After spending its first two years without a permanent location, a New Haven organization that offers filmmaking opportunities to local youth finally has a place to call home.
Youth Rights Media finished settling into its new Willow Street location with an open house Thursday night. Approximately 50 members of the community mingled with the young filmmakers and their adult staffers in YRM’s new offices. The evening’s main event was the screening of an abbreviated documentary created over the summer by one of YRM’s long term members, Karl D. Gray Jr.
Laura McCargas ’02, founder and director of YRM, organized the open house to introduce the organization’s new home to the wider community. McCargas said she hopes that having a permanent location will help YRM form lasting bonds with other groups engaged in the New Haven community.
“It introduces us to the broader community,” she said. “We want them to understand that we’re here to get on the grind.”
YRM’s mission is to engage the youth of New Haven by giving them a voice in their community, McCargas said. YRM Media Coordinator Laki Vazakas said the group seeks to help New Haven youth because its members worry that the children lack a forum to express their views on community issues.
“We are trying to connect with kids who are in the back of the classroom, who are not engaged by traditional forms,” Vazakas said.
Wielding a camera while wading through the crowd at the open house, Wilbur Cross High School freshman Malcolm Santiago has begun his second month with YRM. Santiago said working with the group and learning about cameras was interesting and that he also hopes to pursue it in the future.
After his friends introduced him to the group, Gray began working with YRM as a sophomore during the nascent stage of the organization. He said the experience has helped him to hone his filmmaking skills, which he hopes to parlay into a career. Gray said he is also excited about promoting YRM, and would like to see the organization form new branches all over the country.
“Youth Rights Media is one of the best youth organizations in the country,” Gray said.
Gray made the film shown at the event during a trip sponsored by the Freedom School, a Boston-based organization that sends youth across the country to learn about civil rights and community change. Three YRM members joined students from Boston to tour through cities such as New Orleans and Albany, Ga., as they researched civil rights in the American South.
The documentary that resulted from the trip has had screenings in Boston to raise money for a Freedom School trip to Cuba. The trip was originally scheduled for December, but has been rescheduled for February due to a reported lack of funds.
Hiram Rivera, youth coordinator for YRM, first formed an informal alliance with Freedom School when he heard about the organization from a Cuban refugee. Though the two organizations are not formally affiliated, Rivera said he encouraged Gray and others to become involved with Freedom School independently as a way to broaden their experience.
“We hope the kids take what they learn here and take it out of New Haven,” Rivera said.