DECD: Youth Right Media in the Spotlight

Youth Right Media in the Spotlight

By Ellen Woolf


It’s a gut wrenching moment that simultaneously fills your feet with lead and your heart with emotion.  Two high-school aged gangs come face to face on a city sidewalk made narrow by the seven puffy jackets harboring seven swollen egos.  There’s a sideways glance.  A confrontation and then a shove.  Someone pulls a gun. 


Wide-eyed and curious, an onlooker peers around the corner from the partial cover of a nearby building.  The angelic, four foot witness takes it all in. The escalating violence beckons him.  Barely as old as he is tall, the young one moves closer for a better view.

As if allowing the weapon to choose its own target, the gun wielding teen slowly waves an outstretched arm back and forth across the opposing gang members.


And, BAM!!
Cut to black.
Fade up “Who’s Watching?”


It’s an excellent question.  Jarring and powerful, the message how gang violence affects children is brought to light in this aptly named well-constructed PSA.  But, more thought-provoking is that “Who’s Watching” is produced by 17 year-old Karl Gray Jr., a student in the Media Lab program at New Haven based Youth Rights Media (“YRM”).


YRM, is a non-profit dedicated to using media-arts as a vehicle for youth empowerment and community change.  It is a multi-platform after-school program designed to engage under-served kids who normally do not or will not engage. “Since its inception, YRM has dedicated itself to supporting youth power and leadership in a society that sometimes views youth of color as threats to be controlled and confined,” says Media Coordinator, Laki Vazakas.


YRM’s work is grounded in the belief that marginalized and stigmatized youth who have been disregarded by the justice system and the public at large have the potential to become committed, focused and passionate leaders.  YRM involves young people in video media production and community organizing.  It also creates transformative leadership opportunities for traditionally disengaged youth.  The students gain meaningful skills and strategies for affecting change within themselves and their communities.


One such compelling opportunity is the Media Lab, which was launched in the fall of 2003.  This dynamic program starts with media literacy, video media production, and critical issue analysis training.  In the second phase of the program young people are equipped with video cameras and microphones so that they can speak up and speak out about pressing community issues.


According to Executive Director, Laura McCargar, “[the program] empowers young people to deconstruct and reconstruct through media what they think their world should look like.” 


In the Media Lab high school students learn all phases of production, including:  planning, storyboarding, scripting, shooting, and editing.  They also learn media literacy skills that enable them to critically analyze media messages.  YRM Media Lab members also hone their public speaking skills as they present their work to the community.


In the fall, YRM Media Lab produces PSAs and short videos which are screened at their annual "Speak Up, Speak Out" event in December.  In the spring, the Media Lab produces a longer form documentary that is screened in mid-June.  They also submit work to youth festivals all over the country.  “Book ‘Em,” the most recent documentary about schools and the juvenile justice system in Connecticut, was aired on Free Speech TV on March 20, 2006.  A festival cut of "Book 'Em" will be screened at Docu Jam in New York on May 12 at the Museum of Television & Radio.  The trailer for "Book 'Em" will be screened and streamed as part of the Media That Matters Festival.  And YRM’s youth organizing team has been screening “Book 'Em” all over the state of Connecticut.


YRM also regularly broadcasts its videos on CTV (Citizen's Television).  In March, YRM premiered a half-hour show on Digital Storytelling, featuring YRM veterans Catrenna Burney and Tychelle Gordino.


Particularly poignant is 17 year-old Tychelle Gordino’s short entitled “Tychelle’s Story.”  The film opens with her narrative: “I don’t just want to be a memory in the minds of my loved ones.  Because memories fade away with time and when my memory is gone, so is my legacy.  My life will have been worthless.”  The film is Tychelle’s vehicle to contemplate her own life, death, and the memories she leaves behind as she comes to terms with the tragic death of a close friend who was shot to death on a New Haven street.


Other socially and emotionally relevant topics for PSAs, shorts films, and documentaries produced at YRM have included: date rape, gun violence, physical and verbal abuse of children, gang violence, youth incarceration and police relations.


Recognizing the extent to which media shapes and informs public perception is a point not lost on YRM or YRM Media Lab veterans Karl Gray and Tychelle Gordino.  They believe that youth-driven media affords young people a critical opportunity to exercise artistic expression and develop an independent voice within the broader public dialogue.


Returning to the question of our youth and who’s watching? If Youth Rights Media is involved, the answer is: we all should be.


Incidentally, both Karl Gray and Tychelle Gordino are planning to pursue film making in college, which they will begin in the fall of 2006.  Karl hopes to be accepted at Morehouse College, while Tychelle will be pursuing her film degree at a California University.


Youth Rights Media is located at 77 Willow Street, Second Floor, New Haven, CT.  It is actively cultivating opportunities for professional development and internships in media making for its members.  For more information, visit



Content Last Modified on 4/27/2006 11:17:10 AM