Disposable Cameras and Pens: Collaborate with youth of color in creative storytelling

"One of my favorite books that I read was Billie Holiday’s Lady Sings the Blues. It was in her troubles, she found a voice that trembled but anchored the era’s sound of jazz. When I look at my students, I can only imagine the potential of their creative minds to unearth brilliance and newness in the midst of their hardships."

*scroll down to read stories written by students

*scroll down to read stories written by students

    When I first tell people I teach in Compton, they wide eye me and ask me how it is. There are more conversations regarding this school district that perpetuate stigma and promote public fear. However, the critical consideration should be shifted to political decisions that have recently cut after school programs, lack of access for individual and family counseling for our youth of color, and disciplinary practices of both the school system and police force. This generalized view that Compton schools are such and such way is not exclusive to non natives-- who most likely get their information of life in the city from rap songs and movies. This is also common belief amongst the students and community members that their schools are underperforming and dangerous. It is not unusual to hear such criticism of the school. A more unusual conversation to be had is the speaking of the creative and intellectual potential of our students.

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Youth of Color: The good kind of trouble they bring

     When I started, the first thing one of the union reps offered me was a recommendation to a school I seem more fit for in Garden Grove, that I knew was predominately asian and white. A school that is “fitting” implies a place where there are minimal students of color. A school that is comprised of POC unjustly harbors the burdens of the negative consequences of living in environment where money and resources to climb the socio-economic ladder in America are scarce. The general public hinges the consequences that arise from the lack of responsibility and accountability on the public’s end to offer quality programming and open access to higher social mobility to the potentials and even character of our youth of color.

     Adults in any sphere of work has a tendency to critically blame the negative impacts of youth culture and uncontrollable momentum of our young rebels. “Youth these days…..I’m scared to have children in this generation…..” All true statements, but clearly, it is the millenials that are pushing out content and discourse that is currently shaping our mainstream culture and political atmosphere.  We have seen influencers arise from our youth of color. Willow Smith who is spearheading a new age of rock fuse with neo-soul and spiritual, melodic, music. Alongside her brother Jaden Smith, partnering with her in shifting the public’s appreciation and practice of listening to music as an emcee and iconic stylist. Princess Nokia, an emcee, who represents an fully practices her indigenous upbringing and culture in her music and personhood. We don’t even have to go far to find our millennials tearing things up. Corey Wash just had an exhibit opening this weekend, where hundreds of creatives pulled up to see her illustrations on walls and social commentary that highlighted the political events and need for progress  

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Oppression Breeds Creation: The magic we need it

     “Oppression breeds resistance,” a well known quote by the organizer and people’s advocate Yuri Kochiyama. Yuri was one of the leading pioneers for the Asian American movement and was known to have held Malcom X’s head as he passed. Her quote highlights the power that exists in the people, regardless of the institutional cages we are born into. Freedom is in the hands of the oppressed.

     My rendition of this quote is, “Oppression breeds creation.” In the most troubled moments in our personal lives and even history, we have seen powerful and provocative art. Art that speaks of truth and existence. One of my favorite books that I read was Billie Holiday’s Lady Sings the Blues. It was in her troubles, she found a voice that trembled but anchored the era’s sound of jazz. When I look at my students, I can only imagine the potential of their creative minds to unearth brilliance and newness in the midst of their hardships. Their minds have the power to become engineers, doctors, teachers, entrepreneurs; all professions should be considered artists and cultural gatekeepers.

The Project

      For this particular project, our students collaborated wrote stories about where they are from and worked alongside an LA Based photographer Jason Gletton. We fundraised over $1500 with Lets.Give and created these books filled with visual and written narratives of their cities, or cities they have live in. We purchased nearly 80 cameras and had students rotate the cameras, each taking from 4-7 pictures. 

      The stories you will read below are powerful and the most honest discourse you will experience. Young people get the short end of the stick in life because of their limited agency and injustices imposed by discriminatory policies and authority figures.  

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Conclusion: We believe in our youth, so let America hear our voices

     In my schools, fights are typical. Teachers normalize chronic absences. And the path to the 11th grade is one that is narrow. Yet it is this narrative that over represents our schools in our nation’s hoods. These generalizations have a compounding impact on the negative stigmas that oppress our youth of color. It sends our youth the message that we do not believe in them all because of the neighborhood they were born into. Which is most of our realities, we know have tremendous amounts of social capital, cultural assets, and spirit of resistance and power.  Kids should be held responsible for their actions, but never the one to blame. It is the system and the ones in charge that creates the negative culture that is cultivated by inefficient programming/strategizing and poor funding.

     The dominating and dictating conversation that regard our youth should be centered around building their existing potentials to THINK and CREATE. I have hope for the school system to increase its capacity and become a nurturing center that fosters creative learning and development in our youth. Yet, we cannot wait on school reform to begin speaking highly of our students and COMMUNICATING OUR FAITH TO THEM. Most of the people I know believe in our youth of color and it should be our voices that surround them and is represented within the general public.


Special thanks to all who came to the exhibition and helped with the creative process.