Post-elections: With the Obama administration in the process of a transition, every travel, ceremony or event seems to be the last for the Obama family in the White House. As they celebrate their last leg in the White House, they figure a way to ensure that their legacy still stands. The First lady has created initiatives and also managed some programs mostly focusing on youth, girls, education, community and much more. The National Arts and Humanities Youth Awards is one of those signature programs catered to by the President’s committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). For the eighth and final time since assuming her role in the White House in 2009, the First Lady Michelle Obama recognized and celebrated 12 young people from across the country on Tuesday November 15th 2016, these honorees in attendance received the awards on behalf of their respective creative youth development programs in which they participate.
Eighteen year old female Nicole Rivera is one of the highly distinguished youth honored by the First Lady at the White House, receiving the award on behalf of her program-Next Gen of the San Francisco’s Bay Area Video Coalition (BAVC) an outstanding after-school and out-of-school program. BAVC is celebrating its 40th year as a non-profit resource for Bay Area video makers, serving over 7,500 freelancers, filmmakers, and students each year.
Senior Director Staffer Lauren Taylor attended the ceremony with her trainee Nicole Rivera to accept the award for BAVC. Next Gen is developing the next generation of diverse, influential leaders and digital media producers who contribute to social change and achieve success in their college and career aspirations. Under the guidance of award-winning filmmakers and practicing artists and musicians, their trainees who are between the ages of 14-18 years learn how to tell their stories and the stories of their communities through video and film, by producing music and other audio, also through coding/design using industry standard equipment and software in a supportive and collaborative environment.
The story of Nicole is an exemplary to the stories of many of the young people in the community that Next Gen is serving. Next Gen helped Nicole discover her own power to challenge ideas about media representation and communities that are oppressed. In my interview with Nicole at the White House after she had received the award from the First Lady, Nicole said, “this has impacted me with the opportunity of being open to my gifts, identity and what I can provide my community and the world.” Rivera learned how to make short documentaries in BAVC’s Next Gen Program, which teaches media literacy to low income teens. Rivera also said in another interview with a local media, “When you really connect with the youth and provide the space for them, a lot of vulnerability and a lot of strength comes out of that.” Rivera, a freshman studying cinema, race and resistance at SF State, also said that she was really shy before walking into BAVC but since then, she’s done interviews and made videos about racial justice and female sexuality.
When I asked Senior Director Taylor about what she has observed with the youth in this program, she said she observed that one of the things really important for young people of Next Gen is media literacy. “We work with young people who often don’t see themselves represented in media and through the skills they learn, they learn to produce their own media and combat harmful media stereotypes and produce new and positive images of himself that the world can share.” she said.
Adding that the future of young people in media she hopes will have increase in diversity amongst the young people and between the types of representations they see of themselves and the communities. Receiving the award from the White House she said, is an opportunity for them to further invest in their community saying they have far more young people applying to their program than can be accommodated so they want to be able to expand the number of young people they serve.
The first lady had very profound departing words to these young talents and their cohorts, telling them she is proud of them and that they represent the very best of America,a reminder of what America is about. A room full of hopeful young people who showed exhilaration and joy for not just receiving the awards but being in the White House. These are kids that come from marginalized backgrounds but have somehow made it to the White House through the help of their community after school programs, Michelle Obama leaves them with these words,
“We are a country that believes in our young people, all of them. We believe that every single child has boundless promise, no matter who they are, where they come from, or how much money their parents have. we believe that each of these young people is a vital part of the great American story I cannot say that enough.It is important to our continued greatness to see these kids as ours—not as ‘them,’ not as ‘other,’ but as ours. We want them to know that if they are willing to work for it and so many are, that they can be anything they want. That is what this country is about and that’s really the power of programs like these. Don’t ever lose hope. Don’t ever feel fear. You belong here.Keep working hard. It’s going to be so important now than ever to be educated and focused. No one can ever take your education from you.”