I look up to my father because he’s been with me since I was born. I appreciate that. I love that.”
In contrast, Macio tells of a different experience growing up, a story that describes role models outside of the home: “My dad left the house when I was ten-years-old. When he left everything went downhill. Black kids run to other places for love. Usually we run to music and the streets. I look up to a lot of rappers like Tupac. I also read a lot. I like Andrew Young.”
When it comes to Black male experiences, there are no single stories. Both Macio and Jeffrey can attest through their own experiences that Black males occupy many different spaces throughout their communities.“You gotta understand young Black men,” says Macio. “We go through things but we’re not all the same. That’s what I’m trying to tell with my [digital] story. I want to create a timeline from when I was younger up to now, and how the things in between crafted me into being who I am today.”
A digital video project that the Atlanta cohort has been working on since the spring follows the Trayvon Martin case. Macio tells me that he and his peers at Georgia State are creating a digital story based on the Trayvon Martin rally that they recently attended. Though Macio is inspired by Martin’s story, the tragedy comes as no surprise to him.
“I’m so desensitized. Murders happen everyday in my neighborhood. It’s wrong. But it ain’t nothing I’m going to dwell on. I have to keep it moving to try and change things.”
It’s through media literacy that the producers of Beyond the Bricks hope to inspire this change. Washington, in particular, believes that media representation correlates with the everyday struggles young Black males face. “Stereotypes are imprisoning these kids, sometimes literally. If we look at the violence happening in Chicago and then the Trayvon Martin case as well, it comes down how people are viewing our young men and how that can be detrimental to them. There are a lot of consequences to an image," she says.
Koen agrees, and emphasizes that in order for things to change the entire nation has to step up.
“This work of civic engagement is not only for a few people. Everyone in this country has a responsibility to do the work. It bothers me that people don’t take responsibility for our children and the environments that children live in.”
For the producers and collaborators of the Community Producers Program, it comes down to a passion for wanting to make communities stronger. For the young men involved in the program, it’s simply about telling their stories and moving forward in their lives despite obstacles. Jeffrey tells me that after he graduates from the program he plans on continuing with school and playing basketball. Macio isn’t exactly sure what he wants to do, but in true form he assures me, “I just want to make my way in life.
For more information on how you can support the Community Producers Program, along with The Fellows Institute, an initiative that will extend the Community Producers Program into the summer, please visit The Beyond the Bricks Project.
Tara L. Conley is the founder of Media Make Change. She’s currently a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University. Tara writes about media literacy and Internet technologies. You can follow her on Twitter at @taralconley