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Learning the art of filmmaking for change

Photos: IBIS Productions

By Milca Kouame

My name Milca Kouame, and I live in Newark, New Jersey. My father was deported in 2007, when I was seven years old, leaving me, my mother, and my younger brother behind.

Because of this incident, we started working with AFSC, which gave me knowledge about immigration policy in the U.S. and its injustices. Soon I became an advocate for children of deported parents, making speeches to lawmakers about the effects that deportation have on children. 

It was actually through AFSC that I heard about AFSC's Liberation Summer Youth Advocacy camp. I was interested in learning about both the criminal justice system and the immigration system and figuring out ways to raise awareness about the injustices in both. Leaving my comfort zone in New Jersey and going to New York City for the camp was pretty cool to me.

I learned about filming and editing and the art of storytelling from the Echoes of Incarceration team, which collaborates with AFSC on Liberation Summer. I believe that making short films is good and is probably the easiest way you can make a statement about the issues of mass incarceration or deportation.

A regular camp day at Liberation Summer is pretty simple. At 10:30, we start off with a circle check to see how everyone is doing and after usually play a weird game that ends being really fun. 

Then we talk about an issue. Our main topics this year were the war on drugs, stop and frisk policies, and the school-to-prison pipeline. We watch a few short videos about the topics and discuss what we saw and how we feel about it. Then we talk about ways and means to address these problems. Other days, we learn filmmaking skills—how to set up and break down a tripod, different angles we can shoot from, and other lessons. We also figure out different ideas for videos that we can make during the camp to call attention to these issues. 

In the afternoon, we record our opinions on the day and what we learned. The biggest thing that I got out of this camp was the importance of speaking up and fighting for your equality. Because when you stay silent, you are basically telling people that they allowed to discriminate against you and take away your freedoms and rights. 

The most useful part of this camp is being given the opportunity to share your own personal story of injustice and putting it in into a short film, which we call "resiliency stories." We’re now able to share these films with lawmakers so they know exactly who their laws affect the most and how. 

My experience at Liberation Summer was a real eye opener to other unjust policies that I wasn’t aware of. Now as a member of Echoes of Incarceration, I will not only continue to advocate for children like myself whose parents have been deported but also work to change our criminal justice system. 

To learn more, check out this video about our camp, and watch some of the videos created by youth participants below.