Friday, September 14, 2012

We Care Media Arts: How it All Started

In the late 1960's, Dr. Mamie Clark, Director of Northside Center for Child Development, took under her wing two young men who had grown up in Harlem and helped them build a community based organization called We Care, devoted to helping the people of one Harlem neighborhood help themselves. Between 1969 and 1980, the organization succeeded in creating a walk-in center for the community to provide information about jobs, job training, health issues, housing and legal issues as well as help with many other problems.
It soon became apparent the community lacked a means of keeping its members informed.  So We Care's young people published the first neighborhood paper to make the community aware of local events.  This newspaper meant that youngsters were employing their talents to benefit their neighborhood.  It was a vehicle for building leadership among the young people and by involving them with their community.  The paper was published from 1973-1977.  In the course of these years, the two young men, Sam Walton and Sam Gaynor, received a unique education and the activities of We Care were documented in the 1975 film called "Sam, Sam and Harlem".
We Care has been reconstituted as the We Care Media Arts Center to provide local Harlem teenagers with education and experience in the production of films and videos.  The objective of the Center is to inspire Harlem's young people to use the screen as a means of self expression and to employ the documentary form as a means of accurately depicting life from their own perspective.  We hope to encourage greater involvement in the community as well as provide practical skills and an opportunity to be creative.  Possible projects include an exploration of Harlem's evolution over the past thirty to fifty years and the impact of urban renewal on the community.  We would also like to produce short biographies of neighborhood achievers, exploring what it really means to be a hero.  The Center would offer workshops on the technical and artistic aspects of producing documentaries.
We plan to begin with a pilot oral history project focusing on the neighborhood where Sam Walton, the executive producer of the media project, lived and where We Care was born.  The period we will begin documenting spans some thirty years between 1950 and 1980.  The focus will be on the St. Nicholas area from 130th Street to 145th Street between St. Nicholas and Seventh Avenue.  A group of volunteers, a mix of professionals and students will work with us, trained by the staff of the Oral History Research Office at Columbia University.  The work is being organized with the support of St. Nicholas Historical Committee with whom we are working to bring the community back together.  Individuals on this committee will serve as volunteer interviewers to begin the project and later we will train young people from the St. Nicholas community to assist in the inerviewing and research process.  Recently, we have begun working with students from the Thurgood Marshall Academy and the Bread and Roses Integrated Arts High School co-located, coincidentally, next door to the old We Care office.
Much of what we know of the history of Harlem is the broader and less personal factors that made, unmade, and remade the community over the years.  We know little of the daily life of smaller areas of the community and those areas that represent continuity rather than abrupt change.  We also do not know the detailed and long term effects of the various institutions of the community in that daily life.  This pilot project is an attempt to start looking at the history of a community through the eyes of those who have played a vital role, both in the community and its institutional life.  9-29-98