KDHX Media and the Loss of Storytellers


Looking back on my career thus far, I can say there are a few projects that I am proud of. But the projects that bring a tear of accomplishment to my eye are those that I did not produce myself but instead were produced by those I taught.

In 2008 I freelanced for the education department of KDHX Media, a local radio and television station in Saint Louis, MO under the supervision of then Education Director Aurelie Clement-Bayard.

KDHX Community Media is a “non-profit arts and educational organization with a mission to build community through media, with diverse and independent voices that enrich the perspectives of our audiences. We promote civic and cultural participation by providing the tools, technology, and training vital to informed, creative expression."

Their mission statement is profound and very reflective of my own: To create and empower storytellers to do what is best for the world, and to do it through storytelling. 

That year, I taught two classes: documentary video for adults, which was housed at the Euclid Ave studios of KDHX TV, and a Youth Media Summer Camp on narrative filmmaking in partnership with St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church.

NEIGHBORHOODS IN FOCUS

In the documentary course, my students were adult community members who wanted to learn new skills, voice their opinions on their city, and needed an outlet to do so. Our goal was to create short five minute pieces focusing on the history and dynamics of a neighborhood in the city. These community members had no prior film or television experience and learned all the skills “on the job.” A pair of my students, an elderly couple named Lisa and Stephen Schaper, produced the video below on the Southwest Garden Neighborhood. It was great seeing their project unfold week by week but what was more fulfilling was the joy and sense of accomplishment they expressed at it’s completion. They both suffered from arthritis and were worried about being able to use a camera without dropping it or pressing the wrong buttons. The real challenge for them came during the editing process, keyboards and computer mice are not naturally friendly to those with hand/joint problems. They powered through and worked as a team to overcome their obstacles.

NEIGHBORHOODS IN FOCUS: SOUTHWEST GARDEN


ST. CECILIA’S YOUTH MEDIA SUMMER CAMP

More challenging was my experience with the kids at the KDHX / St. Cecilia Youth Media Summer Camp. This was not a camp for rich kids who needed to be kept entertained in the summer months; this was a camp for underserved, inner-city kids who needed motivation and a new way of learning. Though they were middle school students, many of them could barely read and lacked the confidence to partake in storytelling activities, very much aware of their own weaknesses. Over the course of two weeks (I believe that’s all we had funding for) we helped the students develop skills in verbal storytelling, scriptwriting, camera operation, production planning, editing, and of course acting. The students did everything themselves and only utilized myself and our volunteers as guides. Seeing them come up with their own story, work as a group to write it down (where one student didn’t know how to spell a word, another one did), and gain the confidence to not only pick up a camera but to also stand in front of it as well was fulfilling to say the least. We accomplished all of this in only two weeks. I can not imagine what would be possible if we had more time, or more importantly if this had been a part of their everyday lives.

CAMP ROUND WIMP


LOSS OF STORYTELLERS

The unfortunate thing to note here is that these programs no longer exist. It was law in the state of Missouri that all cable providers (in this case Charter Communications) provide funding for local access television which allowed these community educational programs to exist. In 2011 the law was struck down and after 25 years of operation, KDHX TV lost it’s government sanctioned funding.

I find it interesting that Charter Communications only gave back to the community because it had to. Once they were no longer obligated, they ceased funding community access television. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was their own lobbying that dismantled the law.

It breaks my heart to know that this public forum for the citizens of Saint Louis is not an option anymore. A place where they can not only learn vital skills in storytelling but utilize those skills to speak on the topics that matter to them. I wonder how these public access programs, news reports, and social commentaries would have taken shape over the years... and how they would be today with all that has happened in Saint Louis, in Ferguson. 

It’s not the answer to everything but offering an opportunity for a voice to those who feel like they don’t have one is a step in the right direction. I worry about the new generation of kids growing up in Saint Louis without literacy motivation through the media arts, and think back on my students, on who they were the first day I met them and seeing their great potential on the last day I saw them.

KDHX is doing its part by supporting and partnering with other media arts organizations as well as continuing to run it's independent radio station. Even with the loss of their television station, they are fighting the good fight. I wish them the best of luck knowing that they have acquired the skills, knowledge, and compassion needed to serve the city that they love, the city that I love.

BEHIND THE SCENES

KDHX intern David Coffer, who was my right hand man on both courses, put together this short behind-the-scenes look of the Youth Media Camp:

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