Summit Recap: Youth filmmakers share their Westside stories at January 18 meeting

At its January 18 Transform Westside Summit, Westside Future Fund (WFF) had the honor of premiering the short films of some of the Westside’s most talented youth through the debut of AT&T’s Westside Storytelling Competition. 

The creative film program is powered by AT&T in partnership with the Atlanta Police Foundation, the At-Promise Youth Center and re:imagine/ATL.

AT&T launched the program in late November, bringing together teens from across the city’s Westside and immersing them in a 45-day digital storytelling incubator.

At the start of the immersion program, the teens were divided into three separate film crews. The crews then collaborated to write, direct and produce the 4-minute shorts, with support from re:imagine staff.

The budding filmmakers were then able to see their films debuted on the Summit “big screen” and talk about the impact the experience had on them personally and on their community.

Lights! Camera! Action!

Each short was guided by the theme of “restoration,” but was left to the interpretation of each film crew, becoming a reflection of their unique perspectives of the community. 

Student Michaila Thompson  was the first to showcase with a film titled “Time Capsule.” An aspiring actress, Thompson credited the program with allowing her to take the first step toward realizing that dream. 

Student Christian Troy followed with his premiere of “Where I’m From.”

“Behind my smile was a lot of pain,” said Troy, who was featured in his group’s film. “Coming into the program, I was shut down, but through the process, I learned how to trust people.”

I also never looked at it as a competition because we were all working together,” Troy continued. “Being in this group showed me that I have family here. It made me realize I have a purpose. I appreciate the Westside Storytelling Competition for showing me that.”

Rounding out the trio was “Restoration” presented by student Janae Smith, who aspires to be a writer. “Paras [re:imagine mentor] made me feel like I could really write, and that I could really succeed with this,” said Smith, holding back tears.

Before ending, the teens were asked where they thought the organizations and corporations in the room should be focusing their time. In their responses, each teen made it a point to dispel any stereotypes about the Westside they lovingly call home.

One thing I believe people should be focusing on is the community,” said Smith. “And when I say community I mean the people within the community. Our community is not bad. We have talents and things we would love to share with you all.” 

Troy echoed Smith, while Thompson responded with a call for more programs for the youth. “We need to get the kids off the street and into a safe environment,” she said.

The teens received a standing ovation with many audience members in tears. re:imagine/ATL staff member and coordinator of the program, Julie Foster-Straw, was overwhelmed with emotion as well.

I saw their confidence grow, I saw them become leaders and I saw that they saw the value in themselves come out,” said Foster-Straw.  “These stories came from the students. Their stories are important. We are just here to hear their stories, help them identify that greatness inside of them and share that with the world.”

Making Big Dreams a Reality

AT&T leadership, represented by John Dwyer, president of AT&T’s prepaid portfolio, and Venessa Harrison, the recently-appointed president of AT&T Georgia, were equally proud and enthusiastic about the students and their films.

“Today represents a major moment for us here at AT&T,” said Dwyer.

I truly believe that this type of initiative is a game changer for our young people,” added Harrison. “Every single one is born with a seed of greatness, and everyone here is on the mission to nurture that seed.”

AT&T closed the program with a special presentation, a check in the amount of $250,000 which takes its total contribution to the Westside to over $1 million. WFF officially announced AT&T as a community impact partner in early 2018, with their investment directed in support of WFF’s cradle-to-career education impact strategy.

AT&T’s investment on the Westside supports its company-wide commitment to advancing education, strengthening communities and improving lives. The Westside Storytelling Competition also reinforces AT&T’s long history of investing in projects that create learning opportunities, promote academic achievement and address community needs as well as its focus on leveraging technology, relationships and social innovation to help all students make their biggest dreams a reality.

John Ahmann, WFF’s president and CEO, closed the Summit with this: “What really makes a difference is heart and compassion. And we thank you, AT&T, for leading with your heart and leading by example.”

The Westside Storytelling Competition is now live and the public can vote on their favorite video. Competition winners will take home the Westside Storytelling Competition trophy and be given the opportunity to attend a guided behind-the-scenes tour of DIRECTV NOW’s Super Saturday Night with re:imagine/ATL, the At-Promise Center and AT&T.

Click here to vote. To watch the video of the full Summit presentation, click below.

The Summit’s morning devotion was given by Westside legacy resident Sandra Bush.