OAKLAND — With newsrooms shrinking nationwide, youth in our communities have begun to tell their own stories.

GlobalGirl Media, a nonprofit organization that teaches teenage girls digital storytelling skills, was cofounded by award-winning filmmakers Amie Williams and Meena Nanji in Los Angeles in 2010. Williams, the organization’s executive director, eventually moved to Oakland, where she started a chapter in 2014, partnering with Youth UpRising and forming an advisory board of media professionals including actor Danny Glover.

“In the process of giving girls a voice, you introduce an alternative narrative, and you change the existing narrative,” Glover said in a GlobalGirl Media interview at their launch party in Oakland in 2014.

The organization now operates out of United Roots’ Youth Impact HUB on Telegraph Avenue in Oakland’s Koreatown Northgate neighborhood. They are truly global, with chapters in South Africa, Morocco, Kosovo, Chicago and Los Angeles. Girls in the program use Skype to bond with each other and discuss topics and issues that they face in their communities.

“We share a lot of similar ideas, and we’re all feminists, and we all have something in common that we want to strive to do,” said GGM summer academy participant Kasie Gonzalez, 17, of Berkeley.

The girls use a documentary journalistic approach to tackle controversial subjects that are relevant to them, such as teen depression and self-harm, teen pregnancy, sex-trafficking, and Black Lives Matter and other protests in Oakland. They can also choose to write and blog.

“When the camera’s in my hands, I feel invincible,” said Cheyenne Grisez, 14, of Oakland. “It just makes me feel happy. It makes me feel like I can do anything.”

Grisez was one of eight young women who took part in this summer’s academy.

“Living in Oakland is really hard. It’s a great place, a beautiful city, but just the things that are going down with all of the violence …” Grisez says before trailing off.

On the final day of the summer academy, Williams worked with Grisez, Gonzalez and Camila Prado, 15, of Berkeley, on a short film about Prado’s battle with bulimia. In the film, Prado bravely interviewed her parents and sister about how she was able to overcome her depression and eating disorder. They also went out on the streets of Oakland and asked women to rate their bodies. This film and others the girls made were shown to parents and friends on the last day of the academy at the end of July, as their hard work was celebrated.

“It’s their story, and nobody knows how to tell it better than they do,” Williams said.

Williams is passionate about the program and about telling important stories that are not being told in the mainstream media. Her own documentary work for television, nonprofits, citizen groups and political campaigns has won numerous awards, and her films have appeared on the Discovery Channel, PBS, BBC and many more outlets. She is clearly excited to share her knowledge with the girls, not only in Oakland, but across the globe.

“These girls are from really difficult, tough backgrounds. They feel trapped sometimes, they feel alone, they feel there’s no one they can talk to,” Williams said. “The camera gives them a lens to reframe their world and a vehicle to get out of that feeling of being trapped.”

Girls in the program practice their skills and build confidence by going out in the community and interviewing people for the short films, which are generally less than 10 minutes. Many of them had no prior experience, but found they had succinct storytelling skills.

“You give these girls the opportunity to not only tell their stories, they’re going to tell the stories of the community, they’re going to tell the stories that matter to them and their peer group,” said GlobalGirl Media summer academy project director Heather Faison.

Faison began her career as a copy editor, reporter and designer, and also did similar work with the Youth Advocacy Network in Cameroon, Africa, teaching girls to tell their stories through digital media.

“I work with these girls, and every day I leave inspired, I leave just completely consumed in gratitude, because I know, due to the work we’re doing with them, things will be better,” Faison said.

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