20 + years of Regent Park Focus
Over 20 Years of Regent Park Focus. Isn’t it hard to believe?! Our anniversary celebrations may be over. However, making meaningful media productions with youth in Regent Park is continuing.
If anyone does not already know who we are, Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre - commonly known as Focus - is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1990 as part of a provincial government initiative to promote healthy communities. Now entering its 21st year, Focus has just moved into a new facility as part of the Regent Park revitalization project, and despite provincial and city funding cutbacks, it continues to provide young people with the space, equipment and training needed to use radio, photography, print, video, and music to bring their voices into the community.
To honor its involvement in Regent Park, Focus invited the public to several community events that happened this past weekend.
On Thursday, October 27, Focus welcomed Miskitu journalist Margarita Antonio who spoke on the topic of ‘Sharing Lives and Cultures: Community Media on Nicaragua´s Caribbean Coast’. Antonio helped develop BilwiVision, a youth-run community television program, and is a partner in the VIVA! Project, a Community Arts and Popular Education initiative in Central America. The evening of shared experiences and dialogue on community activism and media took place at the Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre, 38 Regent Street (lower level). This event was co-sponsored by Community Arts Practice (CAP @ York U), CERLAC and Digital Storytelling Toronto.
On Friday, October 28 Focus officially kicked off the anniversary celebration with a public party at 246 Sackville Avenue where we honoured the organization’s many partners, sponsors, donors, volunteers, alumni, and other distinguished guests. The event also featured an awards ceremony acknowledging the involvement of those whose contributions to Focus over the years have helped it to thrive and grow into the successful organization that it is today.
Myself and staff member Jerry Z were the M.C’s for the night. We even had a DJ, who was spinning the whole night. Festivities included refreshments, speeches and performances by the Regent Park Focus House Band, who were amazing as usual. Prizes were given away in raffle draws. A special thanks to 20th Century Fox and Rainbow Cinemas for the prizes. We would also like to thank Freshco for their support in prizes and yummy cakes. There was also a speakers corner where guests can go speak their mind about Regent Park Focus. Then, there was some spoken word done by Yusra Ali, who is a youth and young woman from the Regent Park community. Yusra’s spoken word is very powerful and she really brings deep emotions and thought provoking lyrics into her words. We continued on the spoken word theme by bringing on stage to have 2 young participants from our Diva Girls program to read a poem about what Diva Girls means to them.
Mahra and Nafsia were really shy but as their program facilitator, I encouraged them to have the strength as a Diva Girl to express themselves, show their talent and inform everyone on what it means to be a Diva Girl. Not only did they perform but they also spoke to CBC news in an interview! I will discuss more about CBC’s impact shortly. However, I must talk more about the performances and the rest of the fun night. Next, Jerry and I brought to the stage Solitair who is a hip-hop producer and rapper. Solitair has worked with many artists and even wrote songs for them. Solitair introduced hip-hop performer Dan-E-O who brought some old school hip-hop flavor to the evening. The crowd was waving and dancing to his music. We also had some young dancers who performed in groups including South Side Swagg and a South Asian cultural dance group. Finally, we had the Snooky Times Family band bring some rhythm and SOUL to our event when they played some powerful funk music for the crowd. The crowd was jiving to the extemporaneous moves and music. Special guests included Susan Pigott, a CAMH VP, Minister Glenn Murray who gave a speech to how he is honored to be part of a community where youth are making an impacting difference. Another special guest was CBC anchor and reporter Dwight Drummond. Dwight was thrilled and excited to meet the families and support the youth in Regent Park. Dwight recognized Regent Park Focus does many exciting things for the youth in a community labelled “at risk” by society. It was very appreciative to have Dwight take time out of his busy schedule and be a great role model in the media for the youth who look up to him as inspiration. Overall, the night was jam packed with exciting moments.
On Saturday, October 29, Focus invited the public to its Open House featuring guided tours of its new home at 38 Regent Street. Video screenings showcased youth videos, with radio and music recording workshops to demonstrate the studio facilities. From 3:00 to 4:30 pm, Focus hosted a panel which featured Tracy Chen who a fourth-year Ryerson journalism, whose interest in journalism started when she volunteered at the Catch da Flava magazine. She believes the Regent Park Focus Youth Media Arts Centre has been integral to marginalized youth in her neighbourhood in finding their voice in the mainstream media. Her experience from volunteering at the Centre has encouraged her to continue to work with other youth in her community as she currently is a volunteer with the Pathways to Education Group Mentoring program. Another panel speaker was Ian Esquivel who is a board member at Regent Park Focus. Ian is an experienced and dedicated educator who has worked with a wide range of students, from at-risk to university-bound to adult, including teachers and teacher-candidates. His teaching foregrounds social justice and youth-centered pedagogy. Ian has a long involvement in the area of media literacy. From 1996 to 2006, he was an executive member of the Association for Media Literacy. Ian also has worked with local filmmakers and publishers to develop curriculum to support media literacy initiatives. Currently, Ian is the Coordinator of the Enriched/Gifted Program and an English/Media Teacher at Western Technical-Commercial School. Dr. Kwame McKenzie was the third person to sit on the panel. Dr. McKenzie is a Senior Scientist within the Social Equity and Health Research section, the Deputy Director of Continuing & Community Care in the Schizophrenia Program. Finally, we had Damian who is a DJ and studio producer. Damian teaches youth how to DJ and conduct radio shows.
The panel discussed the importance of alternative media in empowering marginalized communities and their young people. In essence, a lot of the mainstream media might miss out on issues that pertain to youth in Regent Park. Alternative media also promotes entrepreneurship which motivates youth to start their very own blogs and webisodes. Therefore, they are allowed to do whatever they want to do within the media landscape. Alternative media takes a chance on the youth in high priority communities and it enables them to break down any stereotypes which are created by the mainstream media. They also discussed mental health, self-esteem and healthy living. Following the debate, Focus held its Annual General Meeting for members. It was great to see many youth who showed up for the voting process. The AGM also marked the launch of the Regent Park Focus Fundraising Campaign, which was very exciting.
As I mentioned above, CBC was there to cover a story about our event. Thank you CBC for covering our event. It means a lot to us when the media recognizes the work Regent Park Focus does and views of the Regent Park community in a positive portrayal. www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUHtfniB-ZI&feature=channel_video_title