Article for PTD Digest


Erin Taylor asked me to write a little something for the upcoming VISTA digest... here is what I submitted (a sneak preview!):

You would think creating a new media literacy series would be easy enough. There are enough of them out there. Thus, when I was asked as a brand new VISTA to create a new media literacy curriculum for Project: Think Different, I figured I would just quote some Noam Chomsky and maybe throw in some media statistics and get something at least presentable together. The task seemed simple.

But, (there is always a “but”) I needed to make the curriculum accessible to teens. Boston teens. Boston teens living in the neighborhoods in which teenage death rates are the highest, in which an attraction to hip-hop music and commercial materialism are identifying aspects of the youth culture, and in which young people are most likely to be portrayed in the news media in relation to situations of crime and violence. Clearly these are the teens in the greatest need of media literacy awareness, but how in the world was a white, relatively affluent, punk, college-graduate female from Austin, Texas ever going to create something that actually works for these kids? Seeing as my first days in Boston included getting severely confused by public transportation, being shocked at how many people lacked innate kindness, and staring in disbelief at how the seemingly numerous Dunkin’ Donuts actually all had customers, the task seemed slightly daunting at best. How could I ever relate?

A lot has changed since that first week. I live amongst the people I work with. I listen to the music they listen to. I shop at the places they shop. I see the things they see. I travel the way they travel. I even use food stamps. It is amazing how much you can learn by immersion. Immersing yourself in the culture is what every foreign language instructor will advise when one is trying to acquire a second language. My project was no different.

Now that I have immersed myself in the community in which I work, being the Youth Media Coordinator for Project: Think Different has gone extremely well. Project: Think Different’s mission is to create a renaissance in music, film and video media education in order to engage people in civic dialogue and action among disenfranchised communities to ensure equity and fairness. We use the media arts as an organizing tool to reach disenfranchised young people and enable them to “think differently” and think big about their ability to create positive change in their lives, communities, and society at large.

After a whole lot of work with our Media Watch Team (a group of ten teens that work part time at Project: Think Different and came up with the outlines for the workshops in the curriculum), fairly high stress levels, and maybe a small skirmish or two with my co-developer Cara Powers, the Media Action Series is complete. It is an interactive multi-session training, co-facilitated by the youth of the Media Watch Team. The new curriculum addresses the media’s role in creating a culture of violence, racism, sexism, and commercialism while educating, empowering and organizing youth to take action on the subjects of media literacy, accountability, access and policy. The Series will look at the various forms of media with a focus on entertainment media, popular culture, and Hip Hop media specifically, that youth consume as entertainment and informants of their socio-political perspectives and social behaviors.

Our objective through the Media Action Series is to create a culture in which young people believe in their power to create change in the media and beyond, and to provide youth the education and access to resources to become well informed, socially responsible, and participatory citizens of society.

The Media Action Series launches the first week of November, 2006. We hope to examine how the media’s portrayal of youth and minority communities affects their own senses of worth and value to society, how our behavior, language, and attitude is affected by the media industry, and likewise, how other people’s perceptions of our behavior are affected by the media’s perpetuation and proliferation of stereotypes. We also hope to address the negative aspects of today’s commercial Hip Hop and popular culture with solution-oriented approaches, inspiring young people to become more conscious consumers of music, video, television, radio, and news media, enabling them to recognize the alternatives available that offer more empowering and positive experiences; thus cultivating a culture of young people who believe in their own ability to demand and create those alternatives.

By keeping the curriculum centered on a hip hop culture, I feel the Media Action Series has a unique potential to engage Boston’s youth and inspire them to take part in positive social change. All in all, I am happy with the finished product. By learning my second language, the language of a Boston teen, I have become part of something so much bigger than myself. I can only hope some of Boston’s youth can learn a fraction of everything that I have.

Mimi and I doin' the Media Action Series thing!

Comment from lauren bratslavsky on October 19, 2006 - 1:16pm

great article and what a great project!

Comment from Peter Miller on January 11, 2007 - 2:05pm

Colleen, I've been meaning post how incredibly thoughtful and intriguing I found your Digest article, too.  I've sent a version of my thoughts as a comment to the Digest – let me echo gariet and Bill's interests, too, and request to see the curriculum, but let me suggests, too, that this be put on the Digest site, too, at the very least, a link on how to get it. In addition to being interested in see the curriculum, I want to let you know how impressed I was by the vivid sense you convey about life on the streets and your quick introduction to and immersion in it, your description of Project Think Different's Mission and the initial project development, and the photo of the Media Watch Team.  Because it's so promising, do let me offer a couple of suggestions for your consideration. In contrast to the beginning of your piece, your description of the Media Action Series is outlined in somewhat rhetorical/ideological language. Some more immediate description along with a link to the series itself or at least how to request it -- surely this is the rousing conclusion one would hope to find to your work and that of the Media Watch Team and PTD.    This appears to be exactly the kind of model project that the CTC VISTA Project strives to support and to share as widely as possible and I hope you all can make the most of it for yourselves, too.  I look forward to learning more about this highly informative effort.  best, ----peter miller

Comment from Colleen Kelly on February 6, 2007 - 7:00pm

Blame it on being WAY TOO immersed in my work at PTD.

So, Peter - first off - thank you so much for your kind words concerning my Digest article. I appreciate it! Also, I am grateful for the more personal comment on my writing.

As for linking to the curriculum in the article, I can't really re-write the article, but I can put a link for you here -

There it all is in a zip folder that you can download. I will blog about it soon. The stress of PTD has kept me a tad busy.