Oakland’s Youth Movement Records
It’s always interesting, and usually inspiring, to talk to Rex grantees about their work and write about it in our Food For Thought section. So, when I went to talk to the folks at Youth Movement Records, I expected to like them and was looking forward to our visit, especially after seeing the YMR youth’s work in the Oakland Tech production of “The World As It Could Be: Where There’s a Will There’s a Way.”
Still, I wasn’t prepared for the fact that these folks really knocked my socks off.
Part of this, no doubt, is because I’ve lived in Oakland for the last 32 years, and thus am somewhat aware not only of the crime rate that currently has the city rated as the nation’s 4th most dangerous, but also the poverty and lack of opportunity that often drive youth down a bad path. Programs, many funded by the city, seek to address these issues, and many of them do good work, but others are defined by empty feelgood statements, political posturing, and a general lack of accountability, all of which tends to feed rather than mitigate the problem.
Which is why YMR was such a breath of fresh air. On the one hand, unquestionably hip, using state-of-the-art technology and topnotch professionals to teach kids media skills — while some well-meaning groups are all about what they think kids SHOULD want, YMR uses what they absolutely DO want to reach them. And on the other hand, the program has a strong component of fostering responsibility, personal accountability and life skills (as founder Chris Wiltsee puts it, “You want to be in the performance on Saturday night and you miss rehearsal, forget it”).
In a town with a 50% dropout rate, YMR keeps kids — most poor, some literally homeless — in school, broadens their sense of what’s possible in their lives, and gives them the skills to set and achieve their goals.