Twenty-two years ago this past summer, I took a freelance job that would change my career and life forever. As a twenty-something filmmaker living in Chicago in the 80’s, you didn't have the liberty to turn down work, and when asked if I could teach a bunch of alternative high school students on the west side of the city to produce a documentary about their lives, I reluctantly agreed despite having never taught before. It was the same year that the ground-breaking civil rights documentary series Eyes on the Prize aired for the first time, and one episode chronicled the summer that Dr. Martin Luther King lived in Chicago just a few short blocks from the school where I was teaching. Simply walking my students over to the empty lot where Dr. King’s building once stood launched a media investigation into what had happened in their neighborhood over 30 some years and just what legacy was left for them. Their film would air on our local PBS station and receive an Emmy nomination, and I would continue to teach there for the next five years.
That summer I learned more about media making and the power of storytelling than in all my years of academic study, and from that point on I became dedicated to learn about and advocate for youth media making in all forms. I learned that young people in this city and everywhere have amazing stories to tell, and that the simplest of media making tools, the right encouragement, and the freedom to speak from one’s heart is all it takes to inspire. Inspired by the young people I had the fortune to work with, I went on to help found Street-Level Youth Media, an organization dedicated to “educate Chicago’s urban youth in media arts and emerging technologies for use in self-expression, communication, and social change.” There I witnessed that the opportunities for youth media making are boundless – web publishing, installation art, audio production, and graphic design. The bottom line was working to give young people a voice in our communities and inclusion in what is now a global information-based society.
For the last seven years, it has been my great privilege to work with Adobe Foundation on Adobe Youth Voices, their signature philanthropic effort to help young people tell their stories through media – perhaps the most significant contribution to the practice of youth media in its thirty-plus year history. Together we’ve built a comprehensive training strategy to bring youth media to any educator anywhere in the world. I never would have imagined when I started working with young people all those years ago that we would have a community of 15,000 educators from 100 countries all dedicated to facilitating creative self-expression through media.
Despite the wealth of technological tools and the ability to stream content around the world, many of the basic tenants of youth media making have remained the same since the days of tube cameras and videotape. If you are just starting out, here are some tried and true tips to help youth media projects shine:
You can find more advice and loads of great resources to support youth media making through Adobe Youth Voices Essentials, an online community open to any educator interested in learning more. Besides the wonderful projects young people will make, weaving media into teaching and learning will ultimately change for the better the relationship between you and the young people you serve. That alone is a reason to celebrate the power of new technologies.