“Where Do I Get My Five?” is a public health, civic engagement and leadership development project by The Healthy Eating Active Communities (HEAC) Initiative and Public Matters which resulted in five videos on healthy food access in South Los Angeles created by high school students at The Accelerated School (TAS).
“Where Do I Get My Five?” features five distinct videos about the challenges of healthy food access in South L.A. Student-written, shot and acted, these videos are more than simple documentaries showcasing public health conditions of South L.A.; they are part of an integrated project that led to direct community benefits. The goal of making “Where Do I Get My Five?” was to build community and motivate action by connecting local youth with elected representatives, allowing youth to work directly on community actions, and bringing together a rich consortium of professionals, community advocates and decision-makers towards a common cause.
The project led to the makeover of a local corner store and an on-going partnership with the local City Council office. Students became highly visible youth leaders for HEAC, presenting their work at L.A. City Hall, the L.A. Planning Commission, and local universities. The integration of youth media and civic engagement achieved the project’s broader aims: increasing South L.A.’s healthy food options, leadership development, and community building.
SOUTH LA HEAC
South L.A. Healthy Eating Active Community Initiative (HEAC) is one of six sites in a state-wide initiative funded by The California Endowment (TCE) with the goal of reducing childhood obesity and diabetes by increasing access to nutritious food and physical activity opportunities for children and families.
A policy-based, community-driven initiative, HEAC:
* Trains and empowers youth, parents, and community leaders about environmental influences affecting food choices and physical activity behavior and the health consequences of poor diets and physical inactivity.
* Works directly with communities to build a sense of pride for and ownership of the neighborhoods in which they live, thereby creating a constituency of supporters for policies that improve food and physical activity environments.
* Develops leadership roles for young adults, who often experience social, cultural, and economic hardships while living in resource-poor communities. A strong component of South LA HEAC is its youth involvement with program goals and activities. Students engage in meaningful work as they learn to advocate for safer, healthier neighborhoods.
* Builds a cadre of young citizens who are responsible for creating sustainable changes leading to a reduction of childhood obesity and diabetes in South LA.
PUBLIC MATTERS’ ROLE
After learning of Public Matters’ successful history of youth engagement through media, HEAC sought their assistance in making documentary videos with TAS students. This partnership resulted in videos that are both aligned with HEAC’s policy-related goals and provided youth with opportunities to broaden their civic engagement. Serving as creative catalyst and liaison between the students, HEAC, and community leaders, Public Matters created a process poised to yield deep sustainable neighborhood impact.
Public Matters achieved this goal by providing a unique youth advocacy curriculum, arranging multidisciplinary guest speakers, and facilitating workshops with HEAC students. By allowing students to work alongside community members and decision-makers, Public Matters engaged all participants in new ways, resulting in greater buy-in and enhanced community building.
Public Matters worked closely with HEAC staff and partners to bring many crucial aspects of the project to fruition, including, but not limited to, the first market makeover, a public forum for the videos, and a partnership with the local city council office. Public Matters’ dedication to a youth-driven project led to an unconventional media resource and tangible community benefits.
On Day One, Public Matters issued HEAC youth a “creative license” to tackle the long-standing, complex issue of healthy food access in South L.A. This set the tone for a project that stressed ingenuity, wit, media strategies and community relations –skills all future community leaders need. Creating the videos became a springboard for public health discussions, youth development, and community building.
The videos positioned the youth in visible, proactive leadership roles. Youth learned how neighborhood history, race, politics and economics influence public health conditions. They gained skills in narrative construction, video production and public speaking and applied them to create change. The videos reflect the students’ personalities, experiences and humor, but are also focused and strategic. Each video conveys facts about the neighborhood, points to direct actions and policy solutions, with personal narratives framed within the broader picture of South L.A. This pedagogical approach provides HEAC youth with a comprehensive framework for storytelling that aligns with HEAC’s community actions.
During the school year, HEAC youth met once a week in 45 minute sessions. Early workshops focused on South Los Angeles’ public health conditions. Public Matters brought in guest speakers to discuss the neighborhood’s history and the relationship between race, income and health disparities. Students worked on neighborhood documentary photo projects to “site” their forthcoming work.
To help students plan their videos, Public Matters created an “obstacle course” to map out assets and impediments to getting their five daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Factors included habits, location, cost, time, safety, temptations, advertising, education, the ubiquity of fast food and the poor quality of produce. Subsequently, students selected five main themes to address in their videos. The workshops’ focus shifted to screenwriting and visual representation, challenging students to visually represent health and policy-related ideas.
In the summer, students worked intensively in 3-hour workshops held 3 times a week to create their videos, conducting interviews, acting out scenes, and filming on location. HEAC paid youth for their summer participation. In addition, students helped convert a local market to carry healthier food, documented community health promotoras teaching a healthy cooking class, met with their local City Councilwoman, and trained in public speaking about health policy issues.
The project’s impact on HEAC youth is profound. They are now well poised to become community leaders, to matriculate to further educational opportunities and to serve as health advocates. Youth gained concrete skills in creative + critical thinking; problem solving; storytelling + screenwriting; media production and the basics of media literacy; communication + public speaking; community building; and advocacy.
Some held their first-ever job through the project. Others opened their first bank account. One youth who grew up in an area devoid of markets with quality produce, made her first visit to a Whole Foods market. All grew in confidence, manifested complex ideas, and were publicly recognized for their accomplishments.
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