driven to another city, held captive at least 24 hours, raped, and abandoned in a desolate field where they were attacked by wild dogs.
This story sparked another 14-year-old girl to share that as she left school one recent afternoon a man began shooting a gun outside her school; the next morning on the way to school, she heard a man’s voice insistently calling out to her. When she finally turned around, she saw him raping a 13-year-old girl. “How do they expect us to live our lives and do what we’re supposed to do in all this insanity?” she demanded to know.
Chain of Change
Though mischaracterized by the news, violence involving youth is largely happening off school grounds, and much is not school-related (4). Many young people recount acts of violence in their neighborhoods and homes, sometimes involving family members and members of the local community. Much of the violence is also attributed to gang activity, a historic problem for the city of Chicago (5).
These acts of violence are not equally distributed throughout the city but are more of a problem on the city’s largely disadvantaged and under-resourced south and west sides (6). As a call to combat violence in these areas, two years ago Beyondmedia launched Chain of Change, a project that organizes youth to reflect on, dialogue about, and produce and share media on the subject of violence without risk of censorship, embarrassment, or recrimination. Chain of Change is one example of a youth media initiative to critically disrupt the normalization of neighborhood violence and amplify the perspectives and solutions crafted by young people.
Part of the Girls! Action! Media! program, participants organize around everything from housing to sexual exploitation, immigrant issues, girls in foster care, economics, and queer issues. The main feature is the video project, created with equipment provided free-of-charge by Beyondmedia Education and uploaded to the Chain of Change interactive website (link: The website enables the participating groups to share their experiences of violence in their particular communities and, together, come up with ideas as to the roots of violence and how to end it.
Furthermore, Chain of Change networks with other groups and adults to raise awareness of the issues they find pressing, whether it is bullying in schools, domestic violence, relationship abuse, or gang recruitment. The website has been redesigned to enhance its social networking capabilities and to make more room for textual expression, reports, interviews, and blogging entries.
We’ve found that young people living in violence need a forum and space to explore, discuss, and identify what violence is. Their videos capture their views on the diverse forms of violence not depicted in the media.
For example, Sandra Husic of the Empowered Fe Fes, a support and action group of young women with disabilities aged 13 to 24, shares important insight on the ways violence affects this demographic:
“I always got picked on for my size, for my religion, and all that. One time this guy grabbed my wheel chair and said, ‘You want me to throw it in the trash can?’ … In high school I had a girl put her foot on top of my wheel chair and almost flip me over. … I told the teacher about it, and I told the dean. She didn’t get suspension. All she got was, ‘Well, she does not have disabled people in her family, so she doesn’t understand the disability world,’ and the next day she was in school.”
Kimberly Wilson, the Girls Organizing Coordinator of Access Living, the organization hosting the Empowered Fe Fes, expressed the special difficulties that many of the Fe Fes face.
“In my interactions with young women with disabilities, I have noted that many seem to have a higher tolerance for domestic violence in romantic and family relationship than non-disabled women. Dating poses a greater difficulty for many disabled women because they have a visible disability. And many of these women have reported accepting physical abuse because they fear that speaking up will result in being alone. In addition, many young disabled women reported being verbally abused in their own homes, but are afraid to report it because they may find themselves homeless.”
In participation with Chain of Change, Empowered Fe Fes created and performed a skit demonstrating bullying, which they filmed and uploaded to the site. They also brainstormed about ways of dealing with potential violence and actual violence in the future.
Another group, Kids Off the Block, an organization that seeks to give at-risk, low-income youth positive alternatives to gangs, drugs, and violence, participated with a video about the reasons behind male-on-female physical abuse. Their founder, Diane Latiker, said:
“Through video [young people] are able to express themselves without being scared. They are uncomfortable standing in front of a huge group of people they don’t know, but here at Kids Off the Block they are comfortable so their responses are real, they don’t just say what they think adults want to hear.”
As a result of Chain of Change, one change we are seeing is that the conversations about violence led by young women are taking place across neighborhood and identity. For example, Global Girls, another COC contributor, created “When TOMs Attack,” a video inspired by their personal experiences dealing with sexual harassment and assaults from “Thirsty Old Men.” In the process of making the video, the girls talked about their experiences with TOMs and also came up with potential solutions to protect themselves from this unwanted attention from older men. The girls were so inspired by participating in COC that they went on to create a traveling stage production by the same name to reach younger girls and start a conversation about this pervasive form of violence and provide solutions.
Another change we have seen is the expansion among youth of what constitutes violence. Mainstream media’s seeming equation of violence with homicide is the reason why one young woman thought “real” violence was only school or community shootings. She wanted to talk about bullying, but wasn’t sure it was a valid form. Participants not only feel their own power when they express themselves through media, but feel justified in the feelings they have when their voices are legitimated.
By creating spaces for young people to contemplate their experiences, youth media can empower and embolden youth to express themselves to adults, furthering the objective of getting youth voices into the discourse on violence. Networking additionally creates a wide community where participants see that they are not alone in what they are facing, glean ideas for new approaches to their own issues from other participants’ work, and recognize that they can speak legitimately on violence.
In order for the youth media field to better serve youth, the topic of violence must be discussed and young people encouraged to analyze, situate, and craft solutions. We encourage the field to embed the following recommendations into existing programs:
1) Create forums for youth to discuss violence.
2) Create spaces for artistic rendering of youth experiences of violence and ideas to make change.
3) Create opportunities for age-appropriate research activities.
4) Encourage youth-led media making as a technological device to craft solutions to violence, document dialogue, and off-set the narrow definition of violence set by the mainstream media.
5) Engage the method, “each one teach one,” which encourages young people to teach their peers what they have learned and give back to their communities.
Next Steps
Youth media represents a wedge in the fight against violence. It can create spaces for young people to connect, learn from each other, cross boundaries, and build self-esteem. Furthermore, when youth media projects are coupled with outreach and forums for networking, it can stimulate constructive dialogue across generational, occupational, and other differences, helping to erode mistrust and build respect, important elements in diminishing violence. We believe that if consumption of violent media increases the incidence of aggressive behavior, the creation of media to combat violence, which teaches non-violence, can decrease reliance on aggressive behavior as a way to resolve potentially violent encounters.
Youth media programs must engage young people to share their insights, experience and analyses of violence that is unfortunately, an intensely pervasive element of life outside of schools in cities like Chicago, and in many rural areas. Young people must be given a space to articulate violence and use media tools to dismantle violence, its roots and causes, piece by piece.
Given various alternative media platforms like Chain of Change, youth media must signal other groups that support young people’s anti-violence efforts, those outside of the community, and in ethnic and gender organizations geared to the same goals. Our collective aims will increase the chances that young people will invest time, attention, energy, and enthusiasm in the project, the end product, the dialogue, and the future.
Salome Chasnoff is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, installation artist, and media activist who has been guiding Beyondmedia’s artistic production since founding it in 1996. Her strong commitment to using media for liberation education and progressive organizing has drawn like-minded people over the years to shape Beyondmedia’s distinctive artistic and political vision. Salome has an M.A. in Theatre and Performance and a Ph.D. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University. She has been an arts educator for more than 20 years in university and community settings, and has produced more than 25 works, several dedicated to expanding media access to the diverse stories of women and youth. She is a single mother with three fabulous children.
Jesse Wheeler has worked for Beyondmedia on a part-time basis since 1997 in a wide variety of capacities, from grant writing, to editing, curricula development, workshop facilitation, music rights acquisition, and DJing the fabulous fundraisers. He has a B.S. in Performance Studies from Northwestern University and a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology from UCLA. He has produced two amateur shorts: Tributo ao Rock ‘n’ Roll and On Your Skin: F*** the USA and Ethnography in Protest. Jesse also has two sporadically active, yet sempiternal bands: Mad Dog with Jesse James (blues) and X-GRANITO (punklore).

