Good news about Black youth in the mainstream media has become increasingly rare, so we are thrilled to learn that Harlem’s Digital Media Training Program was among 15 winners of the second annual White House Film Festival and celebrated the occasion last week with President Barack Obama.
The president hosted a screening and reception of “Mentoring in Harlem,” a film made by the students under the guidance and supervision of professor Melvin McCray, who started the program two years ago. It took the nine students, most of who live in the Grant Housing Project, three months to complete the film.
“We received 1,500 submissions of films this year from all over the country,” Obama said, “and we are proud to honor 15 of them here today. They are a great example of what can be done when you unleash the technology and mentoring.”
He thanked the various film organizations for their support, including the American Film Institute and the Screen Actors Guild. “Each of the winners will be given a mentor to help the filmmakers in the months ahead,” the president added.
The Digital Media Training Program chose to focus on programs that nurture young people and that stress mentorship. Jared Collazo, one of the nine filmmakers, said, “This film was a big accomplishment for me because it shows that I can be great at what I put my mind to.”
“Before the film project, I was unsure of whom and what I wanted to be,” said Hannah Coleman. “Now I’ve found confidence in myself and my dreams.” Khadim Diop and Danielle Bagley were equally grateful for the opportunity to become filmmakers and to win the award.
Among the prominent New Yorkers the group interviewed were the Rev. James Forbes, formerly of Riverside Church; the Rev. James Singletary, also of Riverside; Jamal Joseph, founder and director of Impact Repertory Theater; and theater legend Vy Higginsen.
Obama told the awardees that film is one way of delivering a “powerful message … especially when given access to the technology.”
Neither technology nor instruction is lacking at DMTP, particularly with McCray, a former editor at “ABC World News Tonight” and an adjunct professor at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, providing the leadership and guidance.
As McCray has stated on several occasions, “The mission of the program is to train underserved Harlem youth in video, photography, journalism, 3-D animation and engineering as well as to chronicle the rich history of community.”
The program operates under the auspices of the nonprofit Board for the Education of People of African Ancestry, founded by legendary educator Dr. Adelaide Sanford, a former vice chancellor of the New York Board of Regents. The program has received funding for the last two years from the West Harlem Development Corporation under a Community Benefits Agreement between Columbia University and Community District 9.