Online Workshop:  Using Media For Social Justice

In an unprecedented partnership between two educational organizations that believe student led classrooms are crucial in actively engaging students using a social-emotional learning approach, Bank Street College of Education and Scenarios USA have collaborated to present a four week online workshop titled: Using Media for Social Justice. Beginning February 24-March 20, 2015, this workshop will feature Scenarios USA films, curricula, activities, and utilize Bank Street’s world renowned online learning environment for a dynamic course for educators! Successful completion of the course results in 2 CEUs for participants.bankstreet finalFINAL copy


Registration instructions are below:

2. click register online at center of page
3. find #24 “Using Media for Social Justice”
4. click “enroll” the blue button to the right of the workshop with the price
5. go to the top of the page and click “checkout”
6. select “i will pay the total” from the drop down menu below the grid
7. to get a discounted fee of $275, type in the coupon code “susa1″ and click “add” (late fee will be waived)
8. complete the information requested (i.e. address, name)
9. click “continue”
10. complete information requested (i.e. address, name, payment)
11. click “continue”
12. You are registered!

It’s a New Year and We Have a New Look

Illustration by Vin Ganapathy

Last year was a big, ugly year. We felt angry that the deaths of black people went unpunished, that survivors of sexual violence were told they were lying, or worse, didn’t matter. Consenting people were told time and again that who and how they loved was disgusting. It was a year that forced us to realize that, for all the “progress” we’ve made, we maybe haven’t gotten all that far. We went to theaters to see a movie about events that happened fifty years ago and saw something that looked eerily relevant.

As we re-launch our new streamlined website with a focus on narrative voices, art and film for, by and about underrepresented youth in America, we bear in mind the struggle for social justice endured last year, but we also move forward with the next year in front of us. And we shine the focus on young people, because they are the ones who know what’s happening first, who are the changemakers, and who continue to fight the decades-old fight for social justice in new and unprecedented ways: harnessing the power of countless voices to help Nicole Maines win her fight against her school system or building movements like #blacklivesmatter and got people to listen.

But if there’s nothing else that 2014 taught us, it’s that the fight for equal rights is constant, complicated and nuanced with individual stories and struggles. It’s part of every day and every part of our lives. It’s calling out people you love for saying “that’s so gay”. It’s asking why mainstream media continues to ignore the notion of fully-realized characters of color, and why universities aren’t doing more about on-campus sexual assault.

So as we look forward into 2015 and beyond, we want to make the new a space where we’re going to keep talking. That’s what we do. We amplify youth voices, we fight for social justice, we make movies, and we keep talking. And we’re going to hear from all kinds of people within that dialog—filmmakers, writers, millennials (in all their history-making diversity as a generation)—and, of course, from young people. Welcome, have a look, stick around and stay tuned.

Through a Different Lens: This is How I See Me.

Throughout December, we introduced you to 3 remarkable teenagers. They shared who they are, they told stories about feeling invisible, and they spoke of the need to quiet the noise around them.

At Scenarios, our work creates a space for young people to be supported as they figure out who they are. We do our work in schools, out of schools and online. And when the young people are ready to speak and to lead, we give them the space to do so — loudly and authentically.


In 2015, Scenarios continues to listen and learn from young people with these featured projects:

STORIES – Our new website will be the space for millennials and influencers to be who they are and to share their vision. It will be lived, not told. Experienced, not observed. Site launches in February.

FILM – 3 youth-written, Hollywood-produced films on issues teens define as critical to their world are in production and will premiere on TV, online and on mobile devices together with youth-led advocacy campaigns. Films premiere in May.

EDUCATION – Our standards-based and arts-infused curriculum will be build around the 3 films we’re making now with teens. Our education cycle will roll into schools in Fall, 2015.

Make your 2014 contribution to Scenarios by December 31st and NBCUniversal and an anonymous donor will match your 100% tax deductible gift, dollar-for-dollar. Your donation matters.

Thank you for being our partner in education and promoting youth voice.

Here’s to a productive, transformative, healthy 2015,


Through a Different Lens: Morriah

This is how you see me:
Walking down the streets of New York, people see me and forget me. Strangers see a girl who is tall and has short brown hair, brown skin, and is a little bit curvy and maybe depending on what I’m wearing, people judge my social class too.