(1) For the last 30 years the trend has been an increase. See Zahn, Margaret A., et al. 2008. “Girls Study Group: Understanding and Responding to Girls’ Delinquency.” Report of the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Available at (Accessed 3 June 2009) and Lamberg, Lynne. 2002. “Younger Children, More Girls Commit Acts of Violence,” Journal of American Medical Association 288:566-68. Available at (Accessed 3 June 2009).
(2) See for examples.
(3) See (Accessed 8 June 2009).
(4) “On-campus school violence is down,” Chicago Sun-Times, 5/2/2009 (,CST-NWS-skuls03.article).
(5) See, for example: “Institutionalized Gangs and Violence in Chicago,” by John M. Hagedorn (, and
(6) We can interpret from the schools targeted in Mayor Richard M. Daley’s “Renaissance 2010” project, purported to be an initiative to improve the country’s third-largest public school system through closings, privatizations, “turnarounds” (parlance for the wholesale replacement of a school’s entire staff), and militarization (whereby military academies and Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps programs are established within existing high schools and middle schools), that violence is more of a problem in schools on the city’s largely disadvantaged and under-resourced south and west sides.

Google Maps: A Tool for the Youth Media Field

During the April bloom of 2007, Google introduced a refreshingly inventive new online social utility tool called Google My Map that, from my perspective, is a powerful addition to the youth media arsenal. The Google My Map (GMM) application allows users to add digital content (text, video, paths, shapes, photos) to a satellite-imaged map of Earth, creating a personalized and annotated mashup that can be shared online with anyone in the world. The tool is easily learned through Google’s own tutorials and beneath the surface lays an endless array of possibilities for youth media educators.
Soon after the launch of GMM, I worked with two dozen teens—one group in Chicago and one group in Barbados for a summer youth media workshop run by Open Youth Networks. OurMap of Migrations, as we named it, captivated the intellectual and creative imaginations of the youth participants who eagerly added their own photos, videos, bios, travels and research to the map, becoming equally engrossed in exploring its rich content and learning about one another.
In populating the map with a data array of migration histories, including historical information on the transatlantic slave trade routes as well as personal stories of family diasporas, 95% of participants ended up reporting in the workshop exit survey that the map “significantly altered their views on immigration and forced migration.”
The process of jointly authoring a multimedia online map transforms how youth learn, communicate and participate in civic and social spaces. It can also change the way youth and youth media organizations collaborate and communicate with each other.
Youth Media and GMM Examples
Maps can become instrumental in mobilizing action and building new communities across geographic borders; in essence, maps make a world of difference.
To see live examples, see OurMap of Environmental Justice, which documents the toxics and assets of a Mexican-American neighborhood in Chicago.
OurMap of Environmental Justice

View OurMap of Environmental Justice in a larger map
Chicago Youth Voices Against Violence is a recent collaborative work-in-progress created by over a dozen youth media organizations in Chicago that are embedding youth media stories about the impact of violence in their communities. See the map below:
Chicago Voices Against Violence

View Chicago Youth Voices on Violence in a larger map
To take full advantage of GMM, it is important to understand its intrinsic properties and features. The following are suggestions for practitioners in the field to explore the vast aspects of GMM:
Invite Collaborators
Since its release, thousands have people have created GoogleMy Maps. But a quick glance at the index of user generated maps reveals that the vast majority of these are created by single individuals directing friends to their latest tour of Europe. Few take advantage of the most unique and powerful aspect of this tool—the “invite collaborators” button. This simple command feature allows multiple users from across geographical regions to collaborate on a single map, effectively allowing you to harness collective intelligence through crowd-sourcing—many voices contributing to one dataset based on their own localized knowledge and experiences.
Browse the Directory
Click this button and you will be taken to a directory of hundreds of other map data sets that you can choose to use as overlays. For example, we often add the Census Data to Ourmap of Environmental Justice. The census disaggregates population data by race and ethnicity. In a public presentation, all we have to do is click on the Latino category and the map shows that the highest concentration of Latinos in Chicago live in close proximity to some of the more toxic industries in Chicago. This usually evokes a big response among users—such visible evidence is hard to deny.
Create a Theme that is Geographically-based
It is a map after all, so the content should be meaningfully tied to location and place. What is the story of a place? Can the map reveal the past, present and future of a location? OurMap of Environmental Justice shows the close proximity of dozens of schools in the neighborhood to a coal power plant and other toxic facilities. The map brings that reality home in a way no other piece of media could.
Engage the User with Customized Icons and Creative Legends
The legend in GMM allows you to organize your data in a prioritized and readable form and it also helps the user navigate your map efficiently. Plus, you can create custom icons for this legend. For instance, we used animated images of skulls and crossbones in the Youth Voices Against Violence map to indicate sites where recent violence has occurred against youth.
Don’t Forget YouTube
Maps operate as a curated exhibition or film festival. For example, YouTube is the only video platform that actually works—but it works great and a multimedia map with photos and video is twice as engaging! Just grab the embed code, hit HTML on the menu bar, paste in the code and voilá—instant video. Check out some of the videos embedded into Chicago Youth Voices against violence produced by several different youth media groups such as BeyondMedia Education, Free Spirit Media and Community TV Network on the map above.
Embed Map in Websites and Blogs
You can choose to make your map public or private. If you choose “public,” it is automatically added to Google search directory. However, your distribution strategy should not end there. Ask your allies, supporters and members to embed your map into their blogs or websites. On your own website, it is best to embed your map directly onto a sidebar of your home page. Simply, hit the word “link” on the top right menu bar to get the URL or embed code. You can even customize the size of the map itself as well as the precise snapshot of the globe that you want to feature. The beauty of this embedding feature is that you can distribute knowledge broadly without worrying about it being accessed at only one centralized location.
Export to Google Earth to Create a Movie for Presentations
Make a public presentation of your map by exporting it to Google Earth. Simply select “View in Google Earth” and a .kml file will download automatically to your Google Earth application. Once your map is selected in Google Earth, you can choose to make a movie file of your map which navigates the viewer through from one placemarker to the next.
Create a Real Walking Tour Using Your Mobile Phone
If you own a mobile web browser you can easily pull up your MyMap on an iPhone, for instance, to lead you on a walking tour of sites that you have pre-placemarked. You can use the path tool to trace the path in the exact order of landmarks, reading about the sites or watching videos as you go. If you don’t have an iPhone, Google Mobile is an application that can be downloaded to virtually any other mobile phone device. Plus, the brand new speedy smart navigation tool in Street-view actually puts you right on the same street as you walk it. So, if you wanted to have new stakeholders visiting your local city to check out all youth media organizations, they can take a tour in real space and virtual space at the same time.
The possibilities for the field are vast when using the tool Google My Maps. As a practitioner in the field, I encourage you all to share GMM with young producers to come up with their own innovative ideas and uses. Through GMM, we can engage the field to unite on various local and national youth media issues, to learn more from one another across regions, and build a virtual understanding of our communities and our work. GMM has the potential to strengthen our alliances in the field, our visibility and our mobilizing efforts within new public social media networks. Through GMM, potentially hundreds of collaborators, who may be separated by real physical space, could be brought together in virtual geographic space.
Mindy Faber is the founding director of Open Youth Networks, a program of Columbia College’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media that trains under-resourced youth to use social media, games and emergent technologies for change.
Google My Maps Tutorials
Blogs on Maps
Geotagging Tips

