Chicago Film Inspires San Francisco Youth

Ameena Matthews from film, The Interrupters

ITVS Community Classroom had the opportunity to facilitate an educational workshop at the 9th Annual Young Women’s Conference in San Francisco. Joining us were about 15 high school-aged young women who live in neighborhoods where violence had been high during the summer months. To address this situation, we turned to the Women and Girls Lead, Volume 2 Classroom collection, which includes a powerful film module from The Interrupters profiling Ameena Matthews as a peacemaker.

Like most people who watch Steve James’ film The Interrupters, the young women participants at the workshop found Ameena truly inspiring. “A tiny woman with a big voice,” they called her. Ameena’s father was one of the most notorious and infamous gang members in the greater Chicago area. After several years of following in his footsteps, Ameena was able to escape gang life and became a violence interrupter.

The young women talked about definitions of violence and where they have seen it. In their homes, on the street, and in their schools… the girls had witnessed violence everywhere. Many had lost a family member or friend due to violence in their community, including Alana, who shared her personal story during the workshop:

“I remember when my cousin was gunned down and shot not far from my house. Seeing his legs twisted, his body lying there lifeless, blood everywhere, the building window shattered from the bullets.  It’s a shame how mothers have to bury their children. When those behind the gun, the ones who actually pull the trigger and take someone’s life- I wonder, how do they feel?” – Alana

No matter how troubling the stories, none of the young women had given up hope that something could be done to stop the killing in their communities. The workshop participants discussed strategies that Ameena used to encourage peace and interrupt existing violence in her community and identified traits in their own local role models and in themselves that would facilitate more peace around them. One participant wrote:

“I would like to become a peacemaker.  Listening to people’s problems, trying to relate to them and giving them my advice makes me feel like there’s hope.” – Anonymous

We ended the workshop with a letter writing exercise.  They wrote poems to their communities about what they would change as well as what they loved and wanted to see more of.  Their honesty and willingness to share was a testament to their courage and self-awareness. The event reinforced the power of our Classroom resources to inspire youth to think about important social issues and lead the way towards positive change. One young woman put it best:

“Use your voice and speak your mind.  Stop the hatred that fuels violence and use it to power your voice… Everyone is a leader and can make a change” – Anonymous