Youth Media Curriculum for Justice

Left: Jessica Collins, Right: Andrea Quijada
Youth media encompasses diverse realities of how communities live, work, play, and communicate. For example, youth media work in New Mexico differs from youth media work in many other regions in the U.S. New Mexico is a very poor, rural, and under-resourced area located in the fifth geographically largest state in the country. This reality impacts our access to everything from healthcare, to food, funding, and technology, such as rural broadband, computers, software, and digital cameras.
Moreover, a range of communities exist even within New Mexico. It is a majority minority state, with large percentages of our communities speaking Native languages, Spanish, and Vietnamese. The frequent use of English in classrooms creates language barriers that impact all educational programs, and youth media work specifically. As a result, few media programs are offered in languages other than English, and access to these important communication tools becomes available only to English-speaking youth.
However, standardized curricula are often created from a perspective not relevant to marginalized young people and their respective communities. It is often developed by someone from outside young people’s lives who is telling their story, speaking for them, and imposing a limiting framework. Moreover, curriculum often assumes uniformity among young people and forces all youth to fit into narrow “youth” demographics and markets created in part by mainstream media.
If all people, including young people, were considered experts on their own communities, curriculum would be by and for the communities they come from. What youth curriculum today needs is a framework by which communities—people of color, LGBTQI, low-income, immigrant and youth—can learn, share, and exchange information to create change and build power. A media justice framework is the only way to ensure that all young people are both seen and heard throughout youth media curriculum.
Media Literacy Project and MAG-Net
Based in Albuquerque, the Media Literacy Project (MLP) has been designing curriculum for youth and adults since 1993. In 2008, MLP strategically and consciously began incorporating a media justice framework into our program areas, a step in a larger process of engaging the community in dialogue, action, and policy creation. For example, last year MLP helped New Mexicans with the digital television transition. This work was critical because, leading up to the transition, New Mexico was the least prepared state due to issues of poverty, language, and lack of funding and other resources.
MLP’s shift toward workshops, curricula, and trainings to expand and prioritize disenfranchised communities coincided with MLP becoming an anchor organization of the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net). The network seeks to bring about media policy for change to advance racial justice, gender and economic equity, and youth and immigrant rights.
Youth Media Summit Curriculum for Justice
Due to our recent community organizing work in New Mexico, we were excited to help represent our state at the Youth Media Summit in Lake Forest, Illinois. As both members of the Youth Media Summit steering committee and MLP staff, we co-facilitated (along with Meghan McDermott from Global Action Project) a working group on curriculum at the Summit.
Also in this group were Malkia Cyril from Center for Media Justice; Amalia Deloney from the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net); Jackie Kook from People’s Production House; Jen Macchiarelli from Global Action Project; and Jasmine White from Public Access Corporation of D.C.
This working group created an asset map and outlined objectives, guiding principles, and strategies for a comprehensive media justice approach. For instance, the Highlander Research and Education Center in New Market, TN is a current and successful model of a progressive community organizing strategy center—the term “media justice” was coined there in 2002. At the core of Highlander’s work are programs designed to build strong and successful social-change activism and community organizing led by the people who suffer most from the injustices of society.
Such programs might be adapted for other regions of the country; although, our working group recognizes there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to youth media curriculum. For example, curriculum that works with most young people in Albuquerque may not necessarily work in a town 20 miles outside of Albuquerque, let alone in another state or region of the country.
Ultimately, a media justice approach makes room in curriculum development and implementation for rural youth, youth of color, non-English speaking youth, immigrant youth, queer youth, and low-income youth.
At the Summit, our working group agreed that the objectives of youth media curriculum for justice are to develop, connect, change and sustain communities. We believe that curriculum should develop under-represented and misrepresented youth, families, and communities to their highest capacity. It needs to go beyond teaching a skill and demonstrate how these media skills benefit communities.
In addition, curriculum should increase young people’s participation in the life of their community and in civic engagement. Youth should develop awareness, resources, and an ability to reflect on their lives, articulate their analyses, and reach their goals. Curriculum should inspire and help youth define their role in the world around them.
Curriculum should also connect youth, families, and communities culturally, politically, and technologically. Media justice curriculum and the outcomes brought about through its implementation can break down barriers, unify people, and create systemic social change.
