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Uplifting Our Voices: A Youth Leadership Celebration! - Digital Storytelling Project 2018

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

When I first became a Youth Advisor at Denver Public Health three years ago, opportunities rose up like resilient flowers blooming in a garden that is cultivated through youth leadership. I realized that we can be the creators of the community we love and care for. Through solidarity in building coalitions and working towards health equity, many amazing experiences started to unfold. When I was first onboarded to my position I started discovering the myriad of ways in which I could creatively share my voice. My voice, the embodiment of my passions, has become my ultimate weapon when fighting injustice and advocating for social justice, even through channels of promoting healthy eating and active living. Most importantly however, it has been a tool to connect me with others and spread knowledge and inspiration.

Through my position, opportunities to embody youth leadership helped me grow and get where I am today. Thanks to my supportive supervisors and co-workers, I have fulfilled so many amazing steps on the path to health equity. During the first couple of months of being hired, LaPhonso, Armando, and I (the three original Youth Advisors) were asked to come to Lighthouse Writers Workshop to work with StoryCenter to create our own Digital Stories. This was my first time being introduced to the medium. It was a wonderful experience, but due to their time limits there was only one session of the workshop where we came in with our ideas, wrote and recorded our narrative, sent the story center our images, and then they put the video together for us. I appreciated that they incentivised us for our time and allowed us to come find our voice in an innovative way.

The second time I encountered something like this was for my Making Conscious Media Class at Naropa University. Our professor, Masha Sha, is an experienced and creative film-maker and taught us how to use Premier, which is a complicated and cool video editing software. This class is what allowed me to gain tools in video editing and lead to me creating multiple videos and a documentary. This class was a one of a kind exploration in creative film making.

My final and most impactful inspiration was in a class lead by Candace Walworth called Conflict Transformation: Theory and Practice. Over the course of a school semester, the big class project was creating a digital story. The requirements were “tell a story you are hungry for, that only you can tell.” We were given multiple Peace Studies tools throughout this process, including literature, graphs, cycles, etc. that related to other content in the course, but we always brought it back to how telling our own stories can liberate ourselves and others. We were taught the importance of taking back the narrative and using our voices as tools of empowerment. We started this process with storytelling circles. This allowed space for us to be vulnerable and explore what it was that we were hungry for, what story would do us justice. Throughout the semester we came together in these circles, and had time on our own to write our narrative. Once we solidified our narratives after we had our writing workshopped multiple times, we could finally move on to collecting the visuals for our stories. This could include pictures, videos, music, effects, and any other layers we wanted to explore. The end product was so incredible to witness, and is what ultimately inspired me to recreate this project in my own way. View the digital story I created in this class.

Preparation for the Digital Storytelling Project:

Our coalition has been building its momentum for over two years. We come together monthly for our coalition meetings that include skill building, planning, policy, research and data collection, creativity, relationship building, and more! Each meeting has a social justice and health equity approach to the work we do around healthy eating, active living, and tobacco prevention. These meetings have been the catapult that have uplifted our coalition to the place of solidarity we are at now. Every time we come together it feels so empowering to hear each other out, support ideas, and work towards a common goal of creating a positive impact in our community. Aside from meetings, we also engage these young leaders in events, summits, walks, presentations, conferences, and other outlets to get them involved. All of the memories we have created, and the strengths we have built from, make our coalition strong. This type of relationship building within a coalition is so important and is a contributing factor to having a successful project such as Digital Storytelling happen effectively.

Some of our projects and initiatives were a great way to prepare these young people for creating their own digital stories. In year one of our grant, we held a PhotoVoice Expo, which was an amazing event that came from Denver residents taking pictures of their built environment and sending them in with a unique and creative caption. We took health equity scavenger hunts, rallied for Vision 0 with love in’s, and found multiple ways to become engaged in the issues we focus on. For some of our meetings, we created poetry and artwork as ways the youth could express themselves. These types of activities are great ways to engage and prepare youth to create their own Digital Story.