The Chicago Youth Voices Network: A Tale of Collective Action

From the outside, it didn’t appear all that revolutionary. Crowding into the narrow meeting space above a store front overlooking a busy Chicago street were a group of diverse teens, standing and sitting on chairs and pillows, talking, laughing, and listening to each other spit a few verses of spoken word. The students represented distinct youth media programs across Chicago, brought together by the collective efforts of the staff of these programs.
Youth media practitioners act as conduits to bring young people together as they create media. However, despite the talent practitioners bring to helping create media produced by teens of a range of skills and interests, in practice they themselves have an incredibly difficult time coming together as a group.
This isn’t to say that practitioners don’t want to. Funding is sparse and small organizations, as most in the field are, see each other as competitors. Despite the relative challenge of competing for funding, practitioners time and again say that face-time and relationship-building with adult peers is one of their number one personal, field-wide goals.
But challenges exist. Youth media organizations tend to have different philosophies about how to teach teenagers media. Some are more focused on building technical skills, some more on teaching teenagers old-fashioned journalism, some on creativity and still others on teaching teenagers the more profit-oriented side of the industry, such as marketing and promotion. They tend to work as silos with their own goals and ways of doing things.
In October of 2006, youth media organizations granted by the McCormick Foundation formed into the Chicago Youth Voices Network (CYVN), which provides face-time and professional development for practitioners. Over the past two years, the group has become more unified and now shares skills, resources, and best practices. Recently, the network put together a brochure to collectively represent CYVN and signal new stakeholders, schools and other audiences to youth media, combining all of their diverse perspectives, mission and goals. Youth media groups across the U.S. can learn from our challenges and successes as we develop a model of networks and collaborations that unites us as a field.
A Funder Discovers the Youth Media Field
Before 2005, the McCormick Foundation, long-time funder of journalism training and leadership programs as well as press freedom activities and diversity in journalism initiatives, had never taken a serious look at funding youth media initiatives. At that time, coinciding with the Foundation’s 50th anniversary, the Program (one of five key funding priority areas at the Foundation) began to explore directing some of its $6 million per year budget toward youth initiatives. It was an eye-opening experience, says Mark Hallett, senior program officer for the Foundation’s Journalism Program.
“It was this wonderful discovery because we had no idea how rich Chicago’s youth media community was, and their work represented so many of the different things we cared about,” he says.
For Hallett, this sector had a fresh momentum to it. After years of supporting initiatives that often seemed to meet resistance with, for example, attempts to increase diversity in mainstream newsrooms, or encourage large media companies to prepare for the online world or to engage their communities better, the youth media sector was already producing valuable and relevant work that incorporated these broader goals. Hallett gravitates to what he calls ‘philanthropic acupuncture’—grantmaking where support is simply feeding an existing momentum rather than fighting resistance.
Hallett suggests that youth media organizations are on the cutting edge in many ways. For one, much of the way youth media practitioners do business is directed by the participants, while many schools are struggling to make their lessons more student-centered. Furthermore, video, photography and delivery of information are salient issues in the digital age—skills youth media groups are teaching. And finally, the perspectives that emerge from youth-produced media make us all aware of the many challenges that today’s youth are facing.
As the McCormick program officers (at that time Hallett and Sara Melillo) got to know the youth media organizations in Chicago, they were struck by the fact that so many were doing good work yet the organizations were fragile. Youth media organizations are typically small in operation and many executive directors skilled in their craft were not always successful fundraisers.
In order to make a larger impact on local, Chicago-based youth media programs, Clark Bell, the director of the journalism program for the McCormick Foundation, and his team decided that simply funding individual groups was not enough—that they had to support a network with professional development and training resources.
The Youth Voices Network
At the first youth media grantee network meeting, youth media practitioners filled out a survey in which they identified what they would want to get out of such a network. The ultimate takeaway from the survey was that they wanted to build relationships. Beyond that, they wanted information on how to evaluate programs and fundraise.
Hallett says that the Foundation’s hope, then as well as now, has been to help provide a forum for the youth media grantees that had to be practical and useful. Too often, foundations draw together grantees for show, without a clear idea of what they want them to do.
The meetings required an entire Friday morning every other month and are typically attended by adult staff. At first, they included intensive professional development and training from hired consultants. Topics included areas such as the importance of evaluation and how to build an individual donor base. However, they were useful, providing an opportunity to step back and ask questions.
As practitioners admitted to shortcomings and chatted about programs, a realization dawned on many: that they are all in much the same boat, passionate and struggling, and have the common interest of wanting to give teenagers in Chicago the opportunity to be a part of the media. But as little organizations in a big city, not one of them has enough manpower or programs to reach all interested teens.
This is how practitioners realized as a group that they are powerful. Last year, the Network not only brought together many of the teens they serve to talk with one another and to provide verbal feedback to youth media practitioners, but also conducted a self-survey about their own programs. Through that, the practitioners learned that they collectively touch 60 of about 100 high schools in the city, and, through participants and audiences, reach tens of thousands of teens.
Some other highlights of the survey were that the youth media groups are small organizations, typically with budgets between $150,000 and $500,000 and two or three employees. The McCormick grant of about $40,000 was one of the largest ones received by most network organizations.
