Global Kids uCreate Project: Extending Collaborative Learning to Incarcerated Youth in Two Cities

What can young people learn from reflecting on their own learning experiences, from becoming equipped with the power to not just share what they know but how they came to know it? Why are these skills particularly relevant in our emerging digital age where knowing how to tap collective knowledge can be as important as spending time learning on one’s own?
Global Kids (New York, NY), a strength-based youth development organization with over two decades of experience working with young people and technology, constantly seeks new ways to explore and answer these questions with diverse groups of youth. This article describes a pilot project that linked youth detention centers with community libraries in two cities, to work specifically with incarcerated youth and new learning technologies. This pilot project demonstrates that collaboration within and among youth at two youth jails can create a participatory learning culture even when digital media and learning run up against existing cultural practices and norms.
Global Kids jumped at the chance to work with the libraries and jails in the uCreate project for several reasons: first, it would follow a previous collaboration between Global Kids and Charlotte Mecklenberg Library in North Carolina; second, Global Kids would have the opportunity to continue their work around nontraditional youth populations. Incarcerated youth are arguably the most disenfranchised population of young people in the United States. Although the Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees all young people the right to access new forms of technology, education, and assembly, these rights are often denied incarcerated young people irrespective of their crime. Incarcerated youth need positive youth engagement so that they can successfully transition out of the system and re-enter society, which sometimes takes unlikely collaborations.
About the Edge Project and uCreate
In 2009, Global Kids launched The Edge Project with the support of the MacArthur Foundation to expand the capacity of civic and cultural institutions to use new media as innovative educational platforms. More specifically, the Edge Project is interested in civic and cultural institutions bringing cutting edge digital media into their youth educational programs. It is equally interested in where this type of programming—adue to technology, its pedagogical implications or both—is a disruptive force challenging the educators and/or the institutional cultural to work on the edge of their comfort level. uCreate, the first of the short-term educational projects outlined by the Edge Project, was a 6-week long educational project that brought together Jail North with Charlotte Mecklenburg Library in Charlotte, NC, and Dane County Jail with the Madison Public Library in Madison, WI. The community libraries were brought in because of their experience implementing new technologies for community education programs, and because they had existing relationships with the youth detention centers in their regions.
As the project began, there were seven youth ages 18 and 19 in the uCreate program at Jail North. At the end of the six weeks, that number dropped to three (some due to losing interest in the program, taking a work study class that conflicted with the time of uCreate, or being sent to another jail during the program). At the Dane County Jail, there were three young people ages 16 and 18 and all three stayed the length of the program.
In order to afford youth interaction with one another, the project utilized a private social-network, plus the mentorship of trained adults from each of the libraries, to facilitate the participants’ explorations through their own and their peers’ learning ecology maps. The participants met three mornings a week for two hours each morning to develop their own web content, and comment on that of their peers.
As a result of the activities, the young male participants gained new media literacy skills while conversing with their peers in a geographically distant detention center. This presented an opportunity for participants to reflect on and consider their experiences through supportive visual and textual dialogue.
Learning Ecology Maps
All Edge Projects begin with the youth learning how to use VoiceThread to create their Learning Ecology Map. VoiceThread is a free, easy to use, online social media tool that affords the ability to link together digital media assets in an online presentation and offer guided text or voice narration. Creating Learning Ecology Maps is a process developed by Global Kids that emerged from the recognition that digital media is challenging what learning looks like, when it happens, where and with whom. The map helps young people visualize their distributed learning network, develop language to talk about it, and increase their ability to intentionally structure and navigate their way around it.
To create the maps, youth are asked to list all of the places in their lives where they learn—similar to Tashawna’s list at the beginning of this article. It is up to participants to determine how to define “places” and “learn.” After an iterative process in which youth share drafts of their list and eventual maps, a final map is produced, such as Tashawna’s below:

The youth participating in the uCreate Project were asked to follow example’s like Tashwana. Once the maps were created, the participants shared their maps with each other. Finally, these maps were designed to be used as the foundation for the program so that at the end of the six weeks they could discuss how they incorporated what, how, and where they learned about digital media into their maps. The maps were also used as reflection tools throughout the six weeks when they focused on critical choices throughout their lives.
One participant, “PJ” in Madison, empathizes with another, “KB” in Charlotte, asking probing questions like: “Your map is very interesting because everything you learn from I have been through, but how has what you learned effected your life?”
Through the very act of presenting one’s map, through teaching another how to view it, participants have a moment of realization that is then encoded into the presentation itself. For example, KB stated: “well I did [not] make that realization until now, that’s another good reason I’m explaining this to you.” The participant is aware that he is “explaining it,” in part, so that he can make “realizations.”
Comments on each other’s projects were not only given by the youth participants but by the facilitators as well. Although participants and staff wanted to continue dialogue—a natural response in a social interaction—the jail could not permit incarcerated youth to enjoy unmoderated, open-ended conversations with people physically outside the system, even designated educators. As such, VoiceThread’s limited comment capabilities forced the youth’s conversation with Global Kids staff to be confined to details about their projects while excluding a lot of open-ended, personal dialogue. However, at the end of the day, the educational forces pushing collaboration successfully used VoiceThread as a communications device that could function within the required strictures of the jail and its need for isolation.
Significance and Challenges
Being able to comment through digital media forced uCreate to work on the edge as the ability to collaborate within a jail environment is severely curtailed, even more so with the outside world or into another jail. For example, talking in the hallways is not allowed in order to minimize any fights that might break out if someone says something that might upset another (for more details, go here). If the guys are in a classroom such as the library, they are not allowed to look out the windows into the hallway where others might be passing by. They need special permission to work on a project together outside of the classroom. This is often difficult because while permission might be granted at one level, it might not reach another level for it to actually happen due to a lapse in communication somewhere along the lines.
As Global Kids learned through this pilot project, the Internet is viewed as a particularly risky space in the eyes of penal institutions whose responsibility is to monitor and regulate the activities of incarcerated youth. However, through years of experience working with young people and new media technologies, Global Kids has developed ways to balance existing institutional needs with the new requirements educational technology often create and work with partners who are comfortable walking that edge. We find that new technologies can be altered to fit specific circumstances and aims without losing their potential for teaching and learning. At the same time, existing cultural and practices can be challenged to progressively adapt to utilize the educational affordances of digital media. Our experiences speak to the potential of teaching and learning via partnerships between county libraries and county prisons.
uCreate was unusual for most if not all of the youth in the program in how it situated digital media production within an educational setting. When it comes to digital media, they usually experienced it, before their incarceration, as largely youth- and interest-driven. They used it because they wanted to use it, not because someone told them they had to.
This is a far cry from their educational experiences, both inside and outside the jail. In a GED class offered within the institution, youth learn to “game the system,” doing the work to meet not their own expectations but those of the teacher and program. They will ask questions like, “how many pages do you want me to write,” and “tell me what I need to know to pass the test.”
So they had to sacrifice the freedom that they were used to working with digital media in order to access it within a controlled and restricted environment; yet, at the same time, claim the opportunities offered for personal expression rarely presented within the formalized expectations experienced in traditional educational programs.
While we had to restrict youth access to the full potential of digital media for education, we also had to empower them to use the resources we were making available. Throughout the design and implementation process, we tried to be very aware of how we would present the information to the participants so that their project was not the result of what they thought we wanted to hear. We attempted to foster a more natural response in using the technology as if they were in an unregulated environment.
The project often challenged the comfort level of the institutions involved by asking, “how can a participatory learning culture be created within an institution where self-expression is discouraged, where the idea of collaborating with adults and fellow incarcerated youth in other jails challenges key assumptions and structural components of the institution’s culture and practices?”
Project Outcomes
From the perspective of Rik Panganiban, the Assistant Director of Global Kids’ Online Leadership Program, the project impaacted the young men in the following ways:
• They were able to see the library as a resource for them to access technology, learn about interesting issues, and create media. This can have dividends both while they are incarcerated and after their release. I.e. they may be more likely to go to their local public library to find out about job opportunities, access the internet, or get college information.
• They were able to reflect on their own life experiences, create various media about choices that they have made, and relate their own experience with others in similar circumstances.
• They were exposed to a variety of user-created media, from digital comic strips to music production software, and get to experiment with creating their own media. When they are released, those forms of expression are still available to them, to pursue as they see fit.
Panganiban suggests that in the future, we prepare for “a very transient population of participants, who might come for only one or two sessions, or might come for a whole series of workshops. Given the realities of jail, there are a variety of factors that can effect their participation—early release, court dates, solitary confinement, etc. Designing and running a digital media program in this environment is extremely challenging for the facilitators.”
Panganiban continues: “I should have anticipated that music creation was going to be a very attractive part of program. In the future, I think an entire program could be built around music creation, incorporating digital media skills, youth voice, cooperation skills, and civic engagement. Many of the young men take their music very seriously, much more than any other media they created.”
Next Steps
We want to better understand how an educational program using new media can afford youth new opportunities to leverage their learning from other spheres. Is there something specific to new media tools, or the pedagogies they engender, that create more flexibility and openness for youth to bring in existing knowledge and practices? How can these forms of participatory learning programs support youth to strategically shape and navigate their learning network? Finally, how can these skills be extended to all populations of young people, and what are the long-term consequences of providing these skills? The uCreate project took a first step toward answering these questions by developing a methodology and curriculum specific to incarcerated youth.
More information about uCreate can be found at
Barry Joseph, Director of Global Kids’ Online Leadership Program, holds a BA from Northwestern University and an MA in American Studies from New York University. Barry came to GK in 1990 through the New Voices Fellowship of the Academy for Educational Development, funded by the Ford Foundation. He has broad experience in human rights work and computer technology. The Global Kids Online Leadership Program works with young people to develop web-based dialogues and socially-conscious games that inspire youth worldwide to learn and take action about global and public affairs. With programs like Playing 4 Keeps, Global Kids is a leader in utilizing online games as a form of youth media, while Newz Crew, a partnership with the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, is an innovative current events dialogue. Barry also leads Global Kids work supporting youth voices on digital media and translating a youth development model to the Global Kids Island in Teen Second Life, both funded by the MacArthur Foundation.

