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Project promotes media diversity for minorities, neighborhoods

Elevating Voices uses video, Internet and radio to publicize its messages.

March 4, 2016
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There are diverse minority voices in the community that need to be elevated in the media, according to a nonprofit that’s accepted the challenge.

Elevating Voices is a project of the Grand Rapids Community Media Center that is using video, Internet and radio “to empower under-represented communities to share their stories and work toward equal representation in the media.”

The effort began in 2014 as a three-year, three-phase project that sought to help minorities and neighborhoods in the Grand Rapids area garner more media attention.

“It’s important to give the opportunity to shape media into as many hands as possible — the more so to put it into hands that might not have as much direct access to it,” said George Wietor, Elevating Voices project manager.

“There’s a lot of power in young people being able to shape the message versus being told how to view (the world). They should be allowed to tell us things. This is definitely not meant to be a replacement for journalism; it’s about leveling the field of access to media skills and tools.”

The first phase involved a series of workshops on media literacy in three of the city’s four quadrants. Phase two involved story collecting with its connected nonprofits. The third phase has involved working to create independent media centers in Harrison Park Elementary School, Disability Advocates of Kent County, Boys and Girls Club of Grand Rapids Youth Commonwealth, Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities Cook Center and Heartside Ministry.

Most of the participants are in elementary through high school. At each location, participants go through media training specifically tailored to each of the five organizations, Wietor said, adding that GRCMC is equipping those locations with video-capturing equipment, editing material and more as needed.

The goal is that when the project is completed, each location will have its own independent media center.

“Most of them are working on fairly large media projects. Our plan for the next year is to help see these projects through and help them operate these media centers. Our goal is for media independence,” he said.

The stories coming out of this project have been “eye-opening,” Wietor said.

The team at the Grandville Avenue Arts and Humanities Cook Center is currently working on a documentary about a mural on Grandville Avenue and the neighborhood transition from a primarily Dutch community to a primarily Latino community.

The Boys and Girls Club also is working on a documentary, about local shopping experiences of young African-Americans. These documentaries and the other projects will be available online, Wietor said.

“It’s been eye-opening to hear of everyday experiences of racism with many of the youth in the projects,” he said. “In the next few months, we’ll probably have a lot of stories to tell.”

The Elevating Voices project is funded through a $310,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, said Linda Gellasch, executive director of GRCMC. She said Elevating Voices is about collecting those stories and then distributing them.

“It’s basically working with community organizations and nonprofits to increase diverse media,” she said.

“The goal (is) dispelling biases and opinions that are somewhat misrepresenting people — stereotyping. It’s more like, what message does each of these organizations want to get out?”

GRCMC describes itself as a “multimedia assistance organization that has helped individuals and nonprofits in Grand Rapids” for more than 30 years, and supports a number of community media brands, such as The Rapidian, WYCE-FM and Wealthy Theatre.

“The Community Media Center's Elevating Voices project aims to raise the visibility of diverse voices by providing the access, training and tools necessary for individuals to tell their stories, right in the neighborhoods where they live and work,” according to the GRCMC website.

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