Our Chicago: Part One

Part I: The story of Critical Youth Media

With Lori Lightfoot as Chicago’s new mayor, it’s time we turn to the voices who will help keep Mayor Lightfoot and the city’s communities focused on the issues that matter most. One of these voices is cultural critic, content creator and community arts organizer Crislin Christian. Born on Chicago’s West side, Christian comes from a family of artists and activists who have always taught her to defy the social norms prescribed to her community. While most of her neighborhood friends went to the local high school, she gained the privilege to attend a Selective Enrollment high school in downtown Chicago. Today, nothing stops Christian from dreaming up big ideas—and taking on even bigger achievements—to better her community.

Giving a voice to Chicago’s youth

Christian always knew she wanted to be a teacher, particularly an English teacher, but after volunteering at the Social Justice Learning Institute in Inglewood, CA; graduating from Venice High School; and attending Santa Monica College; she started taking on a wider variety of coursework that helped her expand her academic and professional interests.

Christian transferred to UC Berkeley and began studying English, but disagreed with the department’s stale syllabi, and switched to American Studies with a concentration in Urban Education. This decision to change course in her journey through academia led her to discover a new professional interest: community organizing. In Christian’s words, “...my passion for education never wavered, but the activist part of me woke up.” Studying and living in the Bay Area exposed her to a lot of organizing histories and political groups that inspired her to learn how to analyze culture and bring that information to underprivileged youth so they could start to think outside the box.

And that’s when Christian’s mission to start a movement was born: “I want to uplift other people and young people in particular because I think they’re brilliant and have the capacity to create change.” She secured funding through UC Berkeley to start her own project after graduation and started Critical Youth Media (CYM): a local non-profit organization that “serves Chicago youth with tools to critically engage with media, identity, and society and create their own unique media narratives.”

Within just one year, CYM has forged relationships with three separate organizations based on both her personal and professional connections to their history and present-day successes. The first is the Community Film Workshop of Chicago (CFWC), which focuses mainly on building career or professional skills. Christian’s mother, Michelle Amor, had interned with them after graduating from high school; it was her first time participating in a film production program, and she didn’t know anything about filmmaking. But after completing that program, Amor decided to further explore screenwriting and film production as a possible profession. [She is an associate professor of screenwriting at Loyola Marymount University and has been the co-chair of the WGAw Committee of Black Writer for four years.]

CYM is also collaborating with the University of Chicago’s Arts Department and the CFWC to help run the Production Institute, a media production program started as part of the Logan Center for the Arts’ Digital Storytelling Initiative (DSI). As a Production Institute Coordinator, Christian has seized an incredible opportunity to start achieving her long-term goal of running her own non-profit.

The third organization to partner is the Broadway Youth Center (BYC) (@broadwayyouthcenter), which provides housing and security for LGBT youth. Christian is excited to run a videography workshop—the first of its kind to take place at BYC—in collaboration with a friend who works at the Center and is also a photographer.

Together, these partnerships speak to the power of collaboration leaders like Christian can foster in cities like Chicago: an oasis for cultural movements to flourish despite the odds against them.

In part two of this story, Christian shares her thoughts on Chicago’s new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, and what’s in store for the city’s disadvantaged communities.

Are you interested in local politics or media? Do you want to learn how you can help young people and leaders like Christian create the change you want to see?

Let’s talk. I’m here.