Oliver Mahoro was just a year old when his family fled from Rwanda into the Congo to escape the genocide of 1994. They jumped from country to country for some time—back to Rwanda, then to Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Zimbabwe—before settling in Cape Town, South Africa.
But on Sept. 5 this year, he and his family came to the U.S. And Mahoro, a 19-year-old junior at the Academy for College and Career Exploration, shortly thereafter became involved with Wide Angle Youth Media, a nonprofit based in the Remington neighborhood that trains students in middle and high schools throughout Baltimore in media production and photography.
“It’s been a blessing,” said the young photographer Mahoro at Wide Angle’s 12-year anniversary celebration Wednesday night. “It’s the thing that God wanted me to do.”
Sheila Wells, program manager at Wide Angle Youth Media, said the programs the nonprofit sponsors break down into several areas:
- Middle school students participate in Baltimore Speaks Out!, an after-school program teaching video and audio production in branches of the Enoch Pratt Library, earning service-learning hours for participating.
- High school students, through the Mentoring Video Project, create videos about urban issues—homelessness, poverty—or record their personal stories, learning programs like Final Cut Pro along the way.
- Several high school students also sit on the committee that plans the annual Youth Media Festival, something of an end-of-year showcase for students around the city—be they Wide Angle program participants or not—to present artwork, photography, short films and the like.
- A design team based out of Federal Hill’s Digital Harbor High School, that partners with the city’s public school system and other organizations to develop and design marketing materials. (Those “Rate Your Ride” posters you’ve seen on MTA public transportation? The work of Wide Angle students.)
Wells said Wide Angle tries “to go into as many high schools as we can,” a tricky task for a small staff: three full-time staff, one AmeriCorps member and several part-time people.
Of course, the potential benefit of Wide Angle Youth Media’s work is rather obvious: teach teenage students the video and audio production skills they need to put together digital stories, and you’ve equipped them with something they can use to make money. (Something else definitely worth Wide Angle’s time: having students build subscriber followings on YouTube, which, given enough time and interest in the videos the students create, could lead to an easy, passive stream of income every month.)
Using what they learn to make money is indeed important, as Technically Baltimore has argued in its reporting on Digital Harbor Foundation’s STEM Engine and Digit All Systems’ computer certification courses. Why else create a “pipeline” of local talent, as co-executive director of DHF Andrew Coy calls it, if not to ensure the education students are receiving literally pays off?
Watch a video on gang violence produced by Wide Angle Youth Media students:
Susan Malone, the executive director of Wide Angle who has been there 10 years, says some of the high school students working with them do earn small stipends of $5 or $10 a day depending on which program they’re participating in.
“As they move into later high school years, [they can work] as teaching interns in our classrooms and get paid an hourly rate,” Malone said.
That means teaching media production workshops with a Wide Angle staff member at other schools or organizations in the city, or to younger student-participants with the nonprofit. The pay is a bit better than minimum wage: eight, nine, or 10 bucks an hour.
While it’s difficult to keep track of precisely what Wide Angle program alumni are doing after high school, Malone said, nearly all of the 2,500 students the nonprofit has worked with over 12 years have graduated high school — and every single student that has come through the nonprofit’s Older Youth program has. One graduate is now working for the H&S Bakery in Fells Point. Several others are now working as filmmakers in Philadelphia, shooting music videos.
“I don’t think we’re trying to produce the next media-maker,” said Malone. “We’re trying to produce leaders who can go back into the community and make Baltimore or where they’re living a better place.”
To that end, it’s the soft skills Wide Angle tries to instill in students—public speaking, listening, interpreting and analyzing information and directions—that are the primary focus.
“It’s even more important to me than media development,” Malone said.