Morriah Lisowksi, 17, Brooklyn, NY

This is how I see me:
I fight for what I stand for and stand by what I think is right. I’m a girl, and I’m strong, my appearance accounts for a small percentage of who I am.



In 2015, our three new youth-written films will become part of the next Scenarios curriculum, amplifying their messages and helping hundreds of thousands of young people to see their lives through a different lens.


Until December 31st, NBCUniversal and an anonymous donor will match your 100% tax deductible gift to Scenarios, dollar-for-dollar. Your donation matters.

Through A Different Lens: Fatimata

Fatimata Sylla, 17, Bronx, NY      
This is how you see me:
The world sees me as a happy and energetic, but reserved girl. The world sees me as someone who is shy.

This is how I see me:

I see myself as someone who is strong. After my father was killed we moved to the United States from our home of Abidjan, Ivory Coast. Even though I miss him, as the oldest child, I stay strong for my mother and my brothers.


 Support Scenarios Youth Programs Here.


Fatimata participated in the Scenarios curriculum about Place & Power in her high school English class, and is now part of the Scenarios Media Corps, a group of youth working to create a digital campaign for our NYC film that addresses intimate partner violence. At Scenarios, we work side by side with young people to provide them with the analytical skills to connect knowledge with their lived experiences and the world around them. This holiday season, support the perspectives of young people like Fatimata by bringing Scenarios’ films and curricula to classrooms across the country.


Until December 31st, NBCUniversal and an anonymous donor will match your 100% tax deductible gift to Scenarios, dollar-for-dollar. Your donation matters. 

Scenarios USA Roundup of the 10 Most Important Reads on Ferguson

Last night a grand jury decided there will be no trial for Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Mike Brown, the unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, MO. In the 108 days since Brown was killed, too many of the news reports have centered around vilifying Brown and the community of demonstrators who have dared to demand justice for the unnecessary taking of black life by police. News outlets have prioritized looting over coverage of peaceful protests, Brown’s past over his once possible future. By demonizing black bodies and black communities, news coverage continues the dangerous narrative that contributed to Brown’s death, and the taking of black lives across the country.

‘Justice’ in Ferguson: The politics of the protests

Despite this, there are those who have managed to report on Brown’s death while honoring his humanity. These are the pieces that have impacted us at Scenarios and we encourage you to read.

Face it, blacks. Michael Brown let you down.

      By Dexter Thomas, Jr

“Because we know that it’s common knowledge that white killers get treated like little lost lambs, while black victims are immediately demonized. Hell, there are now even listicles about this sort of thing. But we also know that any small flaw, any trace of humanity, will ruin the whole thing. That people, too many people, will be positively giddy at the sight of our blood.”

Ferguson: Injustice Still Hurts When You See It Coming

      By Kara Brown

“We knew many would care more about the destruction of property and inanimate objects than the destruction of black people’s sense of safety in this country. Still, it was hard not to be taken aback by the downright comical degree to which CNN lamented over a burned pizza chain instead of the dejection of a black community.”

      By Ta-Nehisi Coates

“Among the many relevant facts for any African-American negotiating their relationship with the police the following stands out: The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body. This summer in Ferguson and Staten Island we have seen that dominion employed to the maximum ends—destruction of the body. This is neither new nor extraordinary. It does not matter if the destruction of your body was an overreaction. It does not matter if the destruction of your body resulted from a misunderstanding. It does not matter if the destruction of your body springs from foolish policy. Sell cigarettes without proper authority and your body can be destroyed. Resent the people trying to entrap your body and it can be be destroyed. Protect the home of your mother and your body can be destroyed. Visit the home of your young daughter and your body will be destroyed. The destroyers of your body will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions.” 

Things to Stop Being Distracted by When a Black Person Gets Murdered by the Police

      By Mia McKenzie

“Talking to people on Twitter about Mike Brown and what’s happening in Ferguson right now, I’ve noticed (again) how easily folks get distracted when Black people are murdered by the police. It seems as though every detail is more interesting, more important, more significant—including looting of a Walmart in Ferguson, which a local Fox news station focused its entire coverage on—than the actual life that was taken by police.” 

