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Empowering Students With Art and Media

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What happens when you encourage kids to change the world and then give them the tools to do it?

Right now we have the most media savvy youth in the history of the planet. They grew up with internet, social networking, smart phones and more, yet many of them spend much of their time playing video games, texting and being passive consumers of media and technology. It is easy to blame the kids or label them as lazy or undirected, and many people do, but few people have taken the time to teach them just how much power they hold and how they can use it to change the world around them. It is time for adults and educators to catch up with the technology and the youth who have grown up with it, and instill some inspiration and direction for responsible, pro-active application of their media-savvy brains.

In the fall of 2010 I collaborated with buildOn in San Francisco and Oakland to create a video for the Chalk for Change program initiated by Tom Silverman, a buildOn staffer. Buildon is an international non-profit organization that empowers youth to change the world through after school programs where urban youth volunteer locally and help build schools in developing nations. The Chalk for Change Project challenges youth to inform themselves about important political, social, or environmental issues in their community and take to the street with a message and some chalk. Students depict issues that are important to them in public places to spark dialogue with people passing by.

Tom invited me to speak with the high school students in his program about using social media and art to create positive change in their community. The kids were thrilled and amazed to hear me talk to them about life before the internet, before cell phones, putting their current situation into a little bit of historical perspective. I acknowledged the fear and despair they are all feeling as they witness certain aspects of environmental degradation, the economy, and social upheaval that makes the future look uncertain. Then I reminded them that they are more empowered by tools to shape the world around them than any generation before them. We talked about the project at hand and how we could make the project grow by documenting it well with cameras, video and posting/sharing on social networks. By educating the students in this way, they were able to consider media as something they could create and share to educate and shape the world around them. Why be a passive consumer when you can be an active creator? Especially when your future, and the future well-being of the planet, depends on it!

After we chalked up the streets with art, filmed and sparked dialogue with locals who were passing by, I interviewed Tom about the program and created a video for students to share through their Facebook and other social networks. The video is below, please watch and share, and download a PDF so that you can introduce the program in your own community.

When I decided to do a story on this project for Huffington Post, I contacted Tom to ask how the kids were doing. I wasn't surprised to find out that they are half way to raising $60,000 to build a school in Haiti!

This is how inspiration catches fire and spreads. I would like to invite you to visit their page, and help them reach their goal in order to build a school in Haiti. Your contribution is a very important vote for empowering youth and helping them bring their inspiration to youth in another country. We are witnessing the dawning of a global community where cooperation is valued above competition.

What happens when you encourage kids to change the world around them and then give them the tools to do it? Try it in your own community to find out. I promise that you won't be disappointed! For more ideas like this and inspiration about using art and media to make a better world, please visit my website/blog at: www.culturecollective.org