The Emerson College/Bird Street Civic Engagement Project: An American Dream – Resolving conflict through communication

With the end of the Spring semester and Commencement over, it is easy to think that things get very quiet here in the department over the summer. But that’s not the case at all. Dr. Greg Payne and Prof. Spencer Kimball are directing an exciting collaboration/civic engagement project with the Bird Street Community Center in Dorchester, MA.

This project will culminate with a video Public Service Announcement produced and edited by the students of Bird Street, with the guidance and support of Emerson College students and faculty.

The aim of this civic engagement initiative is to listen and to document the stories and experiences of Bird Street students, as a foundation for this grass roots advocacy project.  The focus is on risk youth as the actual change agents, in researching and formulating specific messages for the specific target market of their peers. These messages are conveyed in a series of Public Service Announcements, produced by Bird Street students in an after school program, working in collaboration with Emerson College students, under the guidance of two Emerson College professors and a Boston elementary school teacher.   The major objective is to engage and persuade at-risk students through communication and dialogue, to pursue nonviolent options to conflict resolution, rather than impulsively chose to use a gun or other weapon to solve a problem.

Given today’s technological revolution, the flattening of the media hierarchy and evolution of social media, this project embraces the ideal that each of us, regardless of our socio- economic status, can be change agents at the grass roots, community level.  In this project, Bird Street students will produce targeted PSA’s that reflect persuasive strategies and tactics specifically designed to educate their peers on non-violent means of problem solving.

This project aims to involve at-risk youth from inception of the project through its final product – providing a unique opportunity for at-risk youth to come together and to share their experiences and stories about what is happening to them and/or their communities.

The project format is as follows: the students convene with their Emerson cohorts and dialogue on the following; “Share your story, any reflections and/or experiences of violence you have witnessed or heard about in your neighborhood.” Each participant will have a sufficient amount of time to share stories, or they can decide to “pass”, knowing they will have the option to respond later in the dialectical process.  Everyone will have at least one opportunity to respond.

Upon completion of the individual responses, there will be an opportunity for the entire group to engage in a conversation where they can explore in more depth, the reflections and stories that have been shared. Following this step, students will then be given a video camera to take home, with the assignment being to film their natural environments (day in the life documentary style). Upon collection of this video, students will work with Emerson students and faculty to produce a documentary aimed to raise awareness of violence in their communities.

The conversations will be video recorded. Each participant will have the option to review the recordings and request that all or any portion of the recordings that includes their participation be destroyed.  From this documentary, students will craft a PSA for their peer group focused on saying no to violence as a way of solving problems.

The Project will last from May 9, 2013 through June 27, 2013 and will take place at the Bird Street community center.  Bird St. participants will work with the on-site coordinator, Emerson students and Emerson faculty.

We are excited to have two of our faculty involved in this endeavor and we will periodically post updates (photos, videos, and blurbs) on  the Department Facebook page for those that are interested in seeing how the project develops.




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