The survey also identified key challenges facing the organizations: growing demand for services without the resources to support program growth (77%); over-reliance on grants, few individual donors (62%); limited budget and staff for fundraising (54%); rising operational costs such as health insurance and utilities (46%) and the need to improve organizational management systems (46%).
One major achievement of the network was the compilation of a brochure—funded by McCormick and led by True Star—to be handed out to teenagers at a high school fair. Presenting themselves as a singular type of program, rather than disparate entities, was powerful for the group. 10,000 copies were distributed. Network members take turns taking the lead on projects, which they find, is necessary to get the work done.
In addition, the network has spurred several collaborations. For example, in September 2008, The Five Freedoms Project and the Academy for Educational Development were looking for youth media educators to kick off a youth video in conjunction with a five-day leadership academy for principles, teachers, advisors and youth in Chicago.
After receiving a call for youth media educators, three members of the network responded—Open Youth Networks, Free Spirit Media and Community TV Network. As a team, they developed curriculum and identified mutual strengths and expertise to correspond with each task and training. The experience was a testament to the power of the network.
Mindy Faber, founder of Open Youth Networks and now the academic manager at Columbia College Chicago’s Department of Interactive Arts and Media, says: “I’m not sure in the past we would have been able to work as a team without really knowing one another. This was such a great way to engage with Chicago youth media orgs and share an experience of teaching side by side, despite our differences and approaches to youth media.”
Next Steps
After three years of funding and support, the McCormick Foundation’s Journalism Program has made it clear that its funding of CYVN will likely cease over the next several years. Faber, whose group is part of the network, volunteered (and receives a stipend) to coordinate the network meetings this year. In upcoming meetings, leaders will talk about how the CYVN will work in the future. They are currently in the process of developing a collective mission statement.
At one point, there was discussion of forming an overarching not-for-profit with a mission and a budget, but the group decided against it. The feeling was that the CYVN’s strength is the fact that it is comprised of unique organizations that work together.
Some members think that working on projects together will help keep the momentum going and there’s even been talk about trying to get a collaborative project funded. Such a project has yet to be named and even the format is still up in the air. One idea is to have an end of the year presentation featuring work from all of the groups; another would have each individual organization produce a piece in their medium on a singular topic. All the work would then be brought together and presented.
Members of CYVN need to tell and amplify their own story. In the past, Faber notes that foundations have paid consultants and academics to figure out who and what youth media is. Sometimes youth media is put in the box of adolescent literacy organizations; while other times it is seen as a youth leadership building organization. Through CYVN, youth media can be in a position to define itself and its potential to more local and national stakeholders. Through CYVN, and capturing the unique practices and work of the many, the myths of youth media are replaced with facts and appealing outcomes.
Presenting in this way, CYVN can transform youth media from being a gaggle of struggling organizations to being a vibrant force to be reckoned with.
Suggestions for Future Youth Media Networks
Hallett says McCormick is now looking at expanding its support of youth media—and perhaps spearheading similar networks—in Los Angeles and New York. But in other cities, creating such a youth media network might require grassroots efforts.
If a local funder is invested to support a network, at the least, a stipend for a coordinator and food at meetings must be compensated. Organizations should decide on a regular meeting time that is convenient for most of the members. And at meetings, time spent on peer-to-peer training is extremely beneficial. At present, CYVN does not require outside consultants and instead, look to one another for skills to share.
“What the field is missing is the glue that will hold it all together—and what we’ve found, is that working together, that common desire and impetus, is the glue we were looking for,” Mindy Faber explains.
Faber, echoed by other practitioners in the field, suggests that on the field-wide spectrum, it will take a leader to bring the field together, both locally and nationally. Faber describes such a leader as one with “a larger and shared vision of what is possible; a leader that loves the field enough and is respected by members within the field…that will work on the various steps to strengthen the field.”
Moving Forward
Beyond capacity issues and competition for funding, all across the U.S., youth media practitioners have a sincere desire to share face time and learn from one another as a group. The CYVN is one success story, with many others to follow. For example, this year Youth Media Reporter is bringing six individual regional cohorts of youth media practitioners to collectively document best practices and issues/challenges in the area. Each cohort kicks off with an in-person meeting. Practitioners might consider continuing these meetings after YMR, say monthly, to share updates, resources, and skill-sharing—they might even review the articles they publish and how their suggestions could support other local youth media colleagues.
So far, few regions have come up with their own pathways to design coalitions—for example, the twin cities youth media network. Other cities have attempted to meet as a group, particularly in the Southwest and Southeast but have yet to find the right “glue” that fits their local cohort. Uniting the field is only a few steps away, but it needs the kind of leadership that will ensure a shared vision to strengthen collective work and the power of youth media practice in the future.
Mark Hallett is a senior program officer in the journalism program of the McCormick Foundation. Mark joined the foundation in May 1995, and coordinates grantmaking in a number of areas, including youth media and scholastic journalism, free press and First Amendment initiatives, and community and ethnic media. He is a native Chicagoan and has lived in Mexico, Norway and Spain. He is an avid photographer and serves on the boards of Erie Neighborhood House and the Erie Elementary Charter School.
Sarah Karp is the coordinator for Columbia Links.

