It’s hard to sum up a year’s worth of work in four minutes, but that’s exactly what a group of young people from the juvenile justice system did this summer when they participated in a film-making workshop (View it!) with the Media Awareness Project. The project was created in partnership with Texas Network of Youth Services (TNOYS), an organization working to create a Texas where all youth have access to the resources, support and opportunities they need to thrive. TNOYS brings together people and organizations to promote youth advocacy, strengthen professional development and create youth engagement.
This project was a great fit for us at MAP, because we share the belief that teaching youth to advocate for themselves and for the issues that affect them is a strong foundation for helping them examine and process the intricate stories of their lives.
Many of today’s youth find themselves surrounded by poverty, violence, addiction, incarceration and instability. I am compelled by these children. The world they grow up in is complex–It is often not supportive of their social and emotional learning. The most critical thing we can do for children is to teach them to advocate for themselves–give them a voice.
For TNOYS, developing youth advocacy and engagement has been a best practice for decades. Their innovative Youth in Action program is designed to get young people involved in the policy making process so that they can influence decisions about policies, programs, and services that impact their lives.
“We work with young people in high-risk situations,” said my colleague and TNOYS Executive Director, Christine Gendron. “In the project with youth from the juvenile justice system, we spent a year with them examining their experiences with the system and how it affects them, their families and their futures. We were absolutely floored by the passion they brought to the project and their ability to articulate the many challenges they face when involved in the juvenile justice system.”
But the benefits of advocacy reach far beyond its ability to influence systems that serve youth. Both MAP and TNOYS agree that advocacy offers unparalleled opportunities for youth to develop and practice critical life skills. “We research, we write, we think, we examine,” Gendron explained. “We talk to our representatives and political leaders. We meet the press. We explore our ideas about ourselves and others. Everything we have learned to believe is called into question. Adding film-making to the equation was especially powerful for our kids. They have this shared experience of the pull between struggle and progress in their lives. With the film project, they came together in this very intense format and had to produce something reflective of that experience. We think they did an amazing job.”
For MAP, all of our work with youth is about teaching them essentially to use film to advocate. Film is a fascinating medium. It has the power to reach across social, economic and cultural boundaries and to make the audience a part of the story. To engage an audience is an eye-opening experience for kids who have generally felt voiceless and silenced.
If you would like to learn more about using film-making in your work with youth, please contact the Media Awareness Project: info@MediaAwarenessProject.org