Your Media, the nonprofit service provider for Fayetteville Public Access Television, is taking applications for its new Into Focus project. The project is the second empowerment project from Your Media, following a project last July that featured a group of Afghani women who were visiting Fayetteville in a program sponsored by the U.S. State Department and hosted by Spring International. The current project is taking applications from young members and allies of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) and Latino communities.
Applications will be accepted until April 27, and the project is scheduled to begin in May. Participants will be taught the art of digital storytelling and will participate in sharing their stories with the community.
Anne Shelley, executive director of Your Media says the Into Focus project is geared to help young adults succeed by breaking down barriers and putting human faces to what some people see as dividing issues.
“Issues aren’t really issues,” says Shelley. “They’re people.”
The name of the project was no coincidence.
“All too often, we stop at what we see,” says Shelley. “We have blurred images of people who are different than us. That’s why the project is called ‘Into Focus,’” explains Shelley.
Shelley says by bringing these social issues into human focus, media can build bridges across issues of diversity and can help forge connections across lines that typically divide.
By giving the youth of these communities the tools to tell their stories, they are being equipped with the tools to make a difference and to serve as role models within their communities.
The first three participants of the Into Focus Project come from different walks of life. Bre Sparks, who grew up in Texas, is a freshman at UA.
Sparks says he hopes his part in the project will encourage people to move beyond common stereotypes to see people for who they are. As a member of the LGBT community, the young man says it is common for young members to feel like outcasts, to not feel as though they are part of society and to be viewed disrespectfully.
In his high school in Texas, all students were issued a laptop, but sites such as GLAAD were blocked because of LGBT affiliations. After petitioning the administration for a year, the sites were unblocked.
According to the 2009 GLSEN report that evaluated school climates in Arkansas, LGBT students most often did not have access to in-school resources, including Internet access to LGBT websites.
Sparks says the best way to work past stereotypes is to talk to people from that group, and multimedia projects can be accessed by the general public and can also clear up ambiguity.
The young International Relations major references the Arab Spring, explaining that many people thought of citizens of the Middle East as extremists.
“Through multimedia, we can see that people are exactly like us,” he says. “They just want to be happy and enjoy freedoms too.”
Flannery Wasson, who is from Fort Smith, helped found the GSA in her high school and serves as the president of PRIDE on the UA campus. Wasson considers herself an ally of both the LGBT and Latino communities as she has friends in both. After listening to their stories of isolation and victimization, Wasson committed to help give her friends voices.
“Some people say that I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I do,” says Wasson. “I have friends, and there are humans behind these stories, behind these issues.”
Wasson watched her friends struggle with experiences and secrets that were kept hidden because of shame and fear.
“They couldn’t speak out because there was no one to listen,” she says.
When she ventured to start the GSA, she experienced some of the discrimination her friends were subjected to, but now in college, the social norms are different, and the community has been more welcoming to the LGBT community and its allies.
Zessna Garcia, a journalism student, will both aid students and participate in the media project. Garcia is a supporter of the DREAM act, a bill that would allow an expedited path of residency for undocumented immigrants, with a focus on teenagers and young adults, who have graduated from college or served in the military.
Garcia says the Latino community is often targeted for harassment because of the separation between the Latino culture and its mainstream English-American counterpart. The rapid growth in the Latino community has left little room for understanding and cultural exchange.
“People fear what they don’t understand,” explains Garcia.
She continues to explain that the Latino culture is at an interesting point, as many teenagers and young adults are the children of immigrants.
“At home, they have a completely different identity, living in these two worlds. This is a new generation of kids that is caught between two cultures as they are experiencing assimilation, but are still strongly connected to their Latino roots.”
For those who are undocumented, the feeling of being caught between two cultures is even more extreme. Finding money for college, not being able to drive and living in fear of deportation are major concerns for young undocumented immigrants.
To identify oneself as an undocumented immigrant is to essentially put one’s life on the line. To do so could jeopardize the lives of entire families and dismantle the American dream which immigrants have worked so hard to build.
“This project is the perfect opportunity to empower kids to embrace who they are to the general public and really being able to have these stories come out,” says Garcia, who says that undocumented students have limited resources to offer hope for a successful future or advice to overcome their limitations.
“Projects like this overcome misconceptions and reveal the bond of humanity. If you’ve grown up with the legal rights of being raised English-American, it never occurs to you that someone doesn’t have that,” says Shelley.