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Jessie's Intro: "In a Short Couple Bars, It's Like Exactly the Point"

The first words uttered in Roots of Change are a rap lyric by Jessie.

Things never stay the same They constantly change When one looks at the past It just rattles your brain

The way things take form overtime What will it take to form it

The way we envision it In our minds Teens are the future So trust me enough

To let me shape the city with a mentor’s touch With the help of children and adults We will work together To achieve results

A beautiful place with so much potential

If we took a stand

We’d sell the plans

And the way it looks states

That we can create

A healthy community that we aren’t seem That can accommodate All Allentonians to be in

Jessie composed these lines two days before HYPE ended. If the hope of “reclaiming their video” was to be realized, this rap, along with an introductory sequence created by the teens, offered a model for “making it their own.” The sequence itself featured the students onscreen in ways they were absent elsewhere, and—crucially—the production process that shaped the introductory sequence came as close as anything to HYPE’s collectively defined ideal of youth- driven, adult- supported media.

Roots of Change opens with shots of center city Allentown: row homes, storefronts, gas stations, an art museum, and abandoned buildings interspersed with introspective close-up shots of Jessie and Shaniqua gazing at their community from the car window as they drive through center city. Much like a music video, the scene is driven by a rap ofJessie’s lyrics performed by Jessie and Rashid. This is the opening they had envisioned.

Jessie was outspoken in assuming responsibility for reshaping the introduction, although she had little experience working with Final Cut Pro. For two days, Disbrow sat with Jessie while she reconstructed the introduction, providing just enough guidance with the program so that Jessie could render visually the ideas about which she was so excited. From a youth media educator’s perspective, this was rewarding work, with a student passionate and actively involved in the production. At one point, Jessie beamed, “I could do this forever.”

Midway through her rap, Jessie asks, “What will it take to form it / The way we envision it / In our minds?” She is speaking of the community of Allentown, but the question is worth asking in relation to youth media. What does it take, in the context of HYPE and youth media more generally, to create conditions of possibility that empower young people to realize their cultural productions with greater autonomy and agency? A good part of the answer, to be sure, rests with Jessie herself, who demonstrated throughout HYPE a deep engagement and understanding of what it means to be located in this community and to locate oneself, as a Latina, a teenager, and an advocate for social justice. Jessie exhibited a heightened awareness of, and ability to negotiate, the various systems of power pressing down on her life. For example, she articulated the struggle to apply skills learned in HYPE in the classroom, navigating between two learning contexts separated by a wide divide. She was aware of the differing power dynamics at play that shape and constrain the possibilities for action and engagement within these contexts: “It’s hard. The way school is set up, it’s like a dictatorship. Even teachers say, ‘This is not a democracy, it’s a dictatorship.’ At HYPE, I feel like we learn how to have relationships with adults and we work with them and then at school we have to work for them.”33

Jessie managed to locate herself in relationships with HYPE adults as an active participant and partner in creating a community unique to HYPE. We recognize, however, the difficulties HYPE students may encounter when they are challenged to rethink their view of themselves and their relationship to the community beyond HYPE.

Jessie felt these pressures acutely in the context of her home life:

Disbrow: How does HYPE affect other areas of your life?

Jessie: Well, actually, it gets me in trouble a lot with my Dad because we get into arguments and he tells me not to talk back and I’m like, “I don’t go to HYPE to learn how to be quiet! I have my own voice!” And then he tells me to shut up [laughter]. But the way we practice stuff [at HYPE], it’s really comfortable.

It’s not like at school where we have to [sit there] and take notes.

Disbrow: What was your favorite memory from HYPE this summer?

Jessie: Filming the intro. I was just really excited and I had a vision. Filming it was really fun because it was like exactly what I had in my head, and then adding the rap—it just made it that much better. That was my favorite part, like every time I watch it I just tell everybody, “This is my part! I did this!” I do love that rap too . . . I feel like in a short couple bars, it’s like exactly the point.34

Support from Disbrow did not diminish Jessie’s sense of ownership over this sequence: “This is my part! I did this!” Disbrow provided just enough technical instruction to enable Jessie to drive the production process.

The trust between collaborators is vital here, but so too is a sociocultural, theoretical understanding of the context shaping this meaning-making encounter between Disbrow and Jessie. Our analysis is informed by a theoretical model developed by the Russian psycholinguist Lev Vygotsky called the zone of proximal development. Briefly, the zone of proximal development (or ZOPED) is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving with guidance from an adult or a more knowledgeable peer. In other words, Disbrow created a situation in which Jessie was able to accomplish complex editing tasks that she could not yet complete independently. But Jessie slowly took over the editing process and could eventually perform the work independently. In Vygotskian terms, Disbrow and Jessie were coconstructing knowledge in the zone of proximal development.35 The power of this model can be witnessed in the film’s concluding sequence. The sequence was edited by Alysia, who mastered the basics of Final Cut Pro through instruction and guidance from Jessie. Jessie’s ability to teach the editing software to her peer is evidence of her own degree of mastery over the task.36

Years of experience at Educational Video Center have demonstrated to Steven Goodman that media educators must constantly manage and assist the media production work with youth without overstepping their boundaries by “leaving little room for youth decision making or ownership.”37 The collaborative meaning-making process driven by Jessie and supported by Disbrow is a promising response to Jessie’s refrain: “What will it take to form it / The way we envision it / In our minds?”

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