FRESNO– Media is a powerful tool. It is the way we become aware of the world around us. It shapes our perspectives and informs our beliefs. Yet while media provides a platform to elevate individual and community voices, just as many voices are just as often ignored.
Take Baltimore as an example. The media machine was quick to report on “rioting” within the African American community following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray while in police custody, despite decades of media silence on the near-daily violence directed at the community by law enforcement prior to Gray’s death.
The reality is that when it comes to shaping the public narrative and public perceptions, marginalized communities are at the mercy of the mainstream media, which carries with it the ingrained biases that it also perpetuates.
What can we do to overcome this harmful bias? It isn’t always easy, but one important step is to begin to take control of our own narrative.Who is a bigger expert on what you’re going through, than you? Your experiences, thoughts, and struggles are best understood and conveyed by you and by extension your community.
This is the aim of the I AM poster project launched by the Boys and Men of Color (BMOC) group here in Fresno. In an empowering new type of representation, young people are defining themselves and at the same time letting the community know who they are. “I am an artist. I am ambitious. I am caring.” The messages these young men carry challenge the pervasive media stereotypes of youth as either thugs or hoodlums.
For several years the BMOC of Fresno has worked to improve the lives of young men of color through leadership development and direct advocacy. As a BMOC participant I have been able to witness firsthand the profound impact that an organization like this can have. The young people who participate come from some of the most neglected and underserved communities in Fresno and they work hard to dispel the prejudice that they confront everyday.
This past March, members of the group took part in a Letter to the Editor writing activity. The activity provided media literacy training on learning to identify media bias in reporting around young people of color. The BMOC youth participated in an exercise that helped them question popular media rhetoric and identify the presented narrative as well as how that might differ when introduced by people with different perspectives. Participants then drafted letters to the editor in which they offered their own narratives.
It is powerful when communities are given voice, and it benefits the whole city when all communities are given an equal shot at telling their stories of struggle and triumph. Here are a few of the letters that came from that exercise.
Fresno is diverse in culture, language, foods and beliefs. What happens when students in our schools don’t feel like they can be their true selves without being persecuted? The number of undocumented students in Fresno is huge, but the number of students who feel secure in addressing their citizenship is minute. There needs to be a bigger movement in our schools to advocate for and reach out to undocumented youth. The problem is there no is no concrete effort in our schools to organize, unify and help our struggling students find support, security and connection to resources. They matter.
By Antonio Jauregui, 18
POLICE & COMMUNITY RELATIONS
I know I can relate to the majority of the youth in Fresno. I come from a home without a father and with gang ties. My father was in and out of prison during my life. This is why I joined the effort to create the new police youth advisory panel.
We made the council out of every day people. The panel was created to show that adults can learn from youth. Also this can be the beginning of police understanding youth better. The panel allows youth to voice their concerns so they can in turn become the voice of the voiceless.
By Nicholas Herrera, 21
With the latest news that Deputy Chief was arrested for conspiracy to sell drugs, it is very important for the police department in Fresno to show steps on how they are reaching out and establishing trust with the community. The Police Youth Panel must work to show that we want our community to thrive. For the panel to be effective, the police and youth must be devoted to being open minded with each other. They must be ready to have tough conversations. Issues like police profiling and prejudice on both sides of the table must be addressed. They must keep in mind that love and forgiveness is a crucial piece to reconciliation.
Community and police must come together to tackle drive bys and gang violence. Cooperation from the community is not only a must in aiding police, but also in aiding the young people in our neighborhoods. We need help in areas such as mental health, disabilities and education. The media and the news play an important role by how they portray young people in our community. Youth should be seen as people to invest in and be built up into contributing community members. That is just vital.
By Jeremy Miller, 22