Using Media Literacy to Combat Racism

Boston has a storied past, and race has played an important part in a number of those stories. From abolitionists and the early NAACP to the ugly scars of bussing, Boston has a reputation. Even with about 50% of the population made of people of color, Boston remains a segregated city. For years, many community groups and initiatives have worked toward racial amity. How Boston learns to overcome barriers of racism and come together in a new era of race relations can have important lessons for other communities as America approaches its own majority-minority shift.
For example, in the spring of 2003 I was teaching media literacy classes once a week at a small charter school in the Mission Hill area of Roxbury. We had been talking about stereotypes and magazine ads one afternoon when Nancy, a young girl, normally boisterous, came creeping back in after the others filed out. I could tell she had a secret question that she didn’t want her friends to hear. She sidled up to the desk and covered her mouth when she informed me, “I want to ask you something,” in a low voice.
“What am I?” she said, eyes intent on mine.
Confused, I asked, “What do you mean what are you. You’re you, you’re Nancy.”
“No, but I mean, what am I? See, my mother’s white but my father’s black so I wanted to know what that makes me.”
We talked for a while about this question present for so many “mixed race” youth, but before she left, I had a question of my own: “Why ask me?”
“Because I always wanted to know, and you were the first person I found to ask.”
I was floored by her comment. Her parents had different responses to issues of race, and outside the house, she had no opportunity to talk about the issues of race. From a media lit class, for the first time she found the space to dialogue with her peers about race, what it meant to act white, or be too light or too dark. But she wanted to examine not just how race was represented in the media, but how it showed up in her own life and family.
What does media literacy have to do with race?
Teens spend hours a day consuming media, much of it with messages about race and culture. What does it mean to be black or white, who are the heroes and villains? Without the ability to understand these messages, powerful political and corporate press machines too easily sway teens. Many like to think of Obama’s ascension to the presidency as the herald of a post racial America. But a look at media in 2009, from Professor Gates, to the guidettes of Jersey Shore showed us that prejudice and racism are still alive and well. How can we expect youth not to repeat the prejudices of the past if they are consuming the same stereotypical messages that have existed for years?
Organizing to address media content is important to creating lasting change, but in the meantime, we have a responsibility as educators to aid our students in thinking critically about how race is constructed, and prepare them to participate in shaping the conversation about race in this country.
Media can powerfully shape ideas about people or groups. Media messages are too often a poor substitute for real world multicultural experience in a society still as segregated as America.
Like Nancy, many students have no place to talk about race. Because mainstream media is rife with the stories and stereotypes that support racial prejudice it provides a perfect opportunity for students to examine and create messages about race. Since so much of the national debate about race takes place in the media, media educators have a special opportunity—and responsibility—to help students understand the way that ideas and beliefs around race are socially constructed.
Addressing Race in Afterschool Programs
I began my work in media literacy at Youth Voice Collaborative (YVC), a nonprofit youth serving after school program. YVC was created in 1991 by Marti Wilson Taylor, who had the vision to see that youth of color would need—and love—programs that helped them understand and make media. When I became the program manager in 2000, my job was to recreate YVC with renewed focused on media literacy to better connect to the YWCA’s larger mission of addressing racism.
With grant funding to support development, I created the Media Minds curriculum: an eight session media literacy curriculum designed for after school programs. The curriculum, which we continued to adapt over the years, has served as the core content for YVC.
YVC helped teens understand how media shapes the way they see themselves and the world around them, especially around issues of race and gender. We begin the program cycle for our on site after school program in the summer, hire a group of peer leaders and train them in media literacy, cultural competency and community organizing. During the school year, the peer leader works with adult staff to facilitate groups for teens at other programs, in addition to producing media and hosting events such as talent shows, poetry nights, conferences and discussion groups.
I also train small cohorts of teachers and youth workers to identify ways media literacy can advance their work, and each trainee choses to use the curriculum in different ways. For example:
• Start the school year with a section on critical analysis that becomes the framework for examining text and media throughout the year.
• Hold weekly media lit groups that apply critical analysis to class material.
• Create documentaries and community PSA and newsletters that increase cultural awareness
All the trainees reported that students enjoyed thinking and talking about media, making critical analysis skills fun to build. The challenges in training staff are numerous, from time and resources, to turnover and resistance, but the potential payoff makes addressing these challenges worth it.
Media literacy is an important strategy to open a dialogue on race and culture. Teens are hungry for a place where they can think and talk about issues of identity and the important role race and culture plays in their lives. Our discussions about the news reporting of youth violence, or the latest music videos, were inevitably discussions about the teens and their values.
