images of youth - the year behind, the year ahead

we live in a moment of unparalleled communicative accessibility and information dissemination. youth, so often the object of maligned commentary and political concern, are leading the charge in new modes of expression, purposes for communication, and representations of self.  yet, all too often, the stories we see in the popular press about young people are ones that highlight the exceptions and not the norm.  that is, we see reported several instances of youth using social networking to plan mass chaos and ultimately inflict harm on others.  yes, this does happen and yes we hear about it.  but how often do we hear about the use of media and technologies by youth to engage in social action?  for inspiring stories, see below:

A positive face of youth in the media - Today's Youth-Led Media Summit brings together enthusiastic young people from around the UK who want to determine their future role – and dispel the image of dangerous hoodies

Youth Radio - Youth Radio was founded in 1990 on the deeply held belief that underserved youth, ages 14-24 years old, have the creativity, technical skills and entrepreneurial spirit to become leaders in the multi-media industry and the community and to serve as mentors to other youth.

new book about harlem, youth, and multimodal literacy - In her new book, Valerie Kinloch investigates how the lives and literacies of youth in New York City’s historic Harlem are affected by public attempts to gentrify the community.  Kinloch engages the perspectives of two young men who use documentary and video making to guide their collaborative inquiry.

Adobe Youth Voices/ Listen Up! in India - In November the Listen Up! team traveled to India with our Adobe Youth Voices partners to to work with teachers and students in documentary and animation filmmaking.

America's Youth Speak Out - America's Youth Speak Out is the only youth produced national public service campaign. More than 4000 young people across the country are producing public service messages dealing with issues that are important in their lives and communities.

Youth video conference highlight: The Choose to Be the Change youth video project highlighted the Northern Ontario First Nations Communications Conference

what i hope for in the year to come are what michelle fine has referred to as "audiences that are worthy" - an interpretive context for the words, images, stories, and storying by youth that embraces a generous and generative posture.  having worked with youth to produce numerous of varied artifacts in which young people make themselves vulnerable, i am particularly committed to seeking, finding, and creating meaningful audiences for the narrative insights embodied by these artifacts.  may 2010 be the year to start/continue this work more effectively...



new york: task force on transforming juvenile justice - *now* can we imagine a new way??

The recently published new york times article about youth detention facilities in new york state details a persistent state of "crisis" rampant in these institutions.  The article is based on a report written by New York Governor Patterson's Task Force on Transforming Juvenile Justice.  Juvenile prisons are described as "both extremely expensive and extraordinarily ineffective" by the report, as cited in the article.  The statistics are at once disheartening and familiar: more than half the youth in detention facilities are incarcerated for minor offenses (theft, drug possession, truancy); over 80% are black or Latino; almost all of the new york city, who comprise 76% new york state's juvenile detention population, are housed outside of the city and out of reach of their support networks due to prohibitive costs that might make frequent travel impossible.

While I was pleased to see alternative mentioned twice in the article, which has garnered attention quickly since it was published, the mentions are limited: one about the need for alternatives such as therapeutic foster care and another about an overall recommendation made by Gladys CarriĆ³n, the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, "that judges find alternative placements for most young offenders."  I have spent eight of the last fourteen years involved with incarceration alternatives as a teacher, tutor, researcher, and volunteer, and in that time have come to appreciate the nuanced possibilities for reimagining futures that alternative to incarceration (ATI) programs can provide.  One of these programs is located in new york city and has a rich history of innovative programming to support the post-incarceration lives of youth.  As a researcher I have been able to document the varied and situated practices of the staff of this program for the past five years and what is consistent, amidst the diversity of approaches, is the commitment to court-involved evident.  Teachers, case managers, counselors, court representatives, administrators (for the most part) share a personal connection to the Justice System and bring with them an empathy and a sense of possibility to their work with the (mostly) young men at the program.  Education and employment work in tandem as dual objectives that are addressed by the program's offerings, which include arts and media electives and a college preparatory program.  What is readily evident in this space, and what feels quite absent from the austere environs and discourses described in the Task Force Report, is the embodied understanding of what Maxine Greene describes as the "not yet" - at 14, 15, 16 or even as young as 10 and 11, how many of us were already the person we are today, and what are the many ways in which we may continue to change years from now, if those around us will allow it.  Greene's response to her own question ("Who am I?"), "I am who I am not yet" is imbued with a deep sense of possibility - a narrative necessary for education; perhaps especially important for young people whose institutional scrapes have amounted to war wounds they wear daily like a heavy mantle.