Ferguson is an occupation in plain sight and words aren’t enough to change that

      By Roxane Gay

“In truth, the media rarely seems well equipped to write about tragedy and trauma ethically, particularly when race is involved. It does not know how to report on Ferguson’s grief and anger without resorting to the most facile – and often most damaging – language that only perpetuates the ever-present racial divide in this country.” 

Mike Brown Dies, A Generation Comes Alive

      By Roland Martin

“The fight for a fair justice system has gone far beyond Ferguson. We see men and women of various backgrounds coming together to demand justice …. They are marching, protesting, organizing, registering voters, running candidates for office, training up the next generation of civil-rights lawyers. They are largely young people who have decided that, in the words of Black Freedom Movement leader Fannie Lou Hamer, they are ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired.’” 

Ferguson isn’t about black rage against cops. It’s white rage against progress.

      By Carol Anderson

“A little more than half a century after Brown, the election of Obama gave hope to the country and the world that a new racial climate had emerged in America, or that it would. But such audacious hopes would be short-lived. A rash of voter-suppression legislation, a series of unfathomable Supreme Court decisions, the rise of stand-your-ground laws and continuing police brutality make clear that Obama’s election and reelection have unleashed yet another wave of fear and anger.”

Officer Wilson’s story is unbelievable. Literally.

      By Ezra Klein

So Brown is punching inside the car. Wilson is scrambling to deflect the blows, to protect his face, to regain control of the situation. And then Brown stops, turns to his left, says to his friend, “Here, hold these,” and hands him the cigarillos stolen from Ferguson Market. Then he turns back to Wilson and, with his left hand now freed from holding the contraband goods, throws a haymaker at Wilson. 

How to Deal with Friends’ Racist Reactions to Ferguson

      By Jenee Desmond-Harris

“But here’s what Facebook comments are good for: revealing data about whether you want your ‘friends’ to be your friends any longer. That is, of course, if you believe, as I do, that the way someone responds to other people’s pain and mistreatment—including the systemic mistreatment of entire groups of people—is a perfectly fine way to decide whether he or she is someone you like or want to continue to interact with.”

Get on the Bus: Inside the Black Life Matters ‘Freedom Ride’ to Ferguson

      By Akiba Solomon

“Later on, the young St. Louisan sitting next to me starts weeping. I know she goes by @Nettaaaaaaaa on Twitter and that she has more than 13,000 followers, but I can’t bring myself to interrupt her tears to get her full name or ask her age. Along with two friends she stands up and tells us how they’ve been protesting since the beginning and that they are exhausted. She also informs us that an out-of-towner (who turns out to be an ex-pimp named Tariq Nasheed) has been tearing her protest work apart on Twitter. She and her friends tell us that they’re thankful that we’re there but feel possessive of their movement. They urge us to keep Ferguson and Michael Brown at the center, a sentiment I hear from local people throughout the trip.”

3 Amazing Films- Coming Soon!

It’s finally happening! 

You’ve waited patiently to hear about who won Scenarios’ REAL DEAL contests, who’s directing the films and what’s going on.  At long last, the wait is over!  We have three amazing young writers and three brilliant directors turning their stories into short films.  Please join us in person or follow us on Facebook and Twitter for behind the scenes and on set exclusives, sneak previews of post production and finally, to see the films at their world premiere in 2015!


Meet the writer: Janaya Greene wrote Veracity during her senior year of high school while attending Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory Academy in South Side Chicago. During this time the debate of legalizing gay marriage was at its height and many states were pushing for its legality. After many debates among friends, family and classmates, Janaya realized that the issue was not, “Is being gay right or wrong?” but rather “How do humans, gay or straight, deserve to be treated?”  With support from her film study teacher, Mr. Eugene Hazzard, and classmates, she proceeded to write Veracity, a story about an African-American girl named Olivia J. Brownstein, who gains the courage to tell her family and friends that she is a lesbian. The response she gets is not what she expected from those she loved most. Veracity explores the taboo of being gay in the African-American community.

