Exploring My Value of Community Media
Remembering my early days at the OMI / Excelsior Beacon Center working to develop literacy programs & how that shapes my value of/in community media with Queering Dreams here & now.
I’ve spent over two decades working in literacy. My professional career in San Francisco really launched when I was hired as the Educational Director at the OMI/Excelsior Beacon Center in 2000 at the age of 24. I didn’t have any degree at the time (still don’t); I did have six years of peer-based education and organizing in service learning, arts, and youth development.
A main function of my job was creating literacy programs for the youth and families of the Beacon Center. My background in peer-based education and organizing taught me some simple tools I could use to help me better engage and build relations with the OMI and Excelsior communities. Mainly, it taught me that one-on-one conversation is the cornerstone for creating programming that is actually useful, helpful, and relevant to the communities in which I am working. And conversation includes talking story and bearing witness.
During a survey of the school community, I was introduced to Streetside Stories (now closed), which at the time was a school-day literary arts organization doing autobiographical storytelling with sixth graders. I heard wonderful things from students directly about their teaching artists, so I met their Teaching Artists Anna Maria Luera and Mei-ying Williams (nee Ho). Immediately, I fell in love with Anna Maria and Mei-ying, they deeply understood and applied peer-based pedagogies in all aspects of the programs they were running. This kicked off six to seven years of me working alongside Streetside Stories to develop, expand, and refine their pedagogies, programs, organization, and Board of Directors.
My introduction to Streetside Stories and my subsequent involvement in their development cemented for me the power of personal storytelling as a core praxis of peer-based pedagogies. I saw the power of young folx being in control of the narratives they tell regardless of acceptability of those stories by the adults in their lives. Young people experience and understand the violences and joys and realities of the world in which they live, and they need ways to make meaning of these violences and joys and realities both personally and collectively.
Anna Maria and Mei-ying both had and have a gift for holding space for youth to be in control. This included holding a line in defense of their stories against folx like the Executive Director and teachers / school administrators and parents and funders, who all had different ways of manipulating or exploiting or suppressing the voices of young people. Some claimed some stories glorified gun violence, while the story itself was a recounting of a student’s own life. Others hated the “frivolous” stories of cats or Yu-Gi-Oh or some mundane or pop culture topic. Mei-ying and Anna Maria saw and understood the values of all of the stories youth told, and thanks to Streetside Stories belief in publication as critical to literacy every story a youth wrote that wanted to be published was.
Looking back now, I see how crucial and critical these formative experiences in literacy development were for me as a youth worker then and as an artist now. What I noticed through how Mei-ying and Anna Maria navigated the complexities of numerous and intersecting systems—from the school district to the schools themselves to even individual classrooms to families to city departments to the non-profit industrial complex to Language Arts content standards to federal government funding agencies—while simultaneously carving out space for youth to use their voice was, what I now understand to be, the power of community media. And in this realization I recognize that community media is a framing for a huge portion of my life’s work and art.
In this here—sitting at my computer in my home, which is on Yelamu, unceded Ramaytush Ohlone land that was named San Francisco by Spanish Catholic colonizers—and now—Saturday, October 23, 2021, in what is known as the Gregorian Calendar—I have started a new endeavor and network called Queering Dreams with my dear comrade Crystal Mason. As we co-create Queering Dreams, articulating our emergent values is central to our praxis. One of those Emergent Guiding Values is Community Media, which for me grows / springs from / is rooted to my co-creation with Anna Maria Luera and Mei-ying Williams (nee Ho) 20+ years ago.
As Crystal & me state on our new website, “Queering Dreams values community media. Queering Dreams believes that what we co-create are crucial records of communal dreams, contain easy-to-use tools, and articulate collective actions. Queering Dreams believe those records should be freely shared for others to witness. We believe witnessing communal dreams, sharing tools, and publicly holding ourselves accountable to action amplifies the possibilities of our communal dreams becoming realities.”
Crystal and I both have witnessed the power of holding peer-based space for dreaming and co-creating. As we—Crystal and I—hold this space, we—Crystal and I and all of the people within a particular Queering Dreams’ event or experience or production or process—also are co-creating in real time the stories, tools, and resources of / for personal and collective liberation. It is similar to the role Mei-ying and Anna Maria played within the classroom. They were holding the line against the systems that threatened to exploit, extrapolate, and destroy the youth voices and stories and artists emerging and being cultivated. They understood their role as facilitators of their space in negotiating the conditions within the classroom environment that lead to youth expression through writing. They also understood their role as advocates with youth in publishing the stories of youth who wanted their stories published.
This dual role of facilitator and advocate is actually a unique role, one that can also be developed and reimagined towards even more collective liberation. For me, I’ve learned to question even the idea of a “neutral facilitator” because I’ve come to better understand that my role is actually one of co-creator with / alongside / amongst those I am co-creating rather than simply a “facilitator of space and time.” As a co-creator, I come to the space and time of our co-creation with my own positionality within the cosmos / cosmic, which includes all of the peoples I’ve been, all of the relations and ancestors that I hold & tend & ignore / deny, all that has come before, and all that is possible. And understanding my cosmological positioning includes articulating the values that guide and influence my beliefs / prejudices / preferences / practices / behaviors / praxis / pedagogies. By better understanding, articulating, querying, and refining my values, I can be a better co-creator with / alongside / amongst because others with whom I am co-creating can consent to and choose how / when / where / why they want to co-create with me.
This process of conversation and consent before co-creation also changes my positionality to the role of advocate. As a co-creator (and not merely a facilitator-advocate), when I advocate, I advocate from a position of my co-creators AND me; I cannot separate the liberation of my co-creators from my own because we have chosen and consented to a values-aligned process of co-creation. And that means how I advocate changes based on the consensus we came to as co-creators, which sometimes looks / sounds / feels like being the one to push hard for inclusion and sometimes looks / sounds / feels like holding my tongue / voice / perspective when using it would work against our collective liberation.
This shifting of roles from facilitator-advocate to co-creator also shifts for me my understanding of literacy development to a value of / in community media. Over the last decade plus, I have been refining a praxis of intergenerational co-creation through a variety of projects from the #WhereDoYouBelongProject with Trayvon Smith, Izza Anwar, Mosiah Concha, Eddie Samaniego, Shirley Acuna, Rebecca Schultz, Myah Overstreet, and so many more youth and adults and elders to #StickyQuestions with Celi Tamayo-Lee and Mary Claire Amable for the Asian Art Museum to The Alliance Youth Media Network with Co-Producer Myah Overstreet & Youth Media Fellows Aden Suchak, Kapi’olani Lee, Olivia Evans, Gemikia Henderson / RYSE Youth Center, Montero Morton, Cellou Diallo, Triana Patel, and Kafi-Ayanna Allah for the Alliance for Media Arts & Culture. Within each of these projects, I have born witness to how deeply moving and healing and liberating it is for the people I have had the honor and fortune of co-creating with to see their voices published publicly in some way. Whether it is through simply posting / archiving images and videos and sounds on social media or a 36-foot double-sided, participatory sticker mural across from City Hall or a month-long Youth Media Virtual Summit featuring intergenerational video roundtables on critical topics identified by youth, youth-led art / media workshops, youth film screenings, and even and intergenerational, cross-territorial inquiry-based art project. Each of these examples is a concrete example of community media as literacy development with never centering or articulating literacy as being a goal or outcome.
Instead, I centered a value on the publication of co-created community works in all of these projects and then co-created ways for everyone I was in community with to better understand how to consent to what was captured and shared publicly. This included everything from talking with young folx and adults and elders about Creative Commons licensing, media release forms, fair use, copyright, and intellectual property, especially as related to community-generated works. And then, working with my fellow co-creators on how to talk to the communities we were engaging about their consent in the community-generated work we were all co-creating.
Again, in this here and now, I have had the incredible honor of co-founding Queering Dreams with Crystal Mason. And we have been co-creating with artists Rupy C. Tut, Momos Cheeskos, Juan Carlos Escobedo, Nadïne LaFond, Todd Berman, and Ash Phillips a series of events in November. Throughout all of this development, Crystal and I have articulated our Emergent Guiding Values and engaged our Co-Creators in conversation about them as we co-create our events. It is a dynamic process of iteration and emergence, and it results in a plurality of understand of not just our Emergent Guiding Values, but also how we personally and collectively practice said values. And Queering Dreams Emergent Core Values & Practices are:
Joy & Pleasure & Care
If you’d like to read more about Queering Dreams Emergent Guiding Values, please check out our All About Queering Dreams.
I invite y’all to check out all of the Queering Dreams events coming up in November, and to join if you are so moved. Our events are limited to 12 participants so we can ensure we actually are able to hold space & time for all who attend. They are also pay-what-you-can so anyone of any financial background can attend. All events will follow the Rough Guide to How Queering Dreams Holds Space & Time , which will be shared in the next week.
Joining in with Queering Dreams events means co-creating with you. And I’d love to share some space and time with you.