Change Gon’ Come: Lessons from the Youth we Study
By Lindsay Till Hoyt
“We value young people – their experiences and perspectives – and see them as critical to a better future.” – SRA Mission Statement
Gemikia Henderson is one of these young people, and this month I want to share her experiences and perspective on some important youth issues expressed through a series of powerful music videos. I hope that you will take a few minutes out of your busy day to see the world through Gemikia’s eyes (and camera lens)…
Meet Gemikia Henderson, age 21
Gemikia was born and raised in Richmond, CA. After graduating from high school, Gemikia started a summer internship program at the local Ryse Youth Center, and was assigned to the Media, Arts, & Culture (MAC) program. It started as “just a job” and when asked to select a concentration, she chose video because she thought it would be easy. It was NOT easy. Yet, in the face of this new challenge, she found a passion. And, amidst violence in her community, she found a safe and supportive place to express herself. Three and a half years later, she is now a Video Production Assistant at RYSE, working with the MAC team to promote community healing and social justice through the arts.
“I have a dream, that one day, this nation will rise up… “
The first music video project that Gemikia worked on (RYSE’s first production) was called RYSE Up. Inspired by the dreams of Dr. King, and brought to life by RYSE performers, beat makers, co-directors, and crew, this first piece is an anthem about overcoming adversity, standing together, and empowering young people to rise up.
The RYSE Youth Center itself is an impressive example of how a group of youth can rise up. In 2000, there were a number of homicides amongst youth near Richmond High School, which galvanized local students to take action to address this violence in their own backyard. Students organized vigils and community forums, and met and worked with local officials and stakeholders to assess youth-identified priorities and solutions, culminating in the opening of the RYSE Youth Center in 2008 (open to Richmond and West Contra Costa youth ages 13 to 21). From its inception, the center has been youth-driven and grounded in the principles of leadership and social justice.
The shooting of Trayvon Martin in 2012 sparked conversations and debates about race and inequality across the nation… and stirred up feelings of anger, confusion, and hurt within RYSE youth. Gemikia’s next music video,Street Literature, gave her and like-minded RYSE musicians and collaborators a platform to express their collective feelings and elevate their voices. “I’m showing [other youth] an outlet to help them get over it… because this is my only outlet,” she explains. This tragedy hit especially close to home for Richmond youth, who lost a young member of their own community, Oscar Grant, to a police gunshot a few years before Martin. One of the performers, Kai, grew up with Grant and portrays his story in the video.
The finished project is powerful and tragic, while simultaneously beautiful and creative. Gemikia explains, “Most of the time the media does not portray our community to be something pretty. It’s always… when something happens we’re going to retaliate by shooting, or beating up a person, or stealing from this person – and it’s not always like that. ” Gemikia says that she wanted to portray Richmond in a positive light, “I don’t want it to look bad. I don’t want it to look ugly.” Indeed, this video shows two layers of beauty: one with light, color, and scenery… and another with the talent and courage of the participants themselves.
Change Gon’ Come
Richmond youth continue to confront violence in their everyday lives, from the media coverage of Ferguson over the past few months, to the surge of shootings among Richmond High Schools students over the past few weeks. However, Gemikia’s next project, Change Gon’ Come, continues to send a message of hope and encouragement.
This new project is based on the cycle of crime/ poverty/ violence that Gemikia has observed in her own community…. and how she hopes to inspire young people to try to be the person to break that cycle by the choices that they make early in life. “It takes one person to break the cycle for everyone else. It takes one person to stand up and say no.” Aligned with the goals of RYSE Youth Center – this video challenges youth to see themselves as agents of change and leadership.
Reflecting Back, Looking Forward
At the end of my conversation with Gemikia, I asked her to reflect on the past 3-4 years and how her work at RYSE has changed her life. First of all, she never would have become a filmmaker. RYSE not only provided her with the equipment, but also the support and confidence from the staff and leadership of the program to take her ideas and just “do it.” Secondly, the program, in combination with supportive and loving parents, was her lifeline during an extremely challenging time in her life. She reflects, “Before I started RYSE, I lost my best friend to gun violence and then 2 weeks later I lost my granny. I was just angry. I went downhill from there… and… and if I never came to RYSE, I probably wouldn’t be here… That’s the truth. I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for RYSE and the support of my family and my church family. Everyone at RYSE loves each other and looks out for each other.”
As for her future, this was the easiest question I asked her all afternoon and only required only a one-word answer, “Sundance.” So, look out for rising directing star Gemikia Henderson, at the Sundance Film Festival in the years to come!
Special thanks to…
- Gemikia, for sharing her art and her message
- Casey Beck, MAC associate, for being my RYSE ambassador
- All of the staff and members at the RYSE Center for your hospitality and wonderful work in the community. MAC is just one of many wonderful programs at RYSE, please visit their website (http://www.rysecenter.org/) for more information!