Seith Mann

Meet the Director: Seith Mann is a Morehouse College alumnus and a graduate of the Grad Film Program at New York University. His thesis film, five deep breaths, premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, won Best Narrative Short at the 2003 IFP Los Angeles Finl Festival and 1st Significance at the 2003 New York University First Run Festival. Seith won the Gordon Parks Award for Emerging African-American Filmmakers in the Best Directing Category at the IFP/New York Market. Seith also received the Emerging Narrative Award, the Gordon Parks Award for Screenwriting and the Richard Vague Film Production Fund Award for his feature screenplay, Come Sunday. To date, Seith has directed over thirty episodes of television including The WireGrey’s AnatomyHeroesBrotherhoodFriday Night LightsElementaryCalifornicationNurse JackieHomelandRectify and the Walking Dead. He has been nominated for a DGA Award, five NAACP Image Awards and won a NAACP Image Award for Directing for his episode of Friday Night Lights.


Meet the writer: Skyler Edge, a transgender male, wrote the story House, Not Home in his sophomore year at Facing History New Tech High School in Cleveland, OH. The story was born from his fears of coming out to his classmates as transgender after only a year of being out to family and friends. Out of his fear of rejection and violence, Skyler came up with the story of Terran, who is gender variant and does not conform to male nor female pronouns. Skyler wrote his story in hopes of bringing more visibility to transgender issues.

Meet the Director: Joshua Butler is a prolific film and television director whose recent work includes FOX’s The Following  starring Kevin Bacon, Pretty Little Liars for ABC Family, Crisis for NBC, Reckless for CBS, and Matador for Robert Rodriguez and the El Rey Network. Joshua directed the award-winning feature VLOG for Twisted Pictures and the producers of SAWBeer Money for USA Network, Deathlands for SyFy Channel, Saint Sinner for writer-producer Clive Barker, and the Christmas movie Prancer Returns for Raffaella De Laurentiis. He has just completed the Random Bench-produced short film Doghouse, starring Michael Maize and Erin Daniels. In addition to working with Scenarios USA this fall, Joshua will be directing Joe Carnahan’s new NBC thriller, State of Affairs, starring Katherine Heigl, and his 10th episode of CW’s The Vampire Diaries.

New York City

IMG_9942Meet the writer: Nialani Pringle, is a rising senior at Brooklyn Collaborative High School. Pringle’s film, Aleah, tells the story of a 17-year-old girl living in East New York, Brooklyn. Aleah, like many young girls, has hopes and dreams, though her everyday reality revolves around a tumultuous relationship with her boyfriend, an unplanned pregnancy and few places to turn. The story is based on Pringle’s life, whose own mother is a domestic abuse survivor and whose father was killed in Linden Plaza a year after she was born.  When asked why she chose to write this script, Pringle said, “My story shows that a person’s physical and emotional place can make a simple situation ten times worse. Aleah is a pregnant teenage girl in a bad neighborhood with absolutely no power. This was part of [my mother’s] reality and continues to be the reality for many women.” Aleah, was shot in the Linden Plaza Apartments of East New York.


Laurie Collyer

Meet the Director: Laurie Collyer premiered her first film at the Sundance Film Festival, a feature documentary  entitled,  Nuyorican Dream.  Nuyorican Dream had its broadcast premiere later that year on HBO/Cinemax.  The documentary earned Collyer a DGA nomination and won multiple prizes at international film festivals.  Her second film, narrative feature, Sherrybaby, also premiered at Sundance and earned lead actress Maggie Gyllenhaal a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. Collyer participated in the Sundance Filmmakers’ Lab and the Residence du Festival de Cannes to develop Sherrybaby.  In 2009, Collyer received a Cinereach grant to develop the script for Sunlight Jr., Collyer’s most recent film which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year.  Sunlight Jr., features Naomi Watts and Matt Dillon as down and out lovers, wrestling with pregnancy and homelessness.  Most recently, Collyer was hired by LD Productions to write a pilot based on the book, Brothel: Mustang Ranch and its Women, with partner Annie Marter.

Help Scenarios Redefine Place and Power in Chicago!

Scenarios USA has expanded our REAL DEAL program to Chicago schools.  Beginning this Fall, 39 dedicated educators in 9 public high schools are implementing the Scenarios curriculum addressing Place and Power.

Our excitement doesn’t stop there.  Today – Right Now – we’re launching our first ever Indiegogo Campaign to fund the Chicago REAL DEAL film.  REAL DEAL films are written by students as the final assignment of our curriculum and are made by some of your favorite Hollywood talents like Doug Liman (Bourne Identity), David Frankel (Devil Wears Prada), and Gina Prince- Bythewood (Love and Basketball).

