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“Suffering Voices Learn to Speak Up” A Global Initiative to Empower Youth Through Media Technology

Imagine a community where young adults had a voice in the open discussion regarding current civil society. Some might say that this is impossible, that today’s youth do not have the capacity to understand the complex world in which they live. Global Action Project (G.A.P.) is challenging the notion that young voices do not have a place in this world, by using media technology as a catalyst for dialogue and education among diverse and disadvantaged populations of inner city youth in various New York boroughs. Implementing Global Action Project’s framework to engage youth in Amsterdam, Berlin, and Poznań, as well of New York, will demonstrate how social media production can be a positive factor connecting young adults within the community. 
Creating a forum for young adults to connect with their peers and participate in intercultural dialogue facilitates the individual’s ability to learn what it means to recognize and respect differences, the importance of understanding similarities, and how to work collaboratively towards equality. This empowers young adults and prepares them to view the world critically through the lens of social justice. The program’s innovative way of engaging youth in civil society makes it easy to reproduce in an international setting. Given the growing and increasingly diverse urban population of immigrant youths, it is imperative to create a forum which allows for strategic partnerships and outreach to those most affected by injustice. 

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Like New York City, Amsterdam is culturally diverse. Many of the migrants who live there (also known as “allochtonen”), especially those who are 2nd-generation, become associated with recurrent crime and low educational achievement; this lack of achievement, in turn, results in their being disenfranchised. Consequently, migration has become a heated issue in the Netherlands. People are talking about the youth, but not talking with them. The majority condemns the problems plaguing urban immigrant youth, but only a few truly understand the root causes.. This social media initiative can help to solve these discrepancies by providing young adults in Amsterdam with the tools to speak up and represent themselves. 
There are various advantages to implementing this framework. First, disenfranchised (migrant) youths will have a platform to discuss and express some of the social issues they face. Learning to use their respective voices will empower them to engage successfully with their larger communities. Second, giving them the opportunity to express their cultural heritage will benefit their identity development, since many young allochtonen are suffering an identity crisis related to conflicting cultural influences. Third, many popular rap/hip-hop songs and video clips today are produced by migrant youths, pointing to a positive and innovative way for them to express and employ their talents. Participating in an organization like G.A.P. will keep young people off the street, helping to decrease the risk for delinquent behavior. Lastly, the program creates new skills such as leadership, critical thinking, and community sensitivity, all of which are essential to success in both education and work. 

Implementation

Organizations creating media related to multicultural issues already exist in the Netherlands; two examples are Mira Media and Movisie. The aim of these organizations is to educate the public about multicultural society, in order to close the gap between migrant and non-migrant communities. In contrast to GAP, however they do not involve minority youth in the creative process of making videos. Following the principle stated above that society should not talk “about them, but talk with them,” the organizations should expand their infrastructure to create opportunities for these youths to actively participate in the production process. Another possibility is for staff members to mentor groups composed of students representing various ethnicities in Amsterdam, to promote mutual understanding and build community coalitions. 
Cameras and other equipment, as well as technical, cultural, and leadership training, should be provided for free. Funds can be raised through the government,  the municipality of Amsterdam, and other private funds designed to support multicultural programming.  While many resources are available, the structural framework to engage young adults with their communities is lacking. By instituting an arena for all youth to participate in intercultural dialogue, the use of social media builds a bridge to connect and address the needs of changing communities.

Berlin, Germany

The daily life experiences and challenges among youth in Berlin are shaped by the significant fluctuations among boroughs in the relative immigrant population, poverty rates, and inequalities in educational attainment. While residents of Non-German origin make up 26 percent of the total population in Berlin, this figure varies from 10 to 45 percent in the twelve different boroughs. Poverty, which is growing among children and teenagers in Berlin, likewise affects youth more in certain boroughs than in others. The same holds true for inequalities in educational attainment among Berlin youth; high school dropout rates for immigrant youths are twice the rates of those of German origin. 
The concept behind the Berlin social media program is to raise awareness among youths regarding the different everyday experiences and challenges faced in their respective boroughs. By identifying, reflecting upon, and communicating those everyday experiences and challenges, stereotypes and prejudices among youth of varying backgrounds could be reduced, the result being an increased mutual understanding and sense of responsibility. The opportunity to relate experiences through video and television would give these young Berliners the tools to empower themselves and advocate for each other.

Implementation 

Instigating a Berlin-based media production program would build on existing infrastructure. Berlin has a well-established network of borough-based media education institutions which receive government and private funding.  However, these institutions do not bring young people from different boroughs together under one program, nor do they focus on making collaborative videos about everyday challenges; rather, the focus is on general media training. This is also true for the so-called “open channel” named Alex, which will give any Berlin resident the necessary training to produce and air a radio and/or television show on various topics. Still, the media institutions already in place throughout the different boroughs could potentially cooperate to form connections between high school youths from different boroughs in Berlin, in order to encourage the joint exploration of everyday experiences. The resultant videos could then be aired on Alex. 
Any advocacy aimed at the implementation of a social issue media production program in Berlin, therefore, would need to be primarily directed towards those previously established institutions and organisations mentioned above. 

Poznań, Poland

Poznań is a very homogenous city, with a predominantly Polish Catholic population. Only 5 percent of the immigrants who came to Poland after 1989 reside in the region. There is a small Roma minority  forced to settle there in the 1950s, which suffers from social and economic disadvantages (e.g., 30 percent of Roma children in Poland do not complete their required education).  One can find a few small communities organized around non-Catholic religious groups (Christian Protestants and Orthodox, Muslim, Jews, Buddhists, etc.), but these are almost invisible to the cultural life of the city. The LGBTQ community is extremely underrepresented in the city.  Moreover, within the city limits there are no local media to potentially empower youth. 

Implementation

The G.A.P. could play an important role in Poznań, by giving those minorities a resonant voice and empowering the city’s youth. In order to make the G.A.P. teams as diverse as possible, and to enhance creativity, interchange of opinions and mutual understanding, people representing the majority group would have to be included as well. Since there are no immigrant/minority boroughs in Poznań, some of the G.A.P. projects discussed earlier would not be applicable. Instead, implementation would include projects focused on the Roma minority in Poznań, an LGBTQ group, and a project bringing together representatives of different religious minorities from throughout the city. There would also be projects covering topics that are relatively taboo in Poland, such as sexual education.
Special emphasis must be placed on advertising and promoting the media productions by youths participating in the program, to help educate residents about local minorities. For this purpose, the movies should be promoted during city festivals (e.g. the Off-Cinema Festival), as well as student film discussion clubs. Huge benefits could result if schools are convinced schools to use some of these films during “educational classes”.  The cooperation of the two local television stations and city news portals should be sought, as well. 
The project could be realized in cooperation with the Culture Center “Zamek”, and through the Arts College’s Intermedia Institute. Educators and discussion moderators could be provided by universities and minority organizations. Funding for the project could be made available through the EU Youth in Action Program, the municipality, and private foundations which support culture and media.

Conclusion

Through the process of creating media arts, young adults learn how to address injustice and develop the necessary skills for cultural expression, community engagement, empowerment, and political change. It is evident that the G.A.P. initiative is applicable to many settings around the world, and can directly relate to the diversity of each community. Developing media productions relating to social issues for youths living in these communities can serve as an innovative means to connect young adults around issues of social justice, art and cultural organizing. 
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United-states United States 2009

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