“Stop The Pipeline” is a music video, public service announcement, educational tool, and news supplement attempting to fill the gap between those affected by the school-to-prison pipeline and those who should be paying attention to the pipeline.
The purpose of my thesis, a.k.a. masters report, is to focus on the school-to-prison pipeline and the need to intervene with school discipline that pushes students out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system. It showcases services and programs in Austin, Texas, including Southwest Keys, Webb Youth Court, and Council for At-Risk Youth as examples for solutions. My report incorporates research and expert advice on the safety and well-being of students while advocating a need to change the policies and culture surrounding schools.
I am still in the process of pitching my report to news outlets and am hoping they will accept the article and video as a full news package.
This media project is my contribution to innovative journalism. A form of storytelling that connects viewers, educates listeners, and inspires all. I know initiatives like this tend to spur conversation, but I hope it also leads to action that really makes a difference.
In January of 2013 I decided to dedicate my thesis to the school-to-prison pipeline. I had noted an increase in conversations and news stories about this issue and I wanted to contribute to the search for a solution. At first I was not sure what aspect of the pipeline I would focus on, but I was convinced I would uncover the answer that no one had ever imagined. As I continued my research that summer, I noted that the majority of voices that were raising awareness about this issue were adult experts. The youth voice was usually casted as the victim or the face of evidence. I felt this agist gap needed to be bridged in order for progress to continue on the right path. I did not want my long-form public affairs news story to only be read by those who still subscribe to a newspaper, but also reach those who are directly affected by the pipeline. My creative side kicked in and started visualizing a civic media project to broaden the audience for my report and contribute to the conversation. In the fall of 2013 I included the media project idea in my proposal noting that I would write a full 4,000 word article as if there is no media – the curriculum does not list a music video as a multimedia option. My readers at the time agreed to it. One Saturday in December of 2013, I sat with my sister, brother, and mother to brainstorm the lyrics for my song. I had written a number of phrases to give the idea of the storyline I wanted to use. Together we created a rap, chorus, bridge, and spoken word segment. We also recorded a demo with GarageBand. It’s always fun to collaborate with my family when we have time. We are kind of like a combination of the Jacksons and the Huxtables with a pinch of loving-crazy.
I was not completely happy with the demo we recorded. Granted, this was the first time I had attempted to create an original song and I was a little hesitant in measuring if it was good or not. Thus, I stepped out of my comfort zone and reached out to strangers to take my project further. From January to March of 2014, it seemed everyone I spoke to were either busy or would disappear and not respond to a second message. In addition to this, my readers seemed to backtrack on their agreement with the video. They wanted to see footage with the first draft of my paper (due in February) and repeatedly noted that their expertise did not include critiquing music videos and they wanted to make sure it was not a form of propaganda. As a creative person, any slight negativity surrounding a project can kill my vibe. I was hoping my project would be seen as a step towards innovative journalism that future students could look to for inspiration. I wanted my project to move further then skim the surface of this issue. I somewhat understood their hesitancy, since this was the first time anyone in this program had attempted such an endeavor, but it would have been nice if they could have been a part of this project. Nonetheless, they were very helpful in editing my written report. I refused to allow this disappointment to detour my inspiration and decided to remove the video from my thesis report. Since I could see the video so vividly in my mind, I was determined to make it a reality. The main dilemma then was figuring out how to convince others to collaborate with me on a project that was not connected to an assignment or monetary source. Luckily, I was taking a second course, Critical Hip Hop Studies, with people who could see the value in my project. After discussing the matter, my professor agreed to accept the video project, along with a bibliography, script, etc, as the final assignment for the class. We also had a special guest, MC AtLas, speak to our class and give a lyricism workshop in the undergrad class equivalent. Along with her inspiring story and encouraging tips, I showed her my lyrics. She gave me some pointers on how to create a melody and noted that my lyrics were good. It was at that point I stopped feeling unsure about my new songwriting abilities. Things were looking up!
The week after Spring Break, I was scrolling through my twitter feed when I noted a tweet about Longhorns Hip Hop and SXSW. It mentioned a few UT students involved with the show. The only one that had a link to a website and portfolio was Avalon Gordon, whom I later learned is a talented, connected, and brilliant producer. I reached out to her on twitter about my project, we e-mailed each other more details, and she was on the team. I must admit that this project would have never gotten off the ground if it wasn’t for Avalon. She connected me to Jared Kinsler with SoundNoodle, who produced the music, posted the casting call, scheduled the film shoot, found the location, monitored our budget, put together a solid crew with a great director and gaffer along with my fellow video journalist Efren Salinas, introduced me to a brilliant editor, Karla Diaz, and was all around pleasant to work with. In one month – April – my project went from a page of lyrics and sketches to a polished song and music video. The way this project came together was amazing. I really am grateful to the cast and crew for contributing all of their talent and time.