Marketing and Advertising Youth Media: A Shift in Thinking

The youth media field needs a shift in thinking when it comes to funding, partnerships, and skill development. Rather than scramble for shrinking dollars and failing partnerships, we need to build partnerships that generate more dollars and have a bigger effect on both young people and our field.
Few youth media organizations have tapped into advertising and marketing firms as a way to leverage our collective expertise in the field. We know that the youth market is worth about $175 billion a year. But we forget that we work intimately with this market and can serve as mediators for young people to take the lead in mass marketing, learning business skills along the way.
About True Star
As a growing youth media organization that provides a creative outlet in the form of literary and professional development programs, the True Star Foundation has learned how to create partnerships that open doors to funding opportunities, increase visibility for youth media, and improves opportunities for young people to learn about the business of media.
The True Star Foundation’s core programming model is True Star Magazine, a teen- produced publication that began in the fall of 2004 as a four-page newsletter with one journalism program and 17 students. Currently, the magazine offers eight programs with 150 stipend paid student apprentices and seven adult instructors, who, collectively, create a 44-page quarterly publication.
Sales and marketing is an important component to our program that helps youth journalists develop business and leadership skills. The concept of having to market one’s media encourages students to think broadly of how a non-profit functions and how to get their work distributed, advertised, and widely disseminated.
At True Star (TS) we position ourselves as the experts on the youth market, stressing to marketers that we can reach youth in a way that no other media property can. We are marketers’ consultants as to how to reach youth with programs that are inviting, honoring, respectful, and culturally relevant and that connect with the urban youth market emotionally and intellectually.
Marketing: A Shift in Thinking
We acknowledge that fundraising and selling are two very different skills for youth media non-profits. Many organizations do not have the skill set or competency; however, we believe a huge piece of solidifying the youth media sector will come from the ability to integrate marketers into the field in a socially responsible way. Organizations might think about hiring someone with a media business background or add someone with that competency on their board.
Of course, marketers’ main goal is to increase sales and tap into the $175 billion youth market. However, if they can also be socially responsible and create goodwill, then your organization becomes a “sweetheart” buy for a marketer.
Typically, TS helps marketers reach their goals through focus groups, email blast, advertising pages, youth contests and our students acting as brand ambassadors. We become consultants to our partners, using our expertise to advise them on their marketing strategies. By building other youth media partners into the fold, we make the package of expertise even more attractive. United, youth media can guide marketers to create goodwill for themselves and their associates.
Case Study: Chicago Public Schools
While meeting with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Office for Extended Learning, it was brought to our attention that the enrollment numbers for a federally funded tutoring program were significantly low. The main goal of this office was to increase its enrollment numbers for this tutoring program. After hearing this, we could have stayed the course with the TS agenda, i.e., getting this department to give us funding/resources for our after school programs. However, we shifted gears and asked them to discuss the enrollment issues more.
After a thorough understanding of their issues, we suggested that TS could increase the enrollment for the tutoring program by doing the following:
• teen-to-teen marketing using the TS street team
• creative services, including “teen friendly” marketing materials
• marketing via advertising pages in TS magazine
• executing a focus group with teens to assess how to effectively market the tutoring program
• booking a nationally recognized celebrity to endorse the program.
As a result, TS received a contract to provide the aforementioned services. With our expertise and ability to reach the market, student participation in the tutoring program increased by 85%. Creating value creates a buzz, and many other departments in CPS began to look to us to provide various services based on our success.
Case Study: Walgreens
True Star Foundation has partnered with Walgreens for the last two years on its HIV/AIDS initiative. Again, prior to meeting with Walgreen’s public relations agency, TS had an idea of what a partnership would look like. After hearing that Walgreen’s passion point with the urban community was HIV/AIDS, TS pitched an “Expression Against HIV/AIDS Art & Literacy Contest.” This contest asked youth to put an artistic spin on how they would combat HIV/AIDS in the urban community.
TS would conduct all marketing, implementation and execution for this program with Walgreens—the sole sponsor. This contest has been very successful and Walgreens is looking to grow the partnership into other areas.
When meeting with marketers such as Walgreens it is very important to understand their passion point for the youth market. Passion points can vary. For example, banking partners value financial literacy; consumer goods companies value nutrition; and telecommunications value entrepreneurship. However, marketers often shift platforms they are interested in supporting as rapid as every quarter of each year. In order to package youth media, we must combine our collective skills and expertise.
Methods and Models for Approaching Potential Partnerships
The following are suggestions from TS that might encourage the field to develop relationships with advertising and marketing platforms.
Contribute to your client. In our personal lives we would call this friendship; in the professional world we call it “relationship building,” and the same rules apply.
• Learn about the organization’s politics, culture, and passion points
• Listen to the partner’s needs and goals with interest and concern
• Volunteer for some of their initiatives
• Use your media outlet to cover things that are important to the partner
• Does your organization have a newsletter to send? Are you hosting an event? Use every opportunity with potential partners to communicate what you do and who you serve
Example: Once we realized that Walgreen’s passion was HIV/AIDS, TS became a member of the HIV/AIDS coalition that Walgreens supported, and we volunteered at events unrelated to TS. By being an active member of the coalition, TS created additional relationships with the Department of Health, Chicago Public Schools, and the local radio station, all while building a stronger relationship with the Walgreens corporation.
Be strategic. Look for opportunities to add value. Go in with a clear message about what return the partner is going to get. How can you assist the organization to reach its goals, and vice versa?
• If you’re working with a school, build your program model into the curriculum
• Look for areas where the organization has poor performance and position your organization to provide a needed service
• Use your expertise to customize a media property for the partner
• Understand your competitive advantage and point of difference
Example: TS has recognized that the Chicago Public School (CPS) system has out-of-date marketing and educational materials that do not resonate with the youth of today. TS has positioned itself as an expert in custom designing materials for CPS. In turn, TS received a contract to custom design a student workbook for the CPS department Graduation Pathways.
Empower youth. No one can sell the value of your organization and media product better than the youth you serve.
• Partners, especially marketers and advertisers, need to be educated on what youth media is and what it can do. Young people have an uncanny ability to persuade and influence a potential partner.
• Train young people to pitch advertising and partnerships.
• Pitching and articulating the value of your organization can be a great opportunity for young people to learn about the business of media.
Example: TS youth have pitched advertising to Walgreens, Black Entertainment Television (BET), Nike, Boost Mobile, Burrell, Starcom, General Mills, McDonald’s, and others. Our youth have also presented to funders Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois and the Polk Bros. Foundation, to name a few. Having youth pitch advertising has been one of the most successful strategies TS has implemented. By empowering young people to articulate the value of the organization, the media you produce and its impact on society, you will touch a chord with most potential partners. You don’t just tell them the value—you let them witness the value first hand.
Adopt a collaborative spirit. Youth media organizations often find themselves in a competitive mindset, grappling with other organizations for students or resources. But by using the model of a joint venture, youth media organizations can work together to partner with a greater variety of organizations and create a bigger effect.
• Youth media organizations working with youth media organizations
• YMO working with CBO
• Using another’s specialty to meet the needs of each organization
Example: TS recently partnered with Free Spirit Media to produce a Hoops High page in the publication. Hoops High is a program of Free Spirit media in which students announce, direct, and operate cameras to make their own sports show. TS was having a challenge developing sports related content for the magazine. By partnering with Hoops High we receive sports content and they have another vehicle to market their TV show and programs. TS in return will receive advertising via their on air programming.
Example: TS recently partnered with the Economic Awareness Council (EAC) to produce financial and business content for TS Magazine. EAC is a non profit organization whose mission is to prepare students and families for the economic and financial decisions they will make both today and tomorrow. EAC was able to bring their sponsor HSBC – North America into the partnership to sponsor TS’s Teen Biz section, ultimately helping to underwrite our cost of printing. EAC students produce financial and business related content for TS magazine.
Next Steps
Partnerships with the advertising and marketing sectors are essential to grow the viability of the youth media field. To be sure, most small organizations have large shoes to fill, making it very likely that you do not have every skill or competencies needed at a moment’s notice. But by creating on-going partnerships you can have a good network of experts available to you.
Furthermore, if more youth media organizations worked to build expertise with marketers, it is possible that the field could create a youth media advertising agency in the near future. This agency could aggregate the audiences of multiple youth organizations to create more value for a potential marketer and for the field as a whole. It is in our best interest to invest in new partnerships and advertising revenue to sustain the field and bring forth our collective skills and knowledge to our important work.
DeAnna McLeary is the co-executive director & co-founder of True Star Foundation and True Star Magazine. She has an extensive background in marketing and advertising sales as a former account executive for Essence Communication Partners. McLeary cultivates relationships with ad agencies and consults clients on their marketing needs to creatively design solution packages. McLeary graduated magna cum laude from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), earning a bachelor’s of science and a master’s in business administration with a concentration in both marketing and finance.
Na-Tae’ Thompson is the co-executive director & co-founder of True Star Foundation and True Star Magazine. She has previously worked for Vibe Magazine, House of Blues Chicago, GMR Marketing, Chancellor Marketing Group and Universal MazJac Enterprises. Her diverse client list ranges from Miller Lite to Roc-a-Fella Records,from from Chicago’s Power 92 radio station to Luster Hair Products—a result from developing sponsorship proposals, conducting research and analysis, and organizing events. Thompson holds a master’s degree in arts and youth community development and a bachelor’s in marketing from Columbia College Chicago.

