The inaugural 22×20 Fellowship Convening was held in Chicago on November 17-18th, and brought together ten Fellows from across the country and our host partners. This gathering was generously supported by the Joyce Foundation.
The weekend began on the heels of the 2018 Midterm elections when youth participation was highest it’s been in at least a quarter century, a clear indication that young people do not only have the right to be heard, but they are fighting for that right through civic actions such as voting. As one of the 22×20 Fellows rightly said, “We need to destroy the notion that all youth are apathetic.” The Convening provided a safe space for our Fellows and Partners to crush that misconception and learn, grow, and contribute to a culture of civic engagement.
A central focus of the convening, other than Fellows and partners learning from one another, was to think together and individually about what’s needed to support more youth civic media creation. To do this, we used the concept of “Civic Imagination”, which our colleagues at the Civic Imagination Project have come up with. This tool helps us to imagine a better world, the process of change, ourselves as civic agents, and our connections with a larger community in order to forge solidarity with others and bringing an imaginative dimension to the real world. We explored questions such as, “What would be the ideal environment to help support and strengthen our young people’s civic media and civic engagement? Who are the stakeholders that need to be present? What are the attitudes that are necessary to fully support youth voice?” The creativity that emerged was inspiring, and the perfect foundation for the work we set out to engage in to think about individual plans.
As part of the 22×20 fellowship, each teen leader creates civic media regularly, engages other teens and starts a conversation with a local media partner. To this end, the convening allowed the Fellows to think very concretely about their goals for their 22×20 fellowship individually and then with their host partners/mentor. Fellows were able to interact with one another in a youth-only atmosphere, and draw out projects they were brainstorming for partnering with local media partners.
While the fellows spent time together, Host Partners examined whether and how local media can be harnessed while keeping staying youth-centered. Host Partners had a chance to learn from one another’s work, despite the differences in geography and type of youth engagement and media literacy agendas that guide their efforts. It was wonderful to hear an attendee say, “I loved meeting all of you from around the country. It was great getting to learn about your lives, and how they are different and yet not from my own.”
Chicago, of course, is an important setting for youth media, with a strong culture of youth voice on public issues, and concrete opportunities for young people to tell stories, leverage media for advocacy and build careers. To learn more about this, during the first night of the convening, we heard from two Chicagoans – Sheila Solomon and Caro Gallo – and they discussed the immense importance for youth to see more stories about themselves in local media, and how we can go about making that happen. Sheila offered dozens of years of experience working as a woman of color in news media, what she did to support youth as a news audience and shared her emphatic support for young people creating media. Caro has been involved in several key programs in Chicago as a young person telling important stories she hasn’t/didn’t see told elsewhere. Following the panel, a Fellow was heard saying, “Youth are the ones who need to fight for the freedom of political expression – and we will.” The evening concluded with a trip to the famous Lou Manaldi’s for Chicago’s very own Deep Dish Pizza, comfort food for a day of challenging thinking, interesting dialogue, and pushing boundaries.
On the second and concluding day of the gathering, we focused on skill-building and building the campaign’s next calls to action. Fellows teamed up with their Host Partners to practice their “On-Camera Interview Skills” (A module that is part of our 22×20 Media Creation Package), a module that teaches interpretation and critique of interviews in media while practicing them. Fellows recorded themselves interviewing their Host Partners in order to see their interview techniques in real life. Everyone was engaged in this interactive exercise that allowed both Fellows and Partners to refine their interview skills and gain tools they didn’t have access to before the Convening. Our incredibly inspiring weekend closed with a democratic exercise that led us to ideate and vote on our next three Calls-to-Action to distribute to the 22×20 network and communities across the country.
With that, the Fellows had their plans in hand, and were off to the races. “Youth aren’t just the future, they are the now.”
For more on this cohort of 22×20 fellows, see here.