To prep for this specific project, I stayed true to the roots of storytelling I learned in school at Naropa and facilitated storytelling circles. These were used as an introduction to the project and a way we could have an innovative discussion with the group. Like sparklers to fireworks, this gradually sparked a lot of inspiration. To contain the passionate fire that was created, I made Project Timelines and individualized Work Plans for the youth who were participating. This helped them outline the tasks they had to complete and when they had to be done. By providing these tools and having a structure, it supported in keeping people accountable and on track with their digital stories.

Creating Digital Stories:

The youth had approximately three months to finish their digital stories. While their work plans were individualized based on where they were at with their Digital Story, they all had the same steps. The first was to brainstorm their story, the skeleton of their plot. What did they want their message to be? What issue did they want to speak on? What is the tone, the feeling of their narrative? These types of questions, and more, were contemplated during the brainstorming phase through various discussions and activities. Once they felt clear on their direction, the second step was to write their narrative. After they got their first draft down, I would set up a meeting to workshop their writing with them and get it exactly where they want it. Some stories were re-written a few times (including my own) before this stage was passed. After a solid narrative was confirmed, then the youth were asked to collect images, videos, and music that they wanted in their Digital Stories. Now that everyone has their audio and visuals, it was time to bust out the technology and actually start to create the videos. Many young people used iMovie, but some used Premiere.

I could tell a story about how each unique young person created their story in different ways. As the facilitator of this project, it was beautiful to witness their craft as I helped them develop their videos. Everyone had a different approach, message, and process which added rich texture to the overall collection of videos. Having those critical 1-1 meetings was so valuable in not only the creation of the Digital Stories but also our relationship building.

One of the challenges I faced is related to our grant work. Since the PHD Youth Team is working on multiple health topics with multiple deliverables, it was difficult to find time during our monthly meetings to work on the Digital Stories. I had to get creative with scheduling and really work with the youth who also have busy lives, to find time outside of our regular meetings to complete their videos. Once everyone’s video were finished, complete with imagery, videography, a creative and unique narrative, video effects, edits, and more, I felt a wave of gratitude wash over me like calm waters gently crashing against the shore.

Uplifting Our Voices: A Youth Leadership Celebration!

The whole purpose of this event is reflected in the title, “Uplifting Our Voices: A Youth Leadership Celebration.” Not only were we cultivating an innovative platform for these young people to elevate their voices, but we were also celebrating all of their hard work over the past three years, their resiliency in social justice work, and their dedication to the PHD Youth Team. A lot of time and effort went into planning this event. One vital step in planning was preparing the youth who were participating. Everyone introduced their own digital stories, and some youth performed spoken word poetry, gave speeches, and one even did a dance performance! Other event planning steps included: choosing and booking a meeting space, recruiting organizations and groups to have a table and be a part of the audience, setting up the space, getting the technology to work, buying and preparing food for everyone, planning activities, spreading the word and getting RSVP’s, and creating the whole agenda. See the links below to get the full scope of this amazing event!

Watch the digital stories on this Youtube playlist:

Review the event agenda, including the layout for our event, intros for all of the youth involved and talking points.

Find pictures of the event on Facebook here.

Empowering Young People (Successes and Lessons Learned):

The event was amazing with a great turnout. I was very thankful for the organizations and partners who came to support and also offer the young people a chance to network. Afterwards we got so much positive feedback from the organizations, partners, families, and community members that attended and it felt so wonderful to have created a space in which young people truly could uplift their voices and then hear the positive impact that it had on others. Not only were we able to enjoy this celebration and see the Digital Stories on the big screen, but now they are on the internet forever and will continue to impact others. It is so important to allow young leaders the space to explore their creativity and elevate their voice. To do this, empowerment is key. Relationship building and then deeply exploring these young people’s strengths and talents is what truly cultivated this project.

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