Practicing Journalism, Preserving History

From a young age, inner city young people know they cannot depend on major newspapers, television stations or radio to cover their accomplishments. The television trucks show up only when an act of extreme violence takes place. The reporters never interview the class valedictorian or a young person whose art work won an award. These young people know that if they want to read accurate descriptions of their communities, they will have to write them.
For more than a decade, I have worked with young people as publisher of the Residents’ Journal, a magazine for and by low-income adults and young people in Chicago. In 1996, I was hired to launch Residents’ Journal as an independent news source for the city’s public housing tenants. Two years later, we started the Urban Youth International Journalism Program (UYIJP) to work with young people from public housing.
At the time, both programs were funded by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Chicago Housing Authority. But in 1999, we broke away, formed our own not-for-profit organization named We The People Media, and secured foundation funding to keep our mission going. Since then, both programs have won national awards, trained hundreds of young people as well as adults, changed public policy, and informed a community that lacks access to media outlets.
I scaled a steep learning curve during the first years of my tenure. My background as a journalist, college instructor, high school teacher and English major did little to prepare me for running a not-for-profit organization. In particular, I had to gain an understanding of what it takes to operate a successful youth journalism program in low-income neighborhoods, where we had to address the poverty of families, the prevalence of violence in neighborhoods, and the demolition of homes. But whenever I doubted whether the effort was worth it, I thought of the young people who had graduated from UYIJP.
One incident in particular taught me how powerful youth journalism programs can be. In 2000, a coalition of thousands of young people marched to downtown Chicago to protest cuts to the summer jobs program. The chief spokesperson for the protest was Quintana Woodridge, a participant in the first class of the UYIJP who had graduated from high school and started working for a community-based advocacy organization.
As one of the lead organizers for the event, Quintana developed a comprehensive media strategy for the march, telling each group of marchers to pick a spokesperson in case a reporter approached them. The next day, in the Chicago Sun Times article about the march, I saw quotes from Quintana as well as from Shelaina Bradley, who was a current student in the program. Shelaina was marching with fellow students at her alternative school. When I saw her the next day in class, I asked Shelaina why her peers chose her as their spokesperson. She explained that the other students told her, “You know how to talk to the media.” I was never prouder.
UYIJP and Housing Development
The wrecking ball began slamming into the Chicago’s public housing developments in 2000. Most of the former tenants ended up deeper on Chicago’s South Side, in other segregated, low-income communities with conditions that are horizontal versions of the public housing high-rises. The drug dealers and customers who had been based in public housing for decades simply relocated, often to the same areas to which the former residents moved.
The residents’ new neighborhoods worsen as the recession deepens, unemployment expands, and foreclosures sink moderate-income homeowners as well as tenants of foreclosed property owners. The City of Chicago promised to replace the demolished public housing developments with mixed-income communities, but construction is far behind schedule. Just a few hundred units have been built. For many of our young people, this means that they are separated from their former neighbors, people that are as close to them as their siblings.
We decided to change the UYIJP along with the changing situation of our families. For one thing, we decided to bring the program to the communities. Previously, we’d hold classes at a central location. But the participants’ parents explained that the cost of sending their kids downtown was a burden. Also, they were worried about their children’s safety during the journey. The parents have good cause for concern. So far this school year, 36 Chicago Public Schools students have been killed, mostly in gang-related shoot-outs on the city’s streets. To address these concerns, we began dispatching our teachers to schools, community centers and churches.
We had always recruited professional journalists as teachers. Now we needed journalists who were comfortable traveling around the city and meeting with the kids in their neighborhood institutions.
As a new not-for-profit, we also had to modify our programs to deal with the fact that we no longer had access to federal dollars. Special grants from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development allowed us to take the kids on trips to Washington DC and overseas to Ghana and Israel. That had been a powerful incentive for the young people to participate. Now we needed a new incentive.
We decided that the right thing to do was to begin paying the kids for their work. On the adult side of Residents’ Journal, we had a policy that the publication would be run like any other professional newsroom. Freelance reporters got paid by the published word at rates that were even with similarly sized publications. We decided to pay young people the same way.
Paying young people for their articles gives them work experience, helps with their family’s tight budgets, and underscores the program’s main lessons—that young peoples’ intellectual contributions are valuable. The young people’s articles are published in a special four-page section of every issue of Residents’ Journal. Whether they are producing videos or print, the young people are getting training that isn’t available in their schools or neighborhoods. They are also producing news articles, documentary films and radio for an audience that rarely gets positive portraits of its young people. Like many of our colleagues, the UYIJP regularly collaborates with other youth media projects around the country.
Youth Media Can Form Community and Create History
In a lonely building on an empty lot on the South Side of Chicago, a group of former residents of the Ida B. Wells public housing department gather every week to practice journalism. Many of them have experienced turbulence in their lives, and many continue to face challenges of poverty, drug abuse and worse in their own families. Journalism is a way to maintain the support network they depend on, and to exorcise the demons that harass them. For them, reporting, interviewing, researching, writing and editing are not just about generating news. They are tools to preserve memories and uphold the bonds of community.
The young people’s articles in Residents’ Journal help former residents help old friends stay in touch in their new neighborhoods. Since the paper is distributed throughout the city’s neighborhoods, the journal has helped former tenants reconnect and reminisce as a community. As a result, Residents’ Journal has become a virtual community for the tens of thousands of families who relocated after their public housing developments were torn down.
The journal is also a way for young people to write history, applying the rigor of journalism to their personal experience. In the most recent edition of Residents’ Journal, one youth reporter investigated the effects of the public housing demolitions on families. Another wrote about food deserts, the term for neighborhoods that lack access to good quality produce. Marcus Lane wrote about a policy that restricts students from traveling to other schools to see sports games. The article originated with Marcus’ disappointment at not being able to see his friends on his high school basketball team play a rival. Marcus talked to school officials, who explained that they developed the policy after several shootings took place after games, and to other young people and to learn their opinions on the ban. His instructor helped him craft a coherent narrative to inform the reader. Taken together, the articles are records of the lives of marginalized, African American and Latino young people from low-income families. Their stories are unavailable anywhere else but the few youth media programs and resources in Chicago.
The UYIJP and other youth media programs are doing more than providing kids with a means of self-expression. These programs train young people to participate in journalism, one of the most important institutions in a democratic system, and teach them skills to help them engage with schools, teachers, bosses, colleagues and the media. Just as important, their work counters the prevailing wisdom that young people—especially those in struggling communities—are illiterate, apathetic and indolent. Instead, youth journalism shows that young people are covering the important stories of their lives and communities, preserving history in the way media should.
Ethan Michaeli is the executive director of We The People Media. Ethan is the founder of Residents’ Journal and the UYIJP. Ethan was formerly an investigative reporter for the Chicago Daily Defender and is a current part-time faculty member in the Journalism Department of Columbia College-Chicago. He is the author of “Another Exodus,” an essay published in “Black Zion: African American Encounters with Judaism” (Oxford University Press), and has written for The Nation, the Chicago Tribune, In These Times and Ethan is a 1989 graduate of the University of Chicago with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature.
* * *
Two years ago, by former tenants of the Ida B. Wells public housing development created The Other Side of the Fence, an anthology of articles and photographs of Ida B. Wells shortly before the development was demolished. A piece from this anthology is included below.
The Wells
The Wells is a place of many different flavors
Plenty of drowning souls that could all use a savior
Like every community it has its ups and downs
A place where you’ll see many a smile turned upside down
It used to be a place that I thought was full of danger
But now that I’ve been here awhile I’ve made some friends out of strangers
There were times that the feet and fists of others tried to hurt me
It’s part of an everyday fight for survival where they show no mercy
Leases get terminated here for non compliance
And the media would have you believe that everyone here is violent
Though it’s not a tourist attraction like Wisconsin Dells
When it’s gone we will never forget the Wells
The little things like hurting my knee when I was riding my bike and fell
To when I got hit by a car and my cousin ran to tell
It may not mean much to others, but to us it’s a landmark
Things like the writing on the walls could even be viewed as art
A lot of our friends and family are gone from the Wells most of them have moved
The day is on the way that we’ll wake up and the Wells will be new and improved
When that day comes we’ll be ready for a new start
But know without a doubt, the Wells will always hold a special place in our heart

