Leimert Park: Youth Come Together To Tell Their Neighborhood Stories

leimert_park_mural_youth_voices.jpg, by cfragoza

For our newest installment of Departures, Youth Voices is collaborating with a strong group of young people deeply connected to the rich energy and vitality of Leimert Park. Our overall goal is to work together to explore and document the stories, people, and history using multimedia tools and resources.

The format of this Youth Voices is different from what we've done previously, and because of this there are new challenges and possibilities. The program will take place over the course of four Saturdays in July and meet at the Leimert Park cultural landmark, KAOS Network. We are fortunate to be housed at this community media mecca, and have the support of its founder, Ben Caldwell. It is with his support and that of LA Commons and KIDZ @ 43rd Place that we were able to identify students to take part in Youth Voices. With the program taking place in the middle of the summer we did not have the option to collaborate with a local school, so we looked to community partners to help recruit young people who have a close relationship with the neighborhood.

Learning media production against the background of their neighborhood is an empowering experience for students, and allows them to learn about themselves and their community through the process of digital storytelling. Dr. Adam J. Banks describes those engaged in this process as "digital griots": artists and individuals taking on the essence of the traditional African oral storyteller and transforming the role by utilizing mulitmedia tools in a multi-modal landscape, to interpret and distribute ideas, history, and current realities by remixing old and new practices. In that light, KAOS, KIDZ @ 43rd Place, and L.A. Commons are the perfect partners, given that they have all established programs that aim to empower youth through the visual, performing and media arts and the celebration of the African American culture that is so intertwined with the history of the area. Our current effort is a direct extension of their mission and work.

We are fortunate to have a great group of student producers eager to embark on their exploration of the neighborhood. They range in age from 11 to 19, and attend schools such as the USC Hybrid School, Cleveland High School, and Santa Monica College. What brings them all together is Leimert Park and the various art and creative activities happening in the neighborhood. In fact, at the same time we were holding our workshop, there was another workshop on making earrings with members of Adunni & Nefertiti, a visiting vocal group from Nigeria, as well as RinconRumba, a monthly music series on Afro Cuban rumba. An on-going positive and creative energy permeated the space as people came in and out of KAOS engaging in various activities.

We entered into our first workshop with the students sharing some of their personal experiences in the neighborhood involving arts activities, events, dining with friends and family, seeing shows, and shopping at the neighborhood's array of stores. As they contemplated the future of Leimert Park, they voiced their concerns over the many changes that are taking place, including the closing of some well-established shops, the encroaching of chain retailers, and the recent approval of a Metro Train stop in Leimert Park. As they shared their thoughts they began to ask questions, such as: Would the new train lead to more shops and organizations closing down? Would the neighborhood lose its character and its connection to the African American Community, the history, the arts and more? Would this lead to gentrification?

These are complex questions with no easy answers, but the students were eager to get started. We began our first workshop with an exploration of neighborhood experiences and what they see as a possible future for their community, and closed it by creating personal maps that will help guide them as they build the stories of the past, present and future of Leimert Park.

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