By examining media, we examine ourselves, and the experience is life changing. One teen leader, Jamal, starred in YVC’s feature length docudrama on civil rights and the Voting Act, called Selma 2050. After researching, interviewing politicians and activists, and editing the film, he found—like his character in the film—a new awareness around race: “I used to think that being black was some kind of curse or something. Making this made me feel better about not just being a black man, but about black people period.”
Prepping Educators to Facilitate Race and Media Programming
As the director of the communications and media literacy program at Wheelock College and a trainer for Culture Shop I help train the next generation of media literacy educators. I can see their anxiety around addressing race and culture in their work with youth. While the issues of race and culture are real and complex, we can address these issues in simple ways.
The following are tips for any educator interested in addressing race and culture with youth. I call these Zen tips, because they’re simple, but take reflection and practice to make them work.
Check yourself: Race is still a taboo topic in many ways. You may be afraid to offend someone, or just unsure about how to talk about it. Take a deep breath, relax, and give yourself permission to talk about race. Reflect on your own ideas, experiences, and attitudes. No matter what your intentions, attitudes and beliefs about people of different backgrounds may be uninformed. That shouldn’t stop our work or make us feel guilty, but it means we must constantly debunk these messages and stereotypes internally.
Ask yourself questions to begin to get a sense of your own starting point:
• What do I mean by race?
• Do race and culture play an important role in my life or the lives of my students?
• What stereotypes and limiting beliefs do I hold about different cultural groups?
• How are my beliefs shaped by news, movies, and blogs?
Remember, race includes whites as well as “minorities.” Answering questions like these in a thoughtful reflective way can prepare us and make us feel more confident addressing issues of race.
Get real: Now that you are ready to begin talking and teaching about race it’s time to set some realistic expectations. If charge your group with eradicating racism in your community this year, you are setting your group up to fail. No matter how hard we work, none of us should expect that we can dismantle the system of racism on our own. When you honestly talk about race in a meaningful way you should expect that it is not going to be easy or get solved in a week. Be prepared that members of your group are likely to disagree when talking about their racial attitudes and assumptions.
Just talk: If it is going to be hard, and your group may not be able to affect widespread social change, you may be wondering what you can accomplish. Just by opening up dialogue and giving students the tools to think and talk critically about race and representation is creating a space for awareness. Many of the college students I see in classes have not had the chance to have thoughtful critical discussions about culture and race during their high school experience. When you develop an environment where youth are actively talking and thinking about race, you are making a difference. The conversation is enough to affect social change on the personal level.
Create culture: With your expectations clear, set a culture in your program that supports deep discussion around personal values. When we talk about personal values naturally it gets personal, so facilitators must be able to make the group feel safe. Educators should take the role of a neutral facilitator to be sure that everyone’s voice is heard, and to allow the students to carefully listen and consider each others views. Make sure that you have strong ground rules that are clearly and fairly enforced. Participants should be willing to speak and listen to each other respectfully. Without disagreement, your group will lack the chance to explore alternative viewpoints. The group should agree to disagree, leaving room for dissenting voices.
Keep calm: Finally, once your group begins to talk, think and create around issues of race, you may find you run into some opinions that you just do not like. Resist the urge to tamper with youths’ values. No matter how strong your own personal view, your role is not to tell youth what is right and wrong, but only to give them the tools to search for the truth themselves. Create an environment that encourages and accepts multiple viewpoints. You can stay neutral and be prepared to relate the historical, social and political context the message is created in. Helping students understand the societal factors that contribute to media messages will give students the information they need to make their own informed decisions.
Next Steps
Issues of race can be layered and complex, but there are small actions each of us can take each day to improve awareness in our own environment. Youth need tools to begin to peel back the layers now while they are still developing their own values around culture and diversity. The very idea of race is socially constructed—race is whatever we say it is, and mass media is where we say what it is. Media literacy and youth media production can provide a powerful pair of skills that work together to help youth analyze the way that race is represented in American culture, and participate in creating change through youth media production.
Armed with her new critical analysis skills, Nancy got her own surprise: the answer was hers to give.
Media literacy, critical thinking, and media production are powerful tools for youth to combat racism. Whether we have the chance to address it in the classroom, after school program or community, we have a responsibility as educators and citizens to work toward that more perfect union—a truly post-race society.