In Search of Safe Passage

As a parent and technology professional raising a man-child in the Digital Age, I’m conflicted. Mainstream media has become the primary source by which we parents are informed about the world, while technology has lured our youth, into what we believe, is the dangerous world of the Internet.
Like most parents, I have heard horror stories of young men and women “hooking up” with strangers found on MySpace, FaceBook, and other web-based chat rooms. We see our children and their friends plug into technology many of us don’t understand: we don’t know what the tools are or what the next generation is using them for. Technology increases the sense many of us have that we’re losing our young people—not only to the digital age, but to gang and street violence, to high drop-out rates, to feelings of despair, alienation, and powerlessness.
At the same time, I recognize that technology is the very tool my son uses to explore and develop his social and cultural capital. It connects him with his peers, and it has the potential to play a larger role in his professional future.
Fortunately, youth media can be a critical bridge between parents and young people, helping alleviate many parents’ fears about where the digital world might be taking our children. Equally important, it can help provide young people safe passage from adolescence to adulthood.
Youth Media as Safe Passage for My Son
I personally experienced the role youth media played in my son’s life. Shortly after the death of my father in December 2007, I experienced the most horrific feelings of hopelessness. My son, once a cheerful, confident, and spirited young man, had become a withdrawn and dark stranger suffering from the loss of his best friend—his grandpa. I was helpless and didn’t have a clue as to how to reach him. He began to show signs of self-doubt and self-destruction.
Not only did I have to find a way to reach my son, but my son needed to begin his journey into adulthood. He was turning 16 and had not thought about his life after high school. Knowing his love for movies, writing, and reading, I found Community Television Network (CTVN) on Chicago’s After-School Matter’s website. After his acceptance into the digital video production internship program, both my son Teal and I began to heal through his youth media experience at CTVN. Teal did a 3- to 5-minute video about his grandpa, interviewing himself and my memorable experiences with my dad. It was powerful and “therapeutic” for us.
Youth media allowed Teal to re-direct his energy into the creative process of filmmaking and over the past year, developed a passion for editing. Teal developed critical life-skills during his time with CTVN. Often times, Teal would come home from “work” and share with me the cool things he learned in working with Program Director Tom Bailey or one of the older youth producers.
Unbeknownst to Tom and others at CTVN, Teal had developed a strong sense of direction and self-confidence through the mentoring and guidance that CTVN provided. Teal has sought advice from CTVN staffers about pursuing other internship opportunities to expand his learning and experience in editing. This confidence has carried over to his schoolwork and the way he views himself as a young man coming of age. As a result, he now attends the DeVry University Advantage Academy High School (DUAAHS) and is studying web graphic design. He plans to complete his degree at DeVry and take classes in film at Columbia.
Safe Passage & Community Television Network
Youth media offered a space for my son to explore and heal; specifically, it gave him safe passage. Researcher Joy Dryfoos and author of Safe Passages: Making it through Adolescence in a Risky Society (1998) defines safe passage as, “Assuring that children will be able to grow into responsible adults who can enter the labor force, become effective parents, and participate in the social and political life of the society.” In other words, safe passage means preparing children for the future and helping them make a safe transition from adolescence to adulthood.
While the core of youth media does not focus on “safe passage,” it often achieves it. Based on my first-hand experience with CTVN, students gain invaluable real-life work experience using professional, high-end tools such as Soundtrack Pro, FinalCut Pro, boom mics, HD video recorders, and more. They also learn to negotiate group dynamics, develop leadership abilities, and view mainstream media with a critical eye.
In an interview with Bailey, the role youth media plays in helping young people safely transition from adolescence to adulthood is evident. He explains, “Last year, we worked with 15 high school seniors at CTVN. Out of those, 11 are in college. The program really shows students a future in the industry. They finish a project where they can see their work pays off, [which supplies] positive reinforcement and motivation. You can develop meaningful relationships with the students that lack that kind of encouragement at home or in school.”
Youth media organizations like CTVN provide more than digital video production training. They mentor, guide, and motivate youth to strive for greater academic and professional aspirations—something often missing from the lives of at-risk teens.
What Youth Producers Say
Youth media helps fill a void and creates a safe place where teens can be productive, but still “hang.” During an informal small-group discussion with 20 high school teens employed as youth interns through Chicago’s After-School Matters (ASM) program, a few of the teens shared their comments about where they would be if they were not at CTVN: “’I’d probably be downtown just hanging out.’ ‘If I wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have anything to do.’ ‘I’d probably be at home sleeping.’”
In many of Chicago’s neighborhoods, it is not uncommon to find young people hanging on street corners with nothing to do. I believe youth media can inspire change for these young people and create alternate spaces for them to put their time and energy to better use. Given that many teens hang out in groups, they can leverage this group dynamic to structure a meaningful and concise way of communicating, through youth media. CTVN youth producer William Colon explains that he and his crew “contribute their voices to a larger community” while promoting positive youth images through media. A recent video project, for example, emphasizes the importance of youth participating in art as a positive alternative to gangs and drugs while telling their stories of oppression, death and pain.
Youth media provides both young people and parents the “why” behind their actions. Youth media can afford parents insight into the psyche of young people—with the hopes of using what we learn to create safe passage solutions based on what they need and feel and not solely on what we want for them.
So Where Are the Parents of Youth Producers?
Because youth media has shown itself to be so important in the lives of many of our teens, I expected the audience, as in years past, for the spring screening at CTVN this year to be packed. Sure enough, about 30 teens attended—but only five parents showed along with about six other adults (instructors and youth media practitioners).
I wondered if parents were still at work, but the screening was at 6:30 p.m. I wondered if youth producers possibly did not inform their parents about the screening; or, perhaps the location was too far for parents to attend. I couldn’t help but wonder: are we re-living DJ Jazzy Jeff’s (Will Smith) 1988 youth anthem, “Parents Just Don’t Understand”—20 years later?
While I still don’t know why more parents didn’t attend the screening, I am confident that those who weren’t there missed out on an important opportunity to connect with their children and other young people. As the mother of one youth producer said, “I had no idea what kind of work [my daughter] was doing. I mean I know that she has always been technically inclined, but I had no idea the level of work these kids produce. Other parents need to know about the work these kids are doing. This is a good program!”
Building the Bridge
Youth media can bridge the “generational gap” that exists between parents and young people. While I’m confident youth media organizations are creative in their outreach to youth, perhaps a joint collaboration of youth practitioners focused on parents will increase youth media knowledge among adults. Attendance to local events like “Healing the Hood” in the Little Village community is a venue youth media can showcase youth works to help parents see their children as burgeoning adults with informed, thoughtful opinions on anything from the environment to politics and school policy.
In the future, a Youth Media Summit specifically for parents would be a useful way to engage parents, youth, and other youth media practitioners in a meaningful dialogue about collectively supporting youth media as a catalyst for safe passage initiatives in our schools and neighborhoods. I believe this type of forum would help break down barriers and lead to real solutions that will:
• Reduce parents’ fears and misconceptions about youth media
• Open or improve communications between parents and youth
• Increase parent involvement in youth media initiatives
• Spark discussion about linking youth media and safe passage in communities plagued with gang and youth violence
Next Steps
In a time where we are losing our young people to violence, creative solutions are needed to connect parents, teens, and the community out of the digital fog. What will inspire a youngster from Englewood, the Wild Hundreds, or Westside to put down a gun and pick-up a video camera? How can youth media serve as a catalyst for change while helping parents become more aware of what’s going on in the world beyond mainstream media? We live in a time where practitioners, decision-makers and concerned community stakeholders need to explore the integration of safe passage initiatives into youth media projects to save our youth and our communities.
Babylon S. Williams is an undergraduate student at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) in Chicago, Illinois pursuing her degree in Community Development. She works as a professional for an instructional technology firm and is a member of Family Focus, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS), and the Midwest Education Regional Association (MWERA). Babylon is also the proud mother of her 17-year old son, Teal Williams.

