Youth represent Kansas City at the “If I Had a Trillion Dollars” National Film Festival in Washington, D.C. 

On Monday April 15, seven youth from Whatsoever Community Center met with congressional staff members in Washington, D.C. to discuss their federal budget priorities. The congressional visits concluded a three-day trip to the nation’s capital, where youth from Whatsoever were honored as finalists in the third annual “If I Had a Trillion Dollars” film festival. (To view a gallery of photos from the 2013 event, click here.)

In the words of Mary Zerkel, AFSC’s Chicago Program Coordinator, “The purpose of the project is to bring forth the voices that usually would not be heard.” This year’s festival brought forth hundreds of creative young voices in videos that expressing how young people would allocate one trillion dollars. The overwhelming majority of videos emphasized the need to reduce military spending and invest in education, health, sustainability, and vital social programs.

In their film, the youth from Whatsoever focus on a topic quite familiar to them: community centers. Reflecting on their own experiences, they share how Whatsoever has cultivated unity and strength in a neighborhood confronted by homelessness, gun violence, and drugs. On Monday, they echoed the message of their video in meetings with the staff of Senator Roy Blunt and Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, discussing how community centers such as Whatsoever provide a safe, enriching environment in which young people can thrive.

Camila, a senior at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, spoke of her deep connection to Whatsoever with congressional staff. Having come to the United States from Uruguay as a young child, Camila was able to become fluent in English in only three months through English lessons at Whatsoever. Throughout her teens, she remained connected with the community center through volunteering and will soon become a full-time staff member. The message these youth and others around the country brought to Washington, D.C. can be summed up by one powerful line in Whatsoever’s film: “We are the future. Invest in us.”

On Sunday night, after a weekend of intensive leadership and lobbying training, youth got to see their films premiere on the big screen. The twenty five official 2013 IHTD selections incorporated a wide variety of creative expression, including comical skits, music videos, animation, and even Legos. Special awards were given out that recognized an outstanding aspect of each film. The Whatsoever group received the “Real Talk” award for their film’s honesty and frankness. 

For Whatsoever youth, the trip to Washington, D.C. involved some exciting “firsts.” For many, the trip marked their first time flying on an airplane or riding on the subway. As evenings were set aside for sight-seeing, they were able to walk the National Mall and visit the White House. The “If I Had a Trillion Dollars” experience gave youth the opportunity to expand their horizons, meet like-minded young activists, and participate in civic engagement. AFSC Program Coordinator and IHTD National Coordinator Erin Polley said of the experience, "This is a real testament to how incredible the films are. These young filmmakers came to Capitol Hill. That speaks volumes for itself. This is an awesome achievement for them.”

Whatsoever Community Center was one of six groups that the American Friends Service Committee's Kansas City Program collaborated with this past fall to create films for the IHTD festival. Two other groups from the Kansas City area, the Center for Alternative Instructional Resources and ArtsTech, were also recognized as finalists in this year’s festival for their outstanding films. All six of the Kansas City “If I Had a Trillion Dollars” film submissions can be viewed here.

Click this link for more information, films, photos and comments about IHTD on Facebook.

Article by Isabella Fassi, AFSC Peace Intern