Susan Owusu was born and raised in and around Boston. She started working with young people in 1993 at the Charles Hayden School, a residential placement site for boys with emotional and behavioral disabilities. She supervised a 12 bed unit for students with ADD and trauma histories for 5 years before seeking a more empowering pathway to supporting youth. After two years organizing youth leaders in the Boston Public Schools, she had the opportunity to mange Youth Voice Collaborative. Susan joined YVC in 2000 and spent 10 years rebuilding one of Boston’s first youth media programs. She worked to develop the Media Minds curriculum, combining media literacy with cultural awareness for urban teens. Now as director of the communications and Media Literacy program at Wheelock College, Susan hopes to inspire a new generation of teachers, youth workers, and independent producers to user the power of media to tell a new story the reshapes and supports our communities, making them stronger and more connected.

Youth Media, Youth Voice & Youth in Politics

At twenty-seven, I am the youngest member of the Pennsylvania State House. My age is frequently a topic of conversation among my colleagues and peers but I know I belong here. There are important lessons I’ve learned from my journey that need to be shared with young people and their allies. The lesson that resonates strongest with me is that we, youth leaders in our community, do not have to sit and wait for change. We have the ability to implement change. We must use all the tools at our disposal. And one of the most important resources is the use of the press and generating media to communicate our vision and be conduits of change. My story is an example of how essential it is for young people to be part of the political process—and the role of youth media to amplify leadership and voice.
Many have called my journey to elected office an anomaly, a freak occurrence; I, on the other hand, prefer the term democracy. In early 2005 I was working as a housing counselor and was becoming increasingly frustrated with the state of my community, the Frankford section of Philadelphia. On one hand, I was living the American dream: I had a good job, I owned my own home, and I was pursuing my college degree.
However, as my dreams were coming to fruition, the dreams of so many of my neighbors were wilting. Crime was reaching epidemic proportions, business after business was shutting down, and the schools in my community were becoming increasingly unsafe and unable to meet the basic educational needs of the children.
Every day I would get off the train, walk to my house, and see how that sense of community that I felt growing up was gone. I asked myself, “How did we let things get so bad?” Then I paused and thought, “Who let things get so bad? Where were the leaders in my community? Who were the leaders in my community?” That day, at the age of 24, I decided to become involved in the local political establishment.
I decided to take a stand and run for elected office, and within a year, I entered the race for state representative. I was told I had no chance. How could a 25-year-old kid take on the powerful political machine? I was essentially told to sit back, relax, and let the veterans handle everything. Assuming that someone from my generation would be apathetic to the critical issues of Frankford, these seasoned politicians basically told me that politics was not a young man’s game. This unfortunate response reflects a long-standing stereotype of young people, one which is hopefully in the process of fading.
The more I was told of the impossibility of my goal, the harder I worked. I was fighting against an establishment that had long ago forgotten to stand for the people, for a principle, for a vision of success for everyone, not just those who obtained power. My campaign was a campaign of new ideas, of a renewed vision for my community. This vision had many facets: quality education for all children, a dramatic reduction in gun violence, affordable healthcare for everyone, and economic development that wouldn’t drive out the fabric of the community.
I demanded to be heard. I engaged everyone who would listen to me. I knocked on thousands of doors and held press conferences. It was a struggle to get the media to pay attention to my candidacy, but I pressed on and forced the media to cover an idealistic “kid” from the neighborhood who had no chance to win. I would eventually be heard, by the people, the media, and the establishment. By passionately spreading my vision of what I wanted Frankford to look like, people realized that they agreed with me, and they ultimately responded in my favor. I went on to win a very close race in the primary election.
Of course, I didn’t get through to the people, media, and establishment all by myself. Many other “kids” participated in my campaign, which was essentially a youth-led organization. Friends of mine from the neighborhood, college students who were interested in politics and people who discovered our campaign from new media, were all key players in my campaign. These advocates for change were as frustrated with the lack of leadership in our community as I was, and they helped me in countless ways, such as writing and designing the literature distributed on my behalf, knocking on doors, and organizing press conferences. New media, such as Facebook, YouTube, and MySpace were also utilized to the best of our ability and were vital to drawing members of the younger generation to our mission.
Advocates for change take many forms. For example, adult allies and mentors are vital resources for us as we take the reins of leadership. Allies, such as youth media educators, have an important role: to inform us how to be critical viewers, because having an opinion develops an articulate worldview and perspective. Linking with technology, we can make our own media to voice the issues we see in our communities.
One of the most important steps in that education is following current events throughout the media. Knowledge of current events is essential to the character of democracy.Young people will play a key role in who will lead this nation for the next four years as commander-in-chief; it is our voices and work that will shape the future of our great country. We must get involved in politics because the decisions made by politicians at federal, state and local levels affect our lives, whether it’s Congress reducing the amount of the Pell grant or other college loans, starting a new war in Iran, or providing tax incentives for community organizations that get young people involved in their local regions. Those decisions have a direct impact on young people, just as current and new trade agreements will affect the job market for our generation.
Now more than ever, it is easier to not only follow the political process, but to become part of the process. A 15-year-old teenager from Sioux City, South Dakota can passionately articulate his feeling on the war that has sent his brother thousands of miles away. A 21-year-old college student can go onto YouTube and tell the world how proud she is, as an African American, of the nomination of Barack Obama. Young people are using tools to share their opinions on the political climate, creating their own media to emphasize and amplify their voice.
Technology has provided every young American the opportunity to follow and become involved in media. Educators that work with technology, such as youth media practitioners, need to link self-expression, leadership and civic engagement with decision making and change in the political realm. In your curriculum, add reviews of politics and how young people—some who do not yet have voting power—can make a major difference. Having youth voice and leadership in the variety of media messaging at our finger tips will not only affect the upcoming election, but the long term changes for the country as a whole.
Before Representative Tony Payton was elected to the PA House of Representatives, he educated low-income families at United Communities in South Philadelphia on how to achieve homeownership. He was also a 2005-06 fellow of the Center for Progressive Leadership, and continues to be a big brother with Big Brothers Big Sisters of southeastern Pennsylvania. In 2007, the Philadelphia Tribune honored him with a leadership award for being one of the most influential African Americans in Philadelphia. Among other things, he is currently promoting his REACH legislation that would provide scholarship money to all PA students with at least a 3.0 GPA and a 90% attendance record.