Interview: Salome Chasnoff | Beyondmedia

Beyondmedia Education is a Chicago-based 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to collaborate with under-served and under-represented women, youth and communities to tell their stories, connect their stories to the world around us, and organize for social justice through the creation and distribution of media arts.
Recently, Chicago Public Television station WTTW’s Image Union refused to air Beyondmedia Education’s award-winning documentary Turning a Corner, claiming that the content is inappropriate. As part of the award, Turning a Corner was to be screened on WTTW’s Image Union program. Created in a media activism workshop with members of Prostitution Alternatives Round Table (PART)—15 women who had been street-level sex workers in Chicago—the film recounts their battles with homelessness, violence and discrimination and provides insight into Chicago’s sex industry. Beyondmedia Education recently won the Chicago Reporter’s John A. McDermott Documentary (short) Film Competition for Turning a Corner. WTTW’s refusal to air the program cites the sensitive subject matter—sex workers in Chicago—as the reason for their decision.
In response, and due to other recent events that have challenged access to free press in Chicago (including Loyola’s takeover of WLUW and the buyout of the Chicago Reader and the firing of key writers) on January 17th Beyondmedia Education organized a meeting at Columbia College for community and independent media makers to come together to build a media justice plan for action addressing issues of censorship, inequality in media access, and the increasing corporate control of media in Chicago.
In January, YMR interviewed Salome Chasnoff, Executive Director of Beyondmedia.
YMR: In your own words, please discuss the important issue of community access to public media as it relates to the youth media field.
Chasnoff: It’s to recognize the reality that young people are part of our world. We are all in this together. We all need to communicate in the same space. Adults are very quick to complain that young people don’t communicate with them—that there is an invisible divide between the generations both in the public and private spheres. For example, “I don’t understand their music, dress, etc.” Media—public communication—is a way for these divides to be bridged and the public forum to be rebuilt.
In some ways, media reflects what is happening on the ground and in some ways it constructs what is happening. We can see the public and private as co-creative. Through media making we can repair the social fabric. Youth media is key to that enterprise. Technology is the means but the end result is larger. Youth are going to run the world and they are the vibrant voice of today. That has to be reflected in everything—including public access—and adults need to be accountable to young people. The only way to do that is to hear them. But young people also need to take responsibility for speaking and participating—and fight for the space in which to do it. If youth have something to say in the public space and that access is blocked—that is censorship.
YMR: About 30 people attended the media justice meeting you organized at Columbia College. What was the overall outcome?
Chasnoff: There were all kinds of groups that attended the meeting. Beyondmedia works with many different cohorts. Attendees included policy makers, media makers, academics, and youth media. Unless we are trying to develop an initiative, it is normally difficult to get these groups together. Everyone is so busy. People need to have a particular, shared objective.
In the break-out groups, there was a concern for university accountability (journalism/media programs). Students are being trained for jobs that do not exist—therefore, universities must share resources and be transparent in their programs.
People want to continue meeting and bring in more groups and definitely more young people (for youth voice). We are developing a listserv and the next meeting will be at Southwest Youth Collaborative in order to change the context of each meeting to reflect the diversity of voices. We are committed to win-able battles.
At the meeting, we talked about a live weekly forum where people could express their views on a particular issue (a hot issue) that could be broadcast locally. This would work well for young people and all different marginalized groups. Parents are complaining that they do not know what their teens are thinking. Youth can speak through media and adults can learn a lot from that.
YMR: How can educators, media justice organizers, community members and young people collaborate and support each other in doing this type of work?
Chasnoff: An important thing is to remember that we are all involved in the same project. What we do is about all of us. We don’t have to actively collaborate to keep each other’s best interests in mind. If what we are creating is for everyone, than we are collaborating. We have to remember to keep our blinders off and always expand our vision so it includes more and more issues, people, and audiences. If we are acting out of a social justice model, than ultimately, what we do will serve the greatest good.
YMR: What role can independent and community media play in accessing young people within public media?
Chasnoff: This is already happening. I’ve been a media maker for twenty years and I have seen youth media grow from something non-existent to a viable field. Part of that is the way technology has grown—young people have more access to media tools and knowledge. Public media must create a space of access for marginalized voices.
For example, independent/community media must have opportunities for young people to become involved and expand their frame as a result of talking to young people. Youth must learn how to engage media with solving issues or problems that concerns them.
YMR: One specific question at the meeting was “what kind of a job is Chicago public media doing in representing the public interest”? How does this relate to youth media?
Chasnoff: I think people would find youth media (and marginalized voice/media) interesting in Chicago. The Chicago public likes to be challenged and entertained. Many want to be active, critical viewers. The work we make here in Beyondmedia is not entertainment based and yet we get a lot of positive responses from a diverse array of people.
Rarely has my breath been taken away by mainstream media. But when someone is taking public space for the first time after making their story their entire lives, it is totally unique, fresh and surprising. It has the capacity to capture people’s imaginations and they can learn from that. It is not a story that is made to sell a product. It is a story that is expressing lived experience and, therefore, something most people can relate to, recognizing the truth in storytelling. The problem with a lot of university filmmaking programs is that state-of-the-art equipment is available to learn on but you might as well watch the products on mute—they are boring. The focus is warped in my opinion. Young people that really want to grab the power of these tools in their hands and use them to express their unique vision and get something that would make their world better—that is exciting.
YMR: What strategies can youth media educators use to access public media more effectively and consistently?
Chasnoff: Develop relationships with gatekeepers of public media and educate them to what youth media could bring to them and their audiences. Try to work creatively together. Develop programming that would allow youth to “see” behind the scenes how public media is made (and even develop roles for them such as internships and/or career paths). Work with public media such as NPR, PBS and even universities to develop resources. If taxpayers support and “own” these outlets, then they should reflect our vision. Young people and adults must fight to own public voice. We can’t take our ownership for granted—we have to fight for it on a daily basis. The relationship between public media and free speech/democracy is indivisible because you can’t have one without the other.
For example, as a result of the response from our colleagues and peers, Beyondmedia did win a battle. It’s not official yet but, despite the set back with WTTW’s Image Union, it looks like our full documentary will be aired on WTTW’s regular programming in the spring in an even better time slot and not just the initial short version proposed to air. This proves that there are win-able battles out there when you mobilize your troops in the field and beyond.