Here’s what will happen: Nearly 1,000 Chicago students will submit their stories about place and power to our contest. (This theme is especially potent for the young people of Chicago who live in a city plagued by an epidemic of youth violence and immense cultural segregation.) One submission from Chicago will be selected to be turned into a REAL DEAL film.  The winning writer will be partnered with an acclaimed Hollywood director, shoot their story in their Chicago neighborhood with a professional crew, and bring their film to a local and national audience of 20 million!

We’ve been told that for teenagers to learn, you must talk to them.  But at Scenarios, we do something just as important as talking.  We listen.  That’s the mandate we began with when we started the organization 15 years ago.

As described by Scenarios REAL DEAL student, Terrance Ortiz, “Without someone showing you what’s possible, you don’t know what you can contribute to the world. When doors open, you can surprise yourself, and others.”

Help us open new doors – doors that are safe for young people to walk through, where, on the other side, they can be heard.

Please visit our Indiegogo page. watch our video, DONATE and HELP to make a film from Chicago.  This is more than a film, though – this is a chance to grow the creative spark in the teenagers we work with, many of whom had long stopped considering their own futures as bright or promising.

We’re honored to be invited into Chicago for this school year, and we’re thrilled to have you join us at this exciting start of our journey.  Thank you for visiting the Indiegogo page.


Maura Minsky
Executive Director/Co-Founder

P.S.  Please share our current Facebook Indiegogo Update on your Wall!chicago scenarios banner

Announcing the 2013-14 REAL DEAL Teacher Workshops, Curriculum and Contest

Love. Money. Family. Friendship. Power. Violence.

Do your students think and talk about these issues? Do your students love watching movies?

Are you looking for interactive, engaging, Common Core-aligned activities that will get even your most reluctant students thinking critically and writing creatively about sexual health and social justice issues?

Are you interested in exploring how the arts can take critical thinking to a whole new level?

Do you aim to create a safe space for your students to build their social and emotional competencies?


Cleveland-WorkshopScenarios USA’s professional development workshops, for all educators grades 6-12, where we tackle these questions and more. These workshops are for educators who teach in our three REAL DEAL regions: New York City, Cleveland and Chicago.

Every teacher who attends our workshops will receive a free REAL DEAL curriculum and the new Scenarios USA movies, which are written by teens for teens.

Workshop participants will also learn about the 2013-14 REAL DEAL contest, where student winners are partnered with Hollywood directors and make short films.

REAL DEAL Curriculum Lessons:

  • Common Core-aligned
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) competencies
  • Creative, interactive and democratic

Please register here to receive more information about the workshop dates and locations as they are set:

Creating A New Generation of Critical Thinkers

Real Results

Learn more about our Education Program Here.

Let’s Get Down to Business: Live-Action “Mulan” Announced

mulan cutting hair gif
When I heard that “Mulan” is coming back to movie theaters as a live-action movie, I felt like I was 10 years old again. Mulan is the best Disney Princess™ partly because she’s not actually a princess (although the fact that she’s often pictured in a dainty pink dress rather than her warrior garb when in placement next to Belle and Friends is problematic). While others are rolling their eyes at this news from Disney, I’m quite excited that a lady hero will be introduced to a whole new generation of little girls.

dont meet a girl like that mulan
The truth is, girls of all ages can benefit from having a badass heroine onscreen who doesn’t, say, need to wear a skintight jumpsuit. I know how much Mulan meant to me as a young girl trying to reconcile my love of climbing trees with my classmates love of boy bands. Mulan was tough enough to be her own hero and could always go toe-to-toe with the boys. That she was based on an ancient Chinese ballad was even cooler. And even though Mulan didn’t look like me, I was grateful she wasn’t white.

Of course, there are a lot of ways that this live-action film can go wrong. There are already concerns that the casting directors will pick a non-Chinese East Asian actress for Mulan. I’m crossing my fingers that this isn’t the case, though, and that we will all get to see a real Mulan-looking Mulan onscreen.