Finally, curriculum must sustain leadership development, connections, and changes. Sustaining youth, families, and communities includes everything from job creation to financial sustainability—where organizations are relying not only on foundation support but also community support—and self-determination, in which young people have choices and freedom over their own lives.
Suggestions for the Youth Media Field
Create a popular education-training center. At such a center, educators and trainers could build their skills in and knowledge of popular education with a specific emphasis on strategic communications, youth media, and media justice. Youth media organizations would come together to promote visibility for certain regions of the country and communities such as queer youth, youth of color, and low-income youth.
Establish long-term funding. We need to build relationships with funders to obtain long-term funding to convene grantees, social justice organizers, media producers, and trainers for a knowledge, tool, and curriculum exchange. This type of funding leads to the sustainability of organizations and communities. Multi-year grants allow organizations to learn more, change, and adapt within a longer funding cycle. This type of change can’t be done with a one-year grant. Three-year grants create stronger programs and evaluations and more accurate data.
Highlight and replicate successful models. Both projects and policy advocacy have integrated media literacy and media justice curriculum into public educational systems. For example, the MLP currently works with educational systems in New Mexico and throughout the country. Through grants we have delivered media literacy presentations and trainings in middle and high schools. We have built a strong relationship with the New Mexico Department of Health to bring media literacy to all parts of our state, while at the same time working to build healthy communities.
On the policy end, NMMLP worked to educate state legislators on media literacy during the first 2009 legislative session. Along with our local partners, we proposed a bill to make media literacy a required elective in public middle and high schools. Although the language in this bill was changed from a required elective to a possible elective, the bill went all the way to the governor and was signed off on in its first year. It was a huge win for media literacy and media justice in New Mexico. We need to build on this work both in New Mexico and in other states.
Next Steps
Media justice broadens the field in ways we are only starting to visualize and comprehend. Its objectives are living and breathing and will need frequent evaluation to meet the needs of our shifting cultures, politics, and technologies. We understand that for a variety of reasons many organizations may not be in a place to implement these suggestions in their curriculum now. Your organization may need a strategic plan in place that addresses the steps to get there.
Nevertheless, it is only when the communities’ most disenfranchised are placed at the center of all our work—from education and curriculum development, to media production, to community organizing, to policy—that power shifts can happen. A media justice framework ultimately seeks to unify communities, achieving equity and accountability among people and the communities in which they live, work, play, and pray.
Jessica Collins is the associate program director for the Media Literacy Project. She trains youth, designs curriculum, and produces multimedia resources on the topics of gender, race, and class issues in the media, reality TV, news media, media literacy for financial literacy and health, body image, and media making. Jessica received a B.A. in Media Arts from the University of New Mexico.
Andrea Quijada is the executive director of NMMLP and delivers media literacy presentations and trainings—in New Mexico, across the USA and internationally—at professional and student conferences, at community forums, on college campuses, and in middle schools and high schools. She leads workshops for students, teachers, media activists, community organizers and health professionals. Andrea also presents twice a year at NMMLP’s Catalyst Institute.

Youth Inclusion & Media Justice

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”” –Martin Luther King, Jr.
Socioeconomic and political inequality are all too common themes in American communities—particularly in working class and immigrant communities along the border with Mexico. In these areas, right-wing paramilitary groups threaten the poor and impoverished. The experiences of the disempowered groups in these communities go largely unreported in the mainstream media.
Rather, news reporting that is informed by race and class analysis is negated or diluted in the media we see everyday. Furthermore, low-income families, workers, and real people living with limited access to media do not know they are the targets of anti-immigrant rhetoric.
Youth living in these rocky, vulnerable landscapes rarely get the chance to speak out against mainstream media, and by and large do not experience creating media—a process that would enable them to highlight and unravel issues through dialogue within their communities. This is a tremendous challenge for educators interested in social transformation and social justice, especially within extremely marginalized groups like immigrant, queer, indigenous youth.
New youth media must put all of its efforts behind eradicating the kind of binary thinking in this country that targets and categorizes people based on race, language, and identity.
Language, Race & Violence
Radio Conciencia (Consciousness Radio), a project of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in Immokalee Florida, is one example of a youth media project that works to challenge mainstream media stereotypes. I have drawn on my experience with this station to inform my dialogue with the New Mexico Media Literacy Project.
