What has Baltimore been doing since the uprisings? New Lens shows us through its youth video-making

Social inequality has existed in Baltimore long before the news of Freddie Gray’s death broke. Many groups have been working for years to address issues of social inequality. One of them, New Lens, is a youth driven social justice organization that makes art and media about issues where a youth perspective can inspire change. Recently, Just Cities interviewed Nikita Mason, one of the youth who work at New Lens.  The following is a transcript of the interview:


Just Cities:  How did you get involved with New Lens?

NM: In 2010, I was involved in their summer program and summer job program, which focuses on media production, networking, editing. That’s how I first got involved.

Just Cities: What are some of the projects that New Lens is working on right now?

NM: So right now we’re working on a big project called Blackonomics, which focuses on economic strife in situations [such as] housing, togetherness of black communities, and how to foster love and togetherness and economic growth in those communities. So we’re working on a series of episodes. The first episode is done which will be the identity episode. And now we’re working on the economic episode. And after we’re done with that we’ll be working on the housing and infrastructure episode.

Just Cities: Has New Lens been involved at all with the initiatives taking place after Freddie Gray’s death or with the situation in Baltimore right now?

NM: Yes, we have been focused on the movement with police brutality, initiated by the current death of Freddie Gray. We’ve been doing projects in conjunction with the Algebra Project. We’ve been organizing community meetings to talk to community residents about what’s happening, to get people involved, and get their voices heard. I am a songwriter, and so I wrote a song for the movement and for Freddie Gray. I did a video for it at New Lens. I’ll be posting that on Youtube, once it’s finished. We’re also supposed to have a film roundtable discussion with prominent people in the neighborhood, in the community: lawyers, community activists, religious leaders, people who are focused on this subject, this concept of community control, proper police interaction, and things like that. And we’re gonna film that and then hopefully create a whole film tailored around that roundtable discussion.

Just Cities: I know New Lens focuses on media and production like you were saying– how do you think that has impacted the movement, being able to document things? And also I know that New Lens is also a youth driven organization, so do you think there is anything unique about New Lens and any angle it can take on this because it is led by youth?

NM: I think that it’s very unique and that it is a very unique angle that we look at because we look at it through a youth lens. We look at it through the lens of young people. Young people aren’t as scathed, so they have a broader view or maybe a narrower view on things because they may not have been scathed, or if they had been that may have been the only interaction they had, bad interactions or an interaction that they felt wasn’t positive with police and government and things of that nature. We use youth from high schools so it’s more from the heart. And I feel like it’s more personal and more in the right here and right now, and not focused on the past and where politically we want to go in the future or politically where we’ve been in our history. So I think that we show and articulate a view that most people are scared to do and that most media production companies want to stay away from because it’s not politically correct or historically correct, whatever that means.

Just Cities: And how do you think, for the youth that work with New Lens, how do you think that experience impacts them?

NM: All the youth that we’ve worked with, and from my own youth experience, in 2010 it was my first time being in the summer program and being exposed to social justice issues and being able to articulate how I felt about those issues. For me, it made me want to do it more, it made me more excited about it and intrigued. It made me want to get involved more. And that’s what I see it doing for the youth that we mentor and that we’re working with now. It’s a gateway that will open up a door for them and open up their mindset to different possibilities that they’ve never thought that they can be a part of, or that they thought they could have a voice in.

Just Cities: How can people get involved with and support New Lens?

NM: So, we have a Youtube account, where we post all of our videos. Everyone can go on and view our videos, comment, give feedback and let us know what they think, what they would like to see. Also, on Facebook we post a lot of our events, so they can always go on New Lens Productions on Facebook.  We have a Tumblr page under the name of “We See Things Differently” because we do, it’s not a normal view. It’s a view that most people and organizations are afraid to tap into. So, those are some ways they can get involved.

Just Cities: Is there anything else you think people should know about New Lens?

NM: I think that it’s important for people to know that we are youth led, that our youth come from the neighborhoods that we work in, and they are affected by all the social justice issues that are going on in society today. And that they need support, not only from us as a media production program, but from the community to support them and the projects that they do and let them know that the things that they do are good and that they should continue to do it and that it’s making a difference.

Just Cities: Is there anything else I haven’t touched on that you’d like to talk about?

NM: I want to talk about the work that we do with healthy eating in urban neighborhoods. We have been involved in after school programs that help young people make healthier choices. When you feel good and you’re eating good, you’re most likely going to be a more productive citizen. I want to make sure that we advocate for young people’s ability to work cooperatively in society to promote healthy eating and farming and all of those things that are so important to our society right now. I want to help in getting the word out in urban areas about cooperative economics, because during slavery and civil rights times we were more self-sufficient and once integration happened, it was gone. That history needs to be known so we can get back to that cooperative space and continue to work together to move forward in time in communities.

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