#ScenariosPresents: Laurie Collyer on Directing “Aleah”

Laurie CollyerWhen writer/director Laurie Collyer read Lani Pringle’s script for her short film Aleah, she recognized a kindred spirit. The film festival regular, who has dedicated her cannon—the documentary “Nuyorican Dream” and the feature films “Sherrybaby” and “Sunlight Jr.”—on the trappings of poverty and addiction and the unattainability of the American Dream, was paired with Pringle to direct “Aleah” after the Brooklyn teen won Scenarios USA’s Real Deal challenge, a writing contest for students at participating high schools in New York, Cleveland and Chicago. “We’re both realists,” says Collyer. “Lani said, ‘I don’t like how movies always have to have a happy ending and I thought, ‘Yeah, exactly. Why?’ It’s sort of a frenzy in our culture; everything has to turn out good all the time. I don’t know how that makes sense, because sometimes it doesn’t and that’s interesting to examine.”

“I paid a lot of attention to authenticity—not only authenticity of dialogue, but behavior.”

In “Aleah”, the title character is a high school student who lives in a housing project in East New York. When Aleah gets pregnant by her abusive boyfriend she finds no solace in either him or her mom, who kicks her out of their apartment. After spending the night on the subway she is shot by gang crossfire in front of her apartment complex. Aleah’s vicious-cycle story is a familiar one to Collyer —  for “Nuyorican Dream”, she spent the late ’90s filming a Puerto Rican family in Brooklyn whose members struggled within their given circumstances to stay sober and out of prison. Collyer knew she could help the 10-minute film stay true to Pringle’s deeply personal story. “I’ve lived in that world, so it was easy to get,” says Collyer. “I paid a lot of attention to authenticity—not only authenticity of dialogue, but behavior. I think having Aleah be a bit detached was important. She’s really never overwrought. She’s used to it.”

Laurie and Lani on the set of "Aleah"
Laurie and Lani on the set of “Aleah”

“Aleah” was the first film Collyer directed that she didn’t write, but because she was so in tune with Pringle’s view, the transition was easy and also helped her to stay positive while directing “The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe”, a miniseries premiering Memorial Day weekend on Lifetime. Having to navigate the politics of making a more Hollywood-ized product with Lifetime was challenging at times, but in the end, Collyer felt she was able to do justice to Monroe, who was never able to truly escape her addictions and a childhood spent in an orphanage and foster care, much like the troubled heroines Collyer brings to life in “Sherrybaby” and “Sunlight Jr.”, and “Aleah.” “’Aleah’ was a good bridge actually. If I had just gone from doing my own thing to “Marilyn” it might have been a little bumpier,” says Collyer. “I love that little movie. I watched it while I was shooting ‘Marilyn’, and it made me feel good. I was like, ‘Okay, I got it, I know what I’m doing.’ ‘Aleah’ felt like a film I would have made myself.”

 Watch Laurie and Lani’s film Aleah at the Scenarios 2015 World Premiere

Lessons I Learned About Privilege From Watching Too Much Television

watching TV television

You may have read that recent nonsense on about there being “too much diversity” on television now that some roles that were written for white actors are being cast with ethnic actors. Too much diversity on television? That’s like saying there are too many stars in the night sky. It also misses the point entirely.

The average person my age watches around 35 hours of per television per week. I’ve always been an overachiever, so I watch 40 hours per week. I watch TV while cooking dinner, folding the laundry, brushing my teeth—pretty much any time I’m doing whatever I need to do and can do it in front of a screen. I sometimes joke and say that channel surfing is my second job but, in some ways, it’s more like an education.

I once heard someone say there are four kinds of knowing. 1) You know what you know. 2) You know that you don’t know about some things. 3) You know what you think you know, but you’re wrong. 4) You don’t know what you don’t know. My excessive television consumption has revealed that I have been mistaken about what I believed I knew, and the reason is because I simply didn’t know what I didn’t know.

The issue isn’t that Travis isn’t smart. The issue isn’t even that Travis needs to work harder. The real issue is that the paper must be written in English, which is his second language.

Last week I was binge-watching Switched at Birth, a show about two teenage girls from very different class and racial backgrounds, who discover that they were mixed up at the hospital and sent home with the wrong families. One girl is deaf, so the series highlights deaf culture and involves deaf characters (played by deaf actors; not hearing actors pretending to be deaf, which is amazing). A recent plotline revolves around a deaf athlete named Travis, who was never a strong student at his deaf high school, and who now struggles to maintain decent grades at a hearing university. In one episode, when it looks as though Travis might fail an English paper because his writing skills are deficient, he blows up in frustration at a tutor’s suggestion that he work harder. Travis explains that his writing skills are not up to par because he usually communicates with sign language.

