Last year I attended an open house for a youth organization in Baltimore called Wide Angle Youth Media, an organization that provides opportunities for Baltimore City young people to express themselves and make media about issues that are important in their lives. I’m an advocate of giving people a media voice, so this project really appealed to me. There was a viewing of some finished video pieces, and one particularly stuck in my mind. It was a short film about rolling dice in inner-city schools, and it showed how this activity was a source of violence amongst students.
Well, I had never heard that “crap shooting” was an issue in schools before. This isn’t something we hear about on CNN or the network evening news, but this young man was dealing with the effect it has on his community everyday. So much so, he committed himself to producing a compelling documentary about it. To me, this really illustrates the value of giving youth a voice and, with the decentralized nature of Internet distribution, the opportunity for a global audience. I went back to their public event this year and explored the program further.
Wide Angle Youth Media receives funding from some of the big institutions in Baltimore, but it has a surprising number of small business and individual supporters, too. Their sponsor list includes local restaurants, bakeries and pizza parlors. The leadership has done a good job in connecting with the community. Starting 10 years ago with one program serving 12 youth, Wide Angle now runs programming for 500 middle and high school students and produces the annual “Who Are You? Youth Media Festival” that is hosted by CENTERSTAGE, a prestigious Baltimore theatre venue.
Baltimore City has been plagued with serious crime and drug activity for numerous decades. For a young person growing up in Baltimore, rows of vacant houses are part of the landscape. The city’s public schools have limited resources and young people are susceptible to joining gangs due, in part, to the lack of positive resources and connections available to them. Wide Angle’s collaborative and creative project focuses the young filmmakers on improving the community, rather than being drawn into the negative influences of it.
Wide Angle has a powerful impact on the youth who participate in its programs. An example is Eric, who came to the company in 2008. Eric had been interested in working in media since he was 13 but had no access to media production training or resources. He was born and raised in Baltimore City and, growing up, moved from neighborhood to neighborhood every few years. From the east to the west sides of the city, he experienced firsthand some of the toughest challenges facing the city and its young residents. In particular, he witnessed the effect drugs were having on people with whom he was close. He reflected, “In the neighborhoods I’ve lived in, you see drug activity all the time.” In fact, it is estimated drugs are involved in about 75% of the Baltimore City’s murders, about 85% of its felonies and most of people arrested in the city report drug use.
Eric’s aunt attended Wide Angle’s Youth Media Festival and immediately referred Eric to the program. Prior to joining, Eric had not had any media production experience. Over the past three years, he has grown as a media maker, from working on other teens’ projects to writing, directing and starring in his own short film. For the subject of this film, Eric chose drug addiction. “I knew I wanted to do something on drugs. A lot of people I know are on drugs. I wanted to show the low part of it, but how it can get better … I wanted to influence and inspire a person who’s on drugs or knows someone on drugs to get help.” You can watch Eric’s video here.
Eric was accepted to Morgan State University where he is currently finishing his first semester. He plans to major in media production. Eric, like many of the young producers at Wide Angle, found a space where his voice and experiences were valued and where he could develop media and storytelling skills to make that voice heard.
About Richard Lakin
Richard Lakin is the co-founder of 18 rabbits digital media. Named after the Mayan king (695-738 AD) who supported the arts during his reign in Central America, 18 rabbits digital media promotes social entrepreneurs, NGOs, educational institutions, corporate social responsibility, non-profits and community outreach projects through a strategic program of multimedia and internet distribution.