Hope. Being surrounded by our youth media producers at the Bayview-Hunters Point Center for Arts and Technology1)BAYCAT (BAYCAT) gives me hope: young graduates like Alex Sorto, one of the rappers and media producers behind the award-winning, youth-produced music video Take a Look at Yourself. We found Alex when he was seventeen while at one of our digital-media-arts workshops at San Francisco International High School.
Actually, I should say that he found us. You know those kids who show a precocious amount of initiative and drive? That’s Alex. I mean, he has an email signature that says, “Future CEO and Founder.”
BAYCAT’s model is to educate and empower youth to be storytellers. Through BAYCAT Academy, we provide free classes for youth, ages eleven to seventeen, from low-income and low-opportunity communities. From concept to production to editing, we give them professional digital-media tools to do their own media projects. Take a Look at Yourself is one example of the many ways our youth express themselves through their art, their voices, and their views—creating music, music videos, documentary film, and animation.
You know those kids who show a precocious amount of initiative and drive? That’s Alex. I mean, he has an email signature that says, “Future CEO and Founder.”
Every day is a dream come true with our youth; in their work, creativity meets storytelling meets social justice. Each semester, our youth produce a television show, Zoom In, that focuses on a different topic. For Episode 32, “The Future Today,” for example, thirty youth media producers examined how they are shaping our future today with all that they learn, do, and create. As the youth brainstorm how to approach each show, our professional mentors and instructors encourage them to critically think about the media they see and to reflect on their own experiences as the starting points for the story they tell.
For the making of Take a Look at Yourself, Alex recalls, “We talked about racism, bullying, and stereotypes, and in our video, there are three African Americans and me, a Latino from Honduras. We decided to write about our own experiences growing up, and how the media stereotypes African Americans, Muslims, Latinos, and LGBTQ people.
“We came up with ‘The media is not always good. It only shows what’s wrong with the “hood,”’ for the simple reason that most of the TV channels, newspapers, and other mediums provide information to the public that just show the bad stuff that happens. For example, I haven’t heard or read an article where they talk about the rapper, singer, and producer Akon, and how he gave solar power to millions of householders in Africa. Have you watched a news report that talks about the different nonprofits that help and keep youth off the street? Because I haven’t.”
Have you watched a news report that talks about the different nonprofits that help and keep youth off the street? Because I haven’t.”
This is why I started BAYCAT over twelve years ago. Alex is much more self-aware and “world” aware than I was at his age. I never had conversations about race and media representations at school, at home, or even at church. We weren’t encouraged to embrace our racial identities. Alex proudly raps in Spanish and says, “That’s the point. We have English-speaking rappers to talk about the struggle of African Americans, and a Spanish rapper to talk about the struggles in Spanish. Being bilingual is a big gift.”
BAYCAT is a creative and safe “sandbox” filled with tech and digital-media-arts “toys” and surrounded by dedicated digital-media professionals, role models, and teachers. At our core is collective creative expression for social justice, but, ultimately, it really is about “The Future Today.” According to the US Department of Labor, 65 percent of today’s grade-school students will work at jobs that haven’t been invented yet. BAYCAT has created a pathway from education to employment for youth and young adults, ages eleven to twenty-five. We believe that creativity and innovation are vital to our youth’s success in life and in the workplace, whether they aspire to be pilots, doctors, teachers, bankers, lawyers, filmmakers, or future CEOs and founders.
Just as Alex does, I’d like to reimagine our world. Instead of waking up to news feeds that amplify harmful negative stereotypes, what if we amplify our youth-produced stories and songs? What if we start each day by watching Take a Look at Yourself or any of our youth-produced media.2)BAYCAT – YouTube As Alex poignantly says, “As you know, we use media daily. We, the next generation, have the power to change what we see on social networks. You and me are the media, and we are responsible for what we want to watch on it.”
We are responsible for what we watch and what we invest in today and for the future. Check out and share Alex’s story, This Is Me, and his work. Come join our “sandbox” to create more opportunities for our youth.
Take a Look at Yourself won the Student/Mentor Music Video Category, 2015 My Hero International Film Festival; the Best Music Video (ages thirteen to nineteen) and Audience Award, 2015 RYSE Film Festival: Truth Be Told Justice Through My Eyes; and Second Place at the 2015 Peace in the Streets Global Film Festival.