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Media program combats industry gatekeeping by teaching Oakland kids for free

Youth Beat
Youth Beat students working on a film project.

This story aired in the June 8th, 2023 episode of Crosscurrents.

Click the play button above to listen to the story

Picture this scene: After School at Met West High School, Students swarm into a TV studio to rehearse the script for a web series episode one of the students wrote. It feels like a beehive as teens operate cameras, run cables, and make last-minute preparations. Before the buzzing of the students grows any louder, their Media Teacher brings them to a hush.

At Youth Beat, Oakland students from all walks of life come together to receive free digital media training. The script they're rehearsing today - was written by AND will be acted, filmed, edited, and produced by students.

"At first, I was a little nervous using the equipment because I was like, I don't want to drop this. But after a while, I got used to it and put more trust in myself," says Alonso.

Alonso is learning cinematography. That means he helps coordinate the more difficult shots the director needs. His friend Lindsey Hoang works on pre-production. It's like movie quality control - She helps organize the film before it starts shooting. "Like oh, now I have to think about what cameras should we use. What shots do I want to do?" Said Lindsey.

At Youth Beat, They get hands-on experience learning with the same equipment you'd see in a major Hollywood production. "They're like; We trust that you know what you're doing. And you know, you are responsible with what we are doing here, especially our message, so it's just overall encouraging," says Lindsey.

"The gear that these young people are getting to utilize when they're in high school is on par with what I was using and learning in my master's degree program," says Jake Schoneker, the Executive Director of Youth Beat. "We've got a number of different programs. This year, we're serving over 400 students all across the city. Our core program is at KDOL TV, which is the TV station of the school district," says Jake.

The program does its best to set students up for success by giving teens bus passes to get to the station to even providing stipends for their work.

Jake says their goal is to empower young people to see this industry as a possibility. "When you're a 16-year-old student, the idea of becoming a Hollywood editor or, you know, a producer or animator feels like such an abstract idea, such a, you know, pipe dream, right?"

The media industry is thought of as a place for people with privilege – I mean, you've heard of the term "Nepo Baby." But Youth Beat is trying to level the playing field for kids of color from usually overlooked communities.

"A lot of times they're competing against whiter, more privileged, young people that maybe were given a camera when they were 12 by their auntie, and were sent to film camps when they were 14, they were given all these opportunities that put them ahead." Says Jake.

Whether through support, mentorship, or resources – Youth Beat does its best to help provide these kids with a competitive edge in an often unforgiving industry. "It's going to be up to them to walk through that door; it's got to come from them. But how can we expect them to make it if they're set up to fail?" Says Jake.

Ultimately, this is about training these kids so they can be a catalyst for change in the media industry. "Young people who come from East Oakland or come from, you know, under-served backgrounds are just as talented, are just as smart, are just as inspiring, are just as good storytellers as people who have, who come from other communities." Said Jake.

Back to Youth Beat, Alonso and Lindsey discuss representation in media. The stories they are making are trying to represent people of color authentically. Alonso jokingly says, "It's not no Netflix stuff, like these characters don't speak Spanish." Lindsey says, "We're gonna actually incorporate things we know."

Despite their joking, they understand the impact of their work. "Everything that we do shows that whoever you are, like, whatever you are, it doesn't matter. Like you can do things, you can be anything. You can be this person." Said Lindsey.

A few weeks later, at the Youth Beat studio, Alonso, Lindsey, and the other Youth Beat students are filming one of the scripts they were rehearsing. While operating the camera, Alonso says, "I'm just trying to listen on what the scene is going to be, and that's very important because if you don't listen, like, even the smallest detail you might like I say, and be lost."

As Alonso gets ready for the next shot, seeing these teenagers operating cameras and being able to create what they imagine in their heads - is awesome. Because Youth Beat empowers Oakland teens to foster their creativity one film scene at a time.

Growing up in the small town of Mashall, Texas, Kelby has been in love with sound since he was a kid. Coming from a musically inclined family, Kelby transferred those skills into audio and news production. Working with companies like Cumulus Radio and KETK, Kelby left Texas in 2018 and moved to the Bay Area to expand his production talents with KALW to amplify positive change with quality media work.