by Lauren Lee, Non-Profit Explorer
Ten years ago, the Gandhi Brigade Youth Media (GB) started as a way for youth and adults to have inter-generational dialogues and a space to create a common understanding. Over the past ten years, it has evolved into an organization that provides free after-school programs for middle and high school students in Montgomery County. This year it has served over 200 students. It focuses on underserved areas of the county who are in need of education and enriching programs for youth.
The programs primarily focus on digital media as a tool to engage the youth in conversations about their community and the world around them. GB then helps combine the media skills and the kids create documentaries and PSAs with issues they care about. Most of the issues mirror headlines and fall under immigration reform, juvenile justice, school safety and cyber-bullying. Evan Glass, the executive director of Gandhi Brigade explains that “almost all the topics are social justice in nature and reflect the thoughts and concerns of the kids that we work with.”
Despite its local focus and soon to be new home in downtown Silver Spring (more on that later), GB is all across the county. There are weekly sessions for students to work with peers at six libraries across the county. The high schoolers can attend programs at the Rockville, Kensington, Aspen Hill, Burtonsville and downtown Silver Spring libraries. Middle schoolers can meet at Long Branch library for their work and research.
One sort of magical component of the program is the debrief that happens weekly at the sessions. What are the students thinking about? What is troubling them? How do they want to have an impact? But identifying these each week helps to debrief what students are doing and what they’re thinking about. At the beginning of each session, the students select topics, explore and then learn to create using digital media. Staff help them research and develop meaningful projects. Several students have won film awards nationally that participated in a summer documentary program.
Why is it called Gandhi Brigade? As nothing immediately jumps out as being directly related to Gandhi. Turns out the founder, Richard Jaeggi was in the Peace Corps and acknowledged that Gandhi was one of his heroes so he modeled the organization after his brigade.
Youth are in the media often now, protesting, commenting, and being active participants in government and society. ”Now more than ever we need to support our youth and let their voices be heard. What we do at GB is exactly that: provide them with the tools to amplify their voice and let the adults know what’s on their minds,” Glass explains.
The staff that helps run and coordinate the classes and workshops at GB throughout the county are mostly professional media-makers and specialists. That being said, they are all still kid-driven. The adults are there to help and support but all the media and ideas are produced and executed by the kids.
At the end of April, kids created documentaries, displayed photos, graphic designs and printed works at the American Film Institute (AFI) in downtown Silver Spring. The best films are shown on the big screen at the AFI at the completion of the expo. A tremendous opportunity for students to see their work being valued and watched, the Expo is certainly a yearly highlight.
One very exciting piece of news is that the Gandhi Brigade has launched a capital campaign to help build and furnish their new headquarters space in downtown Silver Spring in the library building. If you are interested in donating to help an amazing program, please click HERE for more information and details. GB is expanding programming to include workshops just for girls to talk about their concerns and issues as well as expanding into the senior programming space for digital media understanding. Be sure to head over to their website to take a peek at what the new HQ will do for the Brigade and how else to help.
Lauren Lee is a Silver Spring resident and mom to three amazing little people. She recently stepped down as President of Northwest Branch Pool where she bravely served for six years. Even as a Silver Spring native, Lauren is always impressed by the amazing people she meets doing amazing things here in our community and loves to write about it for Silver Spring Cares.