HomePlace-Based ForumThe Gentlemen of Knowledge, First to Complete the Youth Lens Project

The Gentlemen of Knowledge, First to Complete the Youth Lens Project

In one of the first partnerships developed by The Center for Midwestern Initiatives, CMI gave the Rural Community Alliance a $2,500 grant in order to launch a Youth Lens Project in Arkansas through the Youth Empowerment Network (YEN) chapters. A Rivercrest High School student group, the Gentlemen of Knowledge, dedicated to improving the achievement of African American students, was the first chapter to upload a video. 

The Youth Empowerment Network chapters are community partnerships offering empowerment programs for at-risk youth. They focus on education, recreation, lifestyle, and social and economic development. YEN works to develop self-confidence, bridge the gap between these at-risk youth and their communities, build leadership qualities, and encourage youth-led initiatives.  

The Rural Community Alliance's (RCA) Youth Lens project’s goal is to engage its YEN chapters in producing short videos that will increase visibility and awareness of their rural schools and communities in three categories:

1.    Promoting their rural community.

2.    Documenting successful or exemplary programs or practices in their rural school.

3.    Documenting successful or exemplary projects in their rural community.

These videos will be uploaded via YouTube and shared through websites and social media within the RCA network and with state and national partners and collaborators.  

valley springs_grant_pix_smaller_croppedFrom left, Gary Funk, Center for Midwest Initiatives; YEN officers Shianna Roberts, secretary; Alyssa Galloway, treasurer; Aimee Whitescarver, sponsor; Charity Waring, vice president; Jessica Helams, sponsor; Elisa Barsotti, reporter; Trent Taylor, president; Lavina Grandon, president of Rural Community Alliance.Lavina Grandon (far right in photo), President of Rural Community Alliance, said, "Our intent with this project is two-fold:  First, we want to lift up what works in rural schools and communities so that we can learn from each other and improve together.  Second, we believe that engaging youth in documenting what works will increase their pride in and commitment to their rural schools and communities, so that hopefully they will not become a part of the great 'brain drain' of young people growing up and leaving their rural communities for perceived greater opportunities elsewhere."

The Youth Lens Project gave each YEN chapter a flip video camera to create videos documenting the exemplary practices in their rural schools, outstanding rural community projects, or promotional videos for rural their communities. Each YEN receives $100 upon submission of their YouTube video.

The Gentlemen of Knowledge, in Wilson, AR, were the first group to submit their video in which they document their successful, student-led effort to narrow the academic achievement gap between African American male students and the rest of the student body’s scores on the state’s benchmark exams—scoring at the 31st percentile compared to the 65th percentile for Caucasian students in 2010. In their video, the Gentlemen of Knowledge describe how in one year, working together to push themselves and their classmates to do their best in school and outside, they narrowed that testing gap by "17 percentage points" through addressing student motivation, teacher cultural competency, and individualized instruction.

Although the Gentlemen of Knowledge are the first group to complete the challenge, we expect many more videos are on their way.