Out of the Screening Room and into the Streets

It takes more than just showing up with a film and doing a Q&A afterwards if you want to make a deep impact with viewers—especially the local community. Young people need to go beyond simply making and screening a film. They need to learn how to engage an audience, present community issues for social change, and partner with affiliated organizations. They must effectively use their products as resources for education and action—an approach that fosters both the long-term growth of young producers and the youth media field itself.
This is what Youth Views does—it trains young people in using media for social change. Our activities seek to combine the power of media activism with skills in grassroots campaign building and innovative usages of technology to engage people and foster in them the spiritual and humanistic knowledge necessary to successfully work in marginalized communities.
About Youth Views
Youth Views is a project of the Community Engagement and Education department at American Documentary (AmDoc), a nonprofit multi-media arts organization that produces the acclaimed independent nonfiction series P.O.V. on public television (PBS). Building on AmDoc’s mandate to leverage independent media as an effective tool for social change, Youth Views works with organizations to engage young people in community building, cross-cultural understanding and leadership training using media and art. Our partners across the nation include grassroots community-based organizations, human rights groups, neighborhood associations, counseling centers, museums, student clubs, and youth media organizations.
For over 20 years, P.O.V. films have been known for their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues and presenting points of view rarely represented in mainstream media. Youth Views recognizes the power of independent documentary films to transform people’s understanding of the world. Youth Views provides P.O.V. films and accompanying educational materials free to organizations interested in incorporating independent media into their existing programs.
Partnering with Youth Media and Community Organizing Groups
One of the ways Youth Views trains young people to use media for social change is through partnerships with youth media and community organizing groups. For example, Youth Views provides the Listen Up! Youth Media Network, opportunities to expose young filmmakers to social issues, study the documentary form and gain hands-on skills in outreach and organizing. At times, these partnerships involve teaching youth media makers how to encourage and lead dialogue at screenings. Maureen Mullinax, Director of a youth media project at Appalshop (a multi-disciplinary arts and education center in Appalachia) stated, “Since 2001 it has been part of the curriculum for interns in the Appalachian Media Institute to produce P.O.V. community screenings. They see for themselves how media can generate lively discussions.”
In addition to partnering with youth media groups, Youth Views cultivates connections with young community organizers. For example over five years, Youth Views has collaborated with Project Reach, a youth and adult-run, youth organizing and crisis counseling center that has been committed for over 35 years to empower and engage New York City’s most marginalized youth communities. AmDoc has found that both types of partnerships are critical to our work because they foster in young people a commitment and passion for raising awareness about social issues with purpose.
These partnerships, in which films are used as a means to inform an audience of injustice through the leadership of young people, can be reproduced in both youth media and youth organizing fields. Both share goals of providing a safe space for young people to discuss their concerns and refine their communication and leadership skills. These partnerships support the efforts of young people—once equipped with necessary skills to use media literacy for social change—to see the power of using independent media as a tool in community-based work.
Using Film to Create Community and Social Change: Señorita Extraviada
Young people can use film to expand a community’s perspective and raise important issues regarding injustice. In one instance, Project Reach and their partners—the American Indian Community House (AICH) in New York, NY and the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center (EPJC) in San Antonio, Texas—participated in the Community Engagement and Education campaign for the film Señorita Extraviada by Lourdes Portillo. This film examines the disappearances of hundreds of young women in Juarez, Mexico. While the film was not youth-produced, young people have used the film to train, organize, and mobilize their communities.
For example, Señorita Extraviada was key to bringing communities together—such as border towns in southern Texas and migrant Mexican populations—together. Young people took part in assembling intergenerational teams to present community screenings; led dialogues that considered the connections between violence against women, the culture of machismo, poverty, and attacks against indigenous communities; and organized action in the U.S. and Mexico about the situation in Juarez. Overwhelmingly, the audience was relieved that the film responded to an ongoing tragedy in their community with respect, cultural understanding, and a critical examination of contributing factors. The film, along with skilled facilitators to manage community discussions and experts ready to share their analysis and resources, drove people to action.
In addition, Project Reach screened Señorita Extraviada as part of their Summer Training Series, which is a community-organizer-readiness programs that examined different forms of discrimination. Youth trainers were surprised by their peers’ resistance to examining their assumptions about the roles of power and its misuse in relationships. In response, youth trainers asked the group to separate into male-identified and female-identified groups. They then had men view Señorita Extraviada while women participated in an exercise where each was given an index card to answer the question “How have you been personally hurt by sexism?”