The new york times article ends with this quote by "Clara Hemphill, a researcher and author of a report on the state’s youth prisons published in October by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School"
“It really is barbaric,” she added, “the way they treat these kids.”
I'm reminded of one young man's story about adolescents being called "animal-escents" at the youth facility where he was incarcerated before being offered a spot at the alternative to incarceration program.  This was a term - and presumably an attitude - adopted by many of the correction officers at the facility.  The term ("animal-escents") and the implied meanings send a profound message to those same young people about how they are viewed and how they might expect to perceived in the future.

The seeing of youth as animals may not be a perspective confined to detention institutions; judges, police officers, educators, administrators are all adults who have the opportunity to redirect their gaze away from solely individualistic theories of social transgressions at multiple moments of human interaction with youth.  Yet too many choose to impose un-nuanced and simplified rationales when understanding socially complex realities.  The response to "crime" need not be an unquestioning lockdown mentality.  Rather, there is great restorative potential in the city's ATIs and alternative to detention (ATD) programs (aimed at children and adolescents who are charged with an infraction and placed under the care of the Family Courts when they are ages 9-16).  Restorative is not merely rehabilitative or remediation; restorative implicates all those engaged in the post-incarceration well-being of an adolescent - family, educators, community: the restoration of a sense of possibility, of a future re-imagined.  The ATI with which I have been involved does not dismiss the histories of the young men who walk through its hallways and participate in classrooms, nor does the program find their histories singularly deterministic of their futures.  The "alternative" nature of the site lies in the considerations that have been made to address and attend to the manifestations of multiple social systems that converge on the bodies of adolescents: education, employment, health... But perhaps most significant about the possibilities these ATI and ATD programs hold for court-involved youth to rewrite their futures is their potential to disrupt the larger (and often knee-jerk) public discourse about adjudication, incarceration, and tropes of inevitability. 

Can we imagine an approach to legal transgressions that can be described as imaginative, collective, and caring?  And lest this suggestion call up protestations about the need to punish crimes, let's remember that the majority of the cases for which youth are arrested or sentenced involve offenses that say more about our social systems than any individual proclivity.  We certainly don't want persons in positions of power to continue to manipulate the lives of youth for their own personal gain or out of some personal vendetta.  Moving through ATI and ATD programs are young people - like Patrick and Eric and Ed and Nicole and Brite and Emanuel and Tiffany and Angel and Christian and many more - who are so much than the arrest code hastily jotted on the standard intake form. They are poets and thinkers and social theorists and artists and writers and brothers and singers and sisters whose complete has "not yet" been written.  Can we imagine spaces for young people to not only make their stories known; but also to story themselves differently in the world?

Click here for the complete report by the governor's task force.


who am i to do this? poetic musings on cross-cultural research

in 2004, i defended my doctoral dissertation.  this was both a proud and apprehensive moment for me, as i wrestled with questions of representation - had i done my boys justice? how were they being read and known at the end of this long process?  and how would they continue to be known as i made our stories known through my writing in years to come... i'm thinking about deborah appleman's essay titled, "are you making me famous or are you making me a fool?" and in the spirit of ongoing self-reflexivity, i reprint here the opening lines of my dissertation, complete with the opening epigraph:

If you have come to help me, you are wasting your
time. But if you have come because your liberation is
bound up with mine, then let us work together.
-Lila Watson

I am not an African American adolescent boy.
I have not been called a “superpredator,”
Or had prisons built in anticipation of my “delinquency” or on the basis of my third grade
scores on school-based reading assessments.

I am a South Asian American late-twenties woman.
I have been called a “good type of immigrant”
Whose school performance is lauded and whose labor is valued in an increasingly
globalized market economy; though my hue causes labor unrest.

We were a group of five African American boys and a South Asian American woman
Who told stories together
Had fun and played and
Made a place by co-constructing space to talk back, to
Story against and beyond the readily available and overly abundant
of black boys in need
of remediation,
from deficient literacies;
in a state of corrections.
Ours are stories of ample reflection, hopeful digressions, strong critique, and possibilities.

These might be stories that no one wants to hear.
Who am I to do this?


and an image that shows and tells much about our time together, that came to be known in our group as "our picture"