Silver Chips Online

Non-profit hosts media festival

Gandhi Brigade promotes social justice through media

By Stella Bartholet, Print Managing Features Editor
June 7, 2011
The Gandhi Brigade, a local non-profit organization, hosted its fourth Annual JustUs Youth! Media Festival in Downtown Silver Spring on May 21. Blair students participated in activities related to social justice issues at the festival, including film competitions, workshops and performances.

The JustUs Youth! Media Festival is an event in which participants under the age of 21 use different forms of media to promote peace and unity. The Gandhi Brigade provides youth with the resources to explore leadership and social justice issues, according to Executive Director Richard Jaeggi.

Several Blair students took part in the four-hour film competition, which allowed them the opportunity to demonstrate their media skills under pressure. In the competition, groups of participants had four hours to create a Public Service Announcement (PSA) about one social justice issue with provided supplies.

Senior Juan Acevedo participated in the competition for the first time. His group chose to create a PSA about bullying and struggled with the time limit. "I feel like if we had a little more time we could have done better," he said. "But for the time we had it was pretty impressive."

Senior Rhys Talbott, on the other hand, felt fairly confident about his PSA due to his prior experience. Talbott participated in and won the competition last year. He and his group won again with their PSA protesting peer pressure.

Talbott also won the Truthforce Award for a documentary he and seven of his peers made on immigration deportation.

Participants helped paint the background of murals with finishing touches put on by a professional. Leah Muskin-Pierret
Participants helped paint the background of murals with finishing touches put on by a professional.

According to Youth Organizer of the Gandhi Brigade, Cathy Chu, anyone under the age of 21 could submit artwork about a social justice issue of their choice to be considered for the Truthforce Award. There were 227 submissions, nearly 60 of which were videos.

The award is new to the festival, along with the performance aspect of the event. Over the past three years, the JustUs Youth! Media Festival has grown and expanded to include more forms of creative expression, according to Jaeggi.

The students planning the event decided that a fashion show, dance and musical performances would be a popular addition to the program.

Blair junior John Rose took advantage of the performance addition to the event and rapped his song "Can't Back Down" to encourage listeners to stand up against bullying. "I'm putting music with a purpose back in society," he said.

Rose also participated in a freestyle rapping competition alongside freshman Ismael Oates, who aspires to become a professional rapper. He heard about the festival from Rose, and saw it as an opportunity to practice performing for a public audience.

Not only has the event grown, but the organization as a whole has expanded as well. In 2005, Jaeggi founded the organization based on Gandhi's values; that one cannot send peacemakers into the world without proper guidance, just like one cannot send soldiers to war without training.

He hoped that the organization would provide students with the resources to learn leadership skills and make a difference in their community.

The organization began as a small voluntary group, which met at the Long Branch Recreation Center. But over the past six years, the Gandhi Brigade has grown to support more than 75 students and a paid staff, according to Chu.

One of the biggest expansions of the organization took place in 2008, after Blair freshman Tai Lam was shot dead on a public bus. A group of about 30 students gathered in his remembrance to raise awareness about gang violence. The Gandhi Brigade decided to collaborate with the group, creating the program "Mixed Unity."

Former Blair student and member of Mixed Unity Juanita Bailey explained that since Lam was so well known, many students wanted to join the movement against violence. "He was a member of the community and everyone knew him," she said. "After he died it kind of hit everyone."

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