After the screening the groups reunited, and each man received an index card to read out loud. Responses revealed that each young woman in the program had experienced some form of sexual violence. This startling revelation left the young men shaken, newly aware of the reality of sexism across transnational/cultural boundaries as well as on a personal level. As a result, participants in that session vowed to challenge sexism wherever they saw it and support the rights of women and girls.
Señorita Extraviada was also used on Youth View’s Talking Back program, with young people producing and airing video letters from across the country as part of the national PBS broadcast of the film, which reached over a million American homes. Video letters are still available for viewing online via P.O.V.’s website The Señorita Extraviada video letters included responses from Amnesty International USA, Feminist Majority, activist Eve Ensler, and Congresswoman Hilda L. Solis (D-CA). Participating groups created a reel with an array of the video letters and also screened it to raise awareness about the Juarez murders and the range of activist campaigns to raise awareness and influence policy around the issue. This campaign was also presented to young leaders from around the world at the United Nations during the 49th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women illustrating of how young people can use independent media as a catalytic tool for social change.
Lessons Learned
The Señorita Extraviada campaign is an example of how film can provide opportunities for young people to lead community discussion and trainings while widening community perspectives and engaging community members to dismantle injustice. Some tips on using youth-created media to raise community issues include the following:
Using film as an ice-breaker: Film can be one of the best ice-breakers for groups to get to know one another and to raise awareness of community issues, as the Senorita Extravida experience shows. Discussing someone else’s experience is a safe way for people to begin sharing their perspectives and identifying solutions to ongoing issues.
Training in moving beyond the initial screening: Film educators and professionals in youth media programs can help by training young people to leverage the social issue content of different films to raise awareness and facilitate deeper understanding around the wide array of issues in their global/local communities.
Identifying appropriate audiences: To get films off the shelf and engage communities, youth must identify key audiences. If youth want to work nationally, identify which cities or regions have the highest populations of the groups represented in a film. Or, identify which neighborhoods in their own city are confronting similar issues.
Organizing an event: Young filmmakers seeking to engage community should consult with relevant community groups and suggest venues, times, and facilitators, as well as advice on how to best make an environment a “safe space” for sharing and learning. For example, the best format for a screening may be in a classroom with a trusted teacher or another affinity group that is tackling the issues raised in a film.
Mechanisms for feedback at screenings: At screenings, it is vital to provide opportunities for viewers to present feedback to the filmmakers. For example, AmDoc asks the audience to evaluate the film in writing to obtain further feedback and share contact information if they want to stay connected. It is also important that there be time for the community to discuss ways to get involved and share strategies and resources for addressing these issues.
A respect for diversity: A fundamental element that enables our staff and participants to work successfully with many different types of groups is that we deeply value diversity and respect for other cultures. We honor those values by participating in anti-bias awareness and education trainings and honoring historical and contemporary social justice movements. Staff working with young people at the Youth Views Training Lab encourages participants to identify their points of view and examine how it has been influenced by factors such as race, class, gender, and sexuality. Such intergenerational exchange helps young people understand what influences their perspective and how it impacts their interactions with others.
Through partnerships with youth media and youth development organizations, young people can strategically leverage the power of independent film to inspire community awareness, civic engagement, and inspire social change. Though each young person starts in a different place—whether it’s as a media producer, event organizer, facilitator, advocate, activist or educator—all young people can continue to be agents of change in their communities throughout their lives.
The process has revealed over time that youth engagement heightens their commitment to civic engagement and increases their understanding of civic and social responsibility. P.O.V.’s Youth Training has had this type of impact. The combination of increased personal awareness and sensitivity to the stories of other communities along with the development of skills in areas such as critical thinking, media literacy and community organizing has helped young people see how to make impact on communities large and small.
Being able to examine and use a film—in partnership with grassroots organizations—can be the very example young people need to build a more democratic society. From my experience as a youth media maker and community organizer, the youth media field is in a powerful position to support this larger goal for society.
Irene Villaseñor manages Youth Views at American Documentary, Inc. | P.O.V. She is a graduate of the Educational Video Center’s High School Documentary Workshop and Youth Organizer’s Television. For her first campaign, she joined her parents in advocating for the rights of immigrant workers. If you would like to get involved with Youth Views, contact Irene at

2007 International Essay Contest for Young People

For youth essays on peace using media and technology |Deadline: June 30 2007
The Goi Peace Foundation and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) invite young people throughout the world up to 25 years of age to submit essays for the 2007 International Essay Contest for Young People. Entries are divided into two age categories for the awarding of prizes: up to 14 years and 15 – 25 years.
The competition’s theme is ‘The Role of Media and Information and Communication Technologies in Building a Peaceful World.’
Essays should comment on how media and communication and information technologies can be used to help build a peaceful world. First, second, and third place and honourable mention entries in each category will receive: (1st) 100,000 Yen (approximately US$840), (2nd) 50,000 Yen (approximately US$420), and (3rd and honourable mention) certificates and gifts. Multiple prizes will be given in all but the first place category. The first place winner will be invited to Japan to receive the award – travel expenses are paid by the sponsors.
Rules for the competition are:
a.. Essays must be 800 words or less, printed or typed in English, French, Spanish, or German.
b.. Each must include a cover page with the age category, title, your name, address, telephone number, fax number, email address, nationality, age as of June 30 2007, gender, school name and grade, and word count.
c.. Entries must be submitted by post or email.
d.. Essays must be original and unpublished.
e.. Essays must be written by one person.
f.. Copyright of the essays will be assigned to the organisers.
Interested parties must send their submissions to the address below.
The deadline for application is June 30, 2007.
International Essay Contest C/O Goa Peace Foundation
1-4-5 Hirakawacho, Chiyoda-ku
Tokyo 102-0093 Japan

Media Education Kit published by UNESCO

“Media Education: A Kit for Teachers, Students, Parents and Professionals” has been published in English and French by UNESCO. The kit is partly a product of the MENTOR project initiated by UNESCO and supported by the Europeon Commission. The kit proposes a prototype of media education curriculum and key concepts of media. You can download the pdf form of the kit here or email

4th Annual NYC Grassroots Media Conference: Media and Movements Beyond Borders

4th Annual NYC Grassroots Media Conference: Media and Movements Beyond Borders will occur on Saturday February 24th, 2007 at New School University 10 AM – 7 PM (65 Fifth Avenue at 13th Street). This year, the NYC Grassroots Media Conference seeks to ask: What are the common threads inherent in our global struggles for social change and how does the media contribute to our understanding of the root causes of injustices faced by world communities? Visit the conference home page here.