What do you do?
I am an educator, author, artivist, and social entrepreneur. I co-produce and perform in a multi-media stage show addressing sexual assault and domestic violence called SHATTERED GLASS. I teach media studies at California State University, Los Angeles, and I run a nonprofit organization called Media Done Responsibly. My art is the vehicle for my activism. So, every poem I write, every keynote speech I give, every lecture I conduct, and every show I perform, ultimately has at its core a theme of social responsibility, of giving back, of elevating humanity. I want my life to help other people live better, feel better, and exceed their own expectations of success.
Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.
My latest project is to make media literacy resources easily accessible to educators across the country and world. We are definitely living in a “high-tech, low-touch” era, meaning we’re spending more face time with our digital devices than face-to-face time in human interaction. There is so much content that kids are bombarded with on their phones, tablets, computers, TV’s, video games, billboards, you name it. It comes at them rapid-fire and constantly. But, there are not standardized ways of teaching them how to dissect and understand everything that’s being shot at them. They’re kind of on their own to figure out what content is real, what content aligns with their personal value systems, and what content reflects their lives in a way that is affirming and balanced versus distorted and demeaning.
Media Done Responsibly- MDR as we call it- is a media literacy education and mentor program. We train college students to be peer mentors for middle and high school students. Our college mentors go into local middle and high schools across Los Angeles County and teach kids to analyze and understand the 13+ hours of media they consume on a daily basis.
Our latest project is to streamline this process for educators to access our curriculum and training. While we have been focused primarily on educating and preparing youth in L.A., we have educators who want to replicate this peer mentor model in their classrooms across the country. This makes sense to me, and is actually something I’d love to see happen. So, we’re working on making our curriculum and training packages more easily accessible for teachers across the country, and globally as I’ve also had requests from overseas.
Why is media literacy important to you?
Media literacy saves lives. In my work with kids considered at risk for entering into the juvenile justice system, I noticed that through our conversations about consent and healthy sexual behavior, many girls in our program realized that they had been raped or sexually assaulted and hadn’t known it. You might think, how is that even possible? How do you not know you’ve been raped? It’s possible because they didn’t know they had agency over their own bodies. There were certain cultural norms and roles for women that were perpetuated in the music they loved. Women of color in music videos were depicted as commodity and a symbol of male virility. If you are an object, if your dominant identity in the societal psyche is that of a tool for someone else’s pleasure and status, then you don’t get ownership over yourself, and you don’t get a voice of your own. You don’t get to speak up, fight back or complain without being dubbed “difficult,” “unruly,” “angry,” a “liar,” and a “problem.” You have kids living with anxiety, finding it difficult to locate safe spaces in their environment and in the world around them. Depending on the messages they’re receiving- and mind you, I’m talking about sometimes violent and demeaning messages normalized through media- coupled with the way they interpret and internalize those messages, their mental and emotional health can be jeopardized. Media literacy helps address these root environmental influences and raises youth awareness of the larger structural maladies which manipulate their lives.
MDR’s goal is to empower youth with the mindset, tools, and platform to be conscious consumers, creators, and advocates of media that reflect their individual and collective humanity. We gives our kids tools to understand the intent of messages within a variety of forms of media. We teach them to be content creators themselves. And we teach them tools to advocate for fair and balanced representation. In essence, media literacy helps our kids both understand and feel a sense of agency in taking on massive issues impacting their lives.
What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?
I’m excited that media literacy is finally getting the important spotlight it deserves. With organic movements like #OscarsSoWhite, #IfIWereGunnedDown, and #RepresentationMatters, and these critical conversations for inclusion in Television and film, I feel like we’ve reached an important tipping point. Those of us in the field of media literacy can point to tangible effects that everyday people can understand as media’s impact on their lives. Hopefully this translates to a sense of urgency for money and resources to be poured into helping our youth, and society at large, understand, navigate, and bring change to this vast media landscape.
Why did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?
I became a NAMLE member because of its power to band us media literacy lovers together. It’s easy for us to work in isolation, huddled in our silos across the country and globe, not realizing there are so many of us out here doing this important work. NAMLE helps link these resources and frames media literacy into a common language so that the very idea of being media literate, and of understanding what that means, now becomes important and valuable throughout the world. Membership helps us to lean into one another, support each other, and support this growing field of education. NAMLE helps give visibility and access to my work to help expand its reach so that MDR can be a resource for those who need it.