(Video courtesy Emerson/Bird Street Civic Engagement Project)
What started out as a way to connect a college to a community has blossomed into two youth-generated Public Service Announcements that tackle the concerns of a neighborhood.
Working with youth leaders from the Bird Street Community Center in Dorchester, graduate and undergraduate communication students from Emerson sought to bridge the gap between the school’s downtown campus and the Columbia Road youth center.
“We need to foster interaction between the college and the community,” explained Yuhui Felix Chen, 21, a Chinese native and one of the undergraduate students who helped cultivate and lead the program.
“It [the initiative] is a good way for the students to get involved in the community because most of the time we only see the violence on the television,” added Chen.
With no plan or agenda, the youths and students started talking. Sharing experiences and building a comfortable rapport, eventually the idea for a series of PSAs came up.
"I didn't know when we started we would create a PSA or that it would be a rap,” explained Dr. Gregory Payne, a professor in the college's Department of Communication Studies who helped facilitate the collaboration.
Working with youth leaders both at the community center and at Emerson, the college students aided the youths in tackling a subject that is all too common for students in Dorchester: bullying and street violence.
“I’m proud of what we made,” said Djamilson Daveigo, 14, a Fields Corner resident and one of the student leaders.
Writing scripts and story boarding their message, the youths developed a story and a way to present it that was uniquely theirs. The Emerson students providing the resources and expertise to execute and promote the young students’ vision.
“In different communities there are all different types of violence, but hopefully this will make people think about what they are doing,” Daveigo added.
The two videos, each approximately 90 seconds long, feature three of the young youth leaders: Randy Boston, 15; Astrid Vega, 14; and Daveigo.
With raps and dramatic scenes, the short films conveyed the message that bullying and violence can be stopped, but it starts with you.
“Even if it’s just one person they are still making a change and every little bit counts,” said Daveigo. “Some say we are wasting our time, but some want that change and hopefully it will get people talking.”
Although the students hope the videos will make an impact organizers hope the initiative will also create leaders.
“I think part of what Emerson is about is giving people that confidence to get up and present their views,” said Payne. “This is something we want to build on and export to other communities.”
Expressing the youths’ message and their stories was a major part of the pilot program and something Payne hopes the students can bring back to the community.
“At first I was scared to get in front of a camera,” explained Daveigo. “It was awkward at first, but now I feel more comfortable talking to big audiences and telling them how I feel.”
The students from Bird Street might have taken something from the program, but it wasn’t a one-way street, with both Chen and graduate student Silver Siyang Qi, 23, learning plenty from the youths.
“We were glad to help the kids to spread their message,” said Qi, a native of China. “Before this we didn’t necessarily know how to use our skills to create change.”
“I learned a lot about new lifestyles different from mine,” Chen said. “I can now see how different portions of society function and how they live.”
The program, which saw the most activity in June, is expected to continue with the youths currently planning an unveiling of their videos in Dorchester.
“Hopefully this can be a model for how the program will be in the future,” said Chen. “We’re not just talking about an anti-violence project, we’re talking about making people’s lives better and empowering them.”
To find out more about the Emerson/Bird Street Civic Engagement Project be sure to visit the groups Facebook page.