By Tia Price, Director of Programs, Wide Angle Youth Media

We teach our students how to create media one step at a time. Simple skills begin to form a project when stacked on top of each other.

Once our students get the hang of their newly learned skills and are walking steady in the groove of Adobe Creative Suite, I often sense that they become frustrated. The new found freedom that was felt through the brush of a pen stroke, or the graininess of their very first portrait is suddenly subject to critique.

Each year I watch students’ flourishing and blossoming love for media shrink into ambivalence. The wheels in their brains simultaneously erupt into a subconscious chorus of disdain screaming “WE DON’T WANT TO MAKE ART THIS WAY!” Crying out against the unknown systems that were designed to sequester their freedom of expression.

Govans, Sophie teaching camera.

Little do they know that my staff and I are working to redesign the systems that oppress us and thereby our students, too. A world in which the Eurocentric standards of the arts that creatives are collectively drowning in are called to account for the harm they’ve done; a reconciliation and requiem for the soul.

And as I write this dancing to the musings of my mind in the kitchen, I can’t help but to think of the rich wealth of opportunity Covid-19 has brought to our solitary spring. Collectively from the comfort of our homes we now have the opportunity to redesign the systems that be. Will you join the call?

At Wide Angle where I currently serve as Director of Programs, we are working to redesign the classroom experience. Our students are stressed, we’re stressed, yet while I and many of my colleagues are joining video conferences via Slack or Zoom, our students have been given thick, informal packets of solitary work.

Wide Angle Design Team.

In FaceTiming and Slack messaging with our students today, I’ve learned they’re stressed without places to really move and burn energy, I’ve learned their hands are cramped from all of the “work” they’ve been given in lieu of school, and I’ve heard them mention they haven’t had a break and aren’t sure if they ever will.

In times like these, running programs for youth, I feel it is the responsibility of my team to make sure that our students are heard. That their stories matter. Their voices matter. As Covid-19’s curve increases exponentially, I hope that the connections we make during this time of unsettling silence will be a resource, a refuge when things inevitably get worse.

Our strategy for remote learning is meeting with students individually. Our target is to check-in with at least five students a day, and create media as a small team. The parameters? We encourage them to create a social media connectivity challenge and respond to the comments on their own. They are still getting the work done, but with a little added touch that says, “We care about how Covid-19 is impacting your productivity and your disinterest in formal class structures”.

Here are a few of the challenges they’ve created so far:

Two of our students (sisters) have created daily motivational challenges from how to get moving and grounded with yoga to homework motivation.

Another group of students is working to create memes with the Baltimore City Health Department to make sure youth take social distancing seriously.

Another student created a video challenge encouraging her peers that lost their jobs to share a video and have their voices heard. All the media coverage is about adults – she wants to make sure her peers’ concerns are heard.

A former student came up with the idea of a “virtual prom” so that this year’s graduating class still has the opportunity to participate in an important right of passage.

Check out a selection of their videos here:

And so, during this time of Covid-19 uncertainty, it is important that our resistance become manifest through attempts to dismantle and redesign the systems that oppress us all. For Wide Angle, it starts with acknowledging that connections matter, and so as an organization we are working hard to make sure that our students and community feel they have a place to share and commune with one another. We have just begun, but we are building a movement of connectivity and check-ins. This post is mine. It’s a small step, but with one step at a time, we can redesign the world.

Check out the work from our #covidclasses and our latest video challenges on IG @wideangleyouthmedia

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Through media arts education, Wide Angle Youth Media cultivates and amplifies the voices of Baltimore youth to engage audiences across generational, cultural, and social divides. Our programs inspire creativity and instill confidence in young people, empowering them with skills to navigate school, career, and life.

Each year, we serve more than 400 youth ages 10 – 24 through five core programs: Video Team, Design Team, Baltimore Speaks Out Program, Community Voices, and Youth Speak Out.