Resistin' and gettin' heard!!

root - Posted on 13 January 2004

The Digital REsistance PRogram at POOR is making media and publishing access happen for poor youth and adults and is at-risk of closure due to loss of funding

by Tejal Shah/PoorNewsNetwork Poverty Studies intern. Mentor; Dee Gray

Whose voice is heard? Whose opinion is valued as expert? Who is seen? And Who decides who is considered an artist or writer? Since 1996, POOR Magazine/PoorNewsNetwork , a grassroots, non-profit arts organization, has been trying to answer these questions in innovative and radical ways � one of which is through trying to create access for poor folks in the visual and literary art and media worlds even though they are po themseleves. To access and enable new voices they have conducted literary, visual arts and journalism workshops in group homes, jails, schools, community centers and "outside" locations all over the Bay Area. In 2001 with a small grant they were able to launch the Youth in the Media Program for very low-income and homeless youth of color. The Youth in The Media Program trains youth in journalism, poetry and spoken word.

In 2003 with no definite funding, only fueled by hope and conviction to get these voices heard, POOR launched their newest program Digital Resistance! (ie the RESISTANCE to the very real Digital Divide that keeps poor folks down and out), offering poor youth and adults the opportunity to learn advanced graphic design skills and penetrate the elitist world of publishing by sponsoring the publishing of their Books, CD's and Magazine Projects through POOR Press. This program is specifically geared to very low-income, homeless adults, elders and youth of color interested in learning journalism and then developing a publication which addresses an issue related to the root causes of poverty or racism. There are several promising, talented young people ranging from ages 14 to 24, currently participating in this program, (which due to POOR�s recent loss of funding is at-risk of closure...)

Martrice Kandler, a bright-faced nineteen year old young woman also attending City College of San Francisco has numerous creative gifts and interests. In the Digital Resistance Program, she creates a medley of poetry, creative writing, and a "little bit of art". Living in the lower Haight Street district with her grandmother, two younger sisters, a new baby, and five other extended family members, she definitely considers herself to be low-income. "Poor folks need to be given a voice," she begins, "because they�re the underdog, nobody ever listens to them, and they�re misrepresented through the media". Although she admits that all of these tasks she must undertake in the program involve a great deal of hard work, and must not be taken lightly, Martrice enjoys the sense of structure she obtains by having the deadlines, training and mentorship she receives at POOR.

The first issue she is writing about as a PNN Youth in the Media journalist and has passionate feelings about, is voting in a black community. Explains Martrice, "The reason I wanted to write about that issue was because when I turned 18, I didn�t know about voting and it was something that my grandmother struggled to do as a Black Southern woman�other than her nobody in my family voted. And nobody told us how to vote, i.e., what the difference is between democrat and republican, etc�there are all kinds of reasons youth �are discouraged or prevented from voting, especially black youth, because for example they might have felonies on their record, so I think that�s an important issue: To avoid the criminal Unjust-ice system and start voting so that we can get our side of the town improved." Martrice feels that the portrayal of African-Americans in mainstream media, like the Chronicle "[benefits] from our ignorance" and declares that we must learn to educate ourselves so that we can properly advocate for ourselves so as to provide the community with a more real image of the black community.

Of course, Martice does not only deal with issues of racism. In one of her poems, entitled "The Bus", she artistically sheds light on the concept homophobia: "the wheels on the bus go round and round, but that�s not the only thing in heavy rotation .."

Brandon Jones, a 16 year old, whose solemn countenance could easily let him pass for at least 20 has been putting together a CD comprised of "spoken word, like poetry, mixed with hiphop. Something you can listen to. Something real" along with his friend Rich. Inspired, one day he simply began writing off the top of his head and completed all ten songs on the CD within only three weeks. Living on Fulton in San Francisco with his Uncle who raised him, he muses that he must be low-income, since he�s "on Section 8, and [they] don�t have a lot of money".

His song "So Many Things" includes a particularly reflective section: "So many things got me wondering why money controls all the values we hold and everyday violence is just a story to be told, why so many people acting shady and cold; man don�t that shit ever get old? Oh, I remember the good old days, when people just chilled and blazed, now they wanna kill and act crazed; it�s affecting the younger group too, you got nine year old kids that�s acting like they�re 22, mouthin off to positive mother ____�s like me and you, but I ain�t trippin�; I don�t pay no attention, I just look at it all, sit back , and wait for the redemption". To Brandon, the essence of these lines is that everyday life which he lives and sees is just so "messed up�and money is the only value we hold".

Oji, a 24 year old who plans on attending City College, but is currently battling with systems to get support to go to school from welfare workers, who don�t see his extreme talent in visual and literary art says his teachers at POOR, is a man of few words when it comes to everyday dialogue. However, an extremely abstract thought-process is evident through his extremely brilliant artwork, twenty-five song CD, and poetry. There is no singular way in which to describe Oji�s poetry, in particular, but a few lines incite curiosity immediately: "listening, now that I have your attention, look through the windows of my eyes into a mind that�s scientific, since suspense tends to extending our minds in hidden dimensions. Now let�s begin an endless mission with infinite decisions. A effusion of transenducing music is self-illumining opportunist, fluidly rejuvenating a revolutionist movements, goin� though hell to get to heaven, it�s urban legends with commatic electromagnetic melon, within our genes which breeds kings and queens so weaves dreams, conceived, believed, and achieve anything".

Says Oji, of his CD and book "It talks about my potential, I guess what I could become". He feels that low-income members of the community should be heard because "everyone has a different perspective�we can teach. What we�ve learned, we can help others learn". Living with assorted family members from San Francisco to Antioch at different times, Oji feels that he is building a foundation so he can learn to rise above poverty, or as he simply puts it, from "nothing to something".


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