Now here’s the part that made me stop and rewind.

sign language groupThe issue isn’t that Travis isn’t smart. The issue isn’t even that Travis needs to work harder. The real issue is that the paper must be written in English, which is his second language. As a nonspeaking deaf person fully immersed in deaf culture, his first language is American Sign Language (ASL), so of course he faces challenges when trying to write a college level paper in a language he does not speak fluently. English does not translate directly into ASL- verb tenses and the sentence structure is quite different. ASL has a physicality that is not present in English. They are two distinct languages.

ASL and English are not the same! I had no idea.

This seems like a basic piece of information, but I had been utterly clueless. It’s not specific knowledge, like knowing how to sign some words or even just the alphabet. Rather, it’s a simple fact—like English is different from Mandarin, which is different from Swahili. I don’t know Mandarin or Swahili, but I know that they are not the same as English. I know that I know that, even though I know that I don’t know those languages.

Why does this matter?

Not knowing that ASL and English are different languages matters because I was oblivious to this fact, even though I had a deaf friend at the church I attended as a young child, and have a partially deaf friend now. Even though I live in a community with a celebrated school for the deaf. Even though the sign language interpreter for Wu-Tang Clan is the coolest job ever, and even though I’ve been watching this show about deaf people for a few seasons.

My cluelessness matters because it perfectly illustrates why we need more diversity on television and in films. I didn’t know that I didn’t know that ASL and English are different, and it’s likely that without this TV show I would never have had the opportunity to learn this important information, which has opened my eyes and my heart to the language barriers that must impact the deaf community as they live, work and attend school with hearing people in a world designed for hearing people.

I am a hearing person with the privilege of never needing to think about all the everyday things that pose no problem for me but are obstacles for deaf people, even though deaf people are present in my life and in my community. Recognizing my privilege hit me like a ton of bricks and took my breath away. Even though I’m not completely unknowledgeable about deafness, I just didn’t get how much the world favors me as a hearing person until I saw that episode.

This is why representation on television matters, why there will never be “too much diversity” on TV. The stories that can be told on television are endless, and we should demand room for all of them. Stories are important, not only for entertainment value, but also as opportunities to learn more about the life experiences of others.

A Mother-Daughter Street Harassment Story

women walking
flickr/Amodiovalerio Verde

As an adolescent growing up in DC, street harassment evoked a range of emotions for me. I cycled through discomfort, embarrassment, shame and even titillation before retreating back into shame for feeling turned on. The guilt of feeling sexy from being objectified was the worst kind of feeling. Disgust at your own arousal is a painful thing for anyone, but for a teenager, especially so. It made me feel dirty, and like many women who are harassed feel, as if I had asked for the attention all along when really, I was just trying to exist.

By the time I was a junior in high school, rarely did street embarrassment became a normal aspect of my everyday life – sometimes I felt fearful, but mostly annoyed. Only now does this transition from reacting very strongly to reacting very little to street harassment represent a clear coming-of-age process for me. When adult men start treating you like an adult woman (when mentally and emotionally you are not) it conjures all the anxieties of growing up. Being objectified as a woman without understanding how society as a whole objectifies women, made me feel as though it was my fault, as an individual, Jamie, for being treated this way. By the time I was 16, though, my shame about grown men hitting on me had gone away. I had become desensitized and accustomed to being seen merely as an object.

By the time I was 16, though, my shame about grown men hitting on me had gone away. I had become desensitized and accustomed to being seen merely as an object.

Although it had been happening to me for years, it wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I saw my mother get harassed by a man on the street. It was a Sunday afternoon in Chinatown DC. My mother and I had just stepped out of her car, down the block from a recently opened H&M. We were ready to do a little end of the week shopping. A Black man shimmied on up to us with a gangly side step. He was missing some front teeth which put him anywhere from age 28 to 65. He was dressed in all black, including a hooded sweatshirt in the middle of summer. As soon as I saw him I just knew he was coming for me. I was used to being approached in this way, but never in front of the adults in my life. I tensed up—how dare this man attempt to embarrass me in front of my mother by objectifying me as a woman when to her I am still her baby? Instead, though, he cooed the chorus of Juvