Want to Catalyze The Voice of Youth? Give Them a Camera
The shortest distance between two people is a story. I am a fourth generation Japanese American queer filmmaker who started imMEDIAte Justice, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, when I was 21-years-old. I've been launching theory into action ever since.
imMEDIAte Justice was catalyzed by the idea that we could transform the cultural landscape by putting a camera in the hands of those who had been historically victimized, demonized, and made invisible by media. In 2010, we received a grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project and began summer workshops training queer young women of color in film production and sexuality education. Our documentary films screened at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival and started being used in high school classrooms to talk about issues surrounding gender and sexuality.
I recently had the pleasure of working with the nine fellows in GOOD’s Pathfinder Fellowship program. In just a few hours, these young people wrote down on paper their deepest fears and shared them with each other. They translated their life stories into poetry and filmed one another against a colorfully painted background at The Hub in downtown Los Angeles. By the end of the workshop we called each other “second family” to remind ourselves that, no matter how painful things got in life, we had each other. We talked about the power of telling our stories. How with a story we can reinvent ourselves. How we can recast ourselves from villains to protagonists in the master narrative and reclaim our humanity. We talked about the healing and restorative nature of story. How changing the story around our lives and our people changes the future.
There was something raw, honest, and dangerous about the truths that were shared in the imMEDIAte Justice workshop. They changed the way we saw ourselves. Writing and speaking the truth gave us our freedom back and we hope it transforms you:
"We are society's cautionary tales. The girls who got pregnant, the boys who got into gangs. The ones who slipped through the cracks. But life didn't end when society turned their back on us. We found another way to live. We found a new path. A new strength. A resilience that could not be broken by the disappointment, the judgement, the shame, the failure. We found each other.
I am not your success story or your nightmare. I am an ordinary person with struggles and triumphs willing to bear my heart and tell my story. I'm not the criminal you hear about on the news or another rape statistic. I am a son. I am a sister. I am a person on the verge of flight. Someone who has transformed sorrow into a story that makes me freer every time I tell it. A story I must keep telling by any means necessary to remember who I am. I'm not waiting to be saved I want to be heard. So if you want to help share my story."
Using film gives workshop participants who had once felt silenced a platform to amplify their voice. We now have chapters in Kampala, Uganda, Dindigul, India, and Beijing, China, with girls that were cutting out the middle men (news) and recording their own direct from the source stories about gender-based violence in their communities. imMEDIAte Justice has grown into a network of girls from all over the world who have a lot to say, and now with a camera in hand, they know how to say it. Please watch the bravery of the Pathfinder Fellows and share it with your friends and family.