In Immokalee, you can’t walk 2 blocks without hearing a multitude of languages. Immokalee is a community where several pre-Columbian languages are spoken, including Mayan totzil, kan’jobal, Mam, and Quiche, as well as indigenous Mexican languages, such as Zapotec, Mixtec, Nahautl, Purepecha, Popoluca, and many others. Yet, for communities as far as 30 minutes away, we are only understood as being Latino or regarded as “Mexican.”
Media outlets want to find profits from this community only by speaking to us in Spanish, while blatantly homophobic and heterosexist DJ’s poke fun at the indigenous community, without even considering that much of that listenership is native to Latin America. The consequence of divisive media—media embracing the “hip” heterosexist, and homogenous framework of corporate media—will only perpetuate this intense climate of internalized hate of the “other,” even though that other is a strong connection to their ethnicity.
This dismissal of other languages and subgroups is extremely unhealthy to our communities, where Latinos and native people of the Americas live together. We only hear one language, that often perpetuates stereotypes of those that are darker. These stereotypes—and there are many—include the “foolish Indian” and the “over-sexualized feminine gay.”
As a result, these misrepresentations create power relationships and dynamics that breed internalized hatred amongst these already vulnerable communities.
Consequently, there are extreme cases of violence on immigrants and queer immigrants, not only from vigilante groups but from neighbors who may speak a better Spanish, who maybe know more English or have risen a little higher up an economic ladder but still live in the same squalor their victims live in.
Violence results—especially in the form of what is called “guato-bashing” or “beaner-hopping,” which I saw growing up—where a Latino youth attacks those that are more indigenous looking or who speak with less capacity of the English and Spanish language. If you are an indigenous queer immigrant youth, you are more at risk of being a victim of this violence.
What has helped to empower Immokalee is the option to become a DJ on community low-power radio.
Youth media can be a solution to this violence, by building inclusivity and partnering pro-actively with media justice and immigrant movements and efforts, as well as community radio groups.
Radio and Social/Media Justice
On Radio Consciencia 107.9 FM, we have community members play CD’s and read news in their own language, speaking on issues that affect them and/or their families here or in their respective places of origin. On 107.9 FM we find that Latin American radio is really much bigger than what corporate sponsored media is putting out there.
Through community radio, I get to host local people on my show and talk about issues in the local high school from different perspectives across generational gaps, cultural gaps and sexual identities. Local low-power radio uses a collective approach, which helps make our community aware of the diversity we hold, and how that makes us unique and important.
We find radio less divisive, and when community events are announced on this station, all people feel welcome and eager to participate.
Most of our DJ’s, or “animators” as the radio committee calls them, are in their late teens to early 20’s. Focusing on this age group and community-demographic is a model the youth media field must embrace, if we really want to create a healthier media landscape.
But our radio programs are only part of the solution. Realizing that there is an empty space in our current media landscape, social justice and media justice must defend groups that get undermined inside the immigrant rights movement, inside the farm workers movement, and general workers movement.
That is why the New Mexico Media Literacy Project (NMMLP), as part of a network of media and social justice organizations called MAGNet (Media Action Grassroots Networks) is building a movement with infrastructure that bridges the social, cultural, and media justice groups together, to be at the forefront of media reform and media policy in this country.
As part of the NMMLP in Albuquerque, I am collaborating with groups state-wide to put our issues at the forefront and demand that certain media policies are in place to to benefit our survival inside this hostile Southwest region. As a resource and anchor of the MAGNet network, we can create an inclusive media landscape that acknowledges the most vulnerable groups in our community.
Immigrant rights groups and social justice groups can benefit from a structure of media that allows a multiplicity of cultures and voices to take shape, creating a stronger more grassroots dialogue throughout the youth media field.
Next Steps
The youth media field must join the media justice movement, since we collectively understand the importance of bringing all voices into a dialogue. We must bring out the voices marginalized within the marginalized community, like the indigenous, immigrant, queer youth voice, to make real change in the world for young people and the many under-represented voices throughout our homeland.
Candelario co-coordinates the Media Action Grassroots Network in New Mexico and builds strategic partnerships with social justice and media justice organizations in the state. He is currently a VISTA volunteer through the Digital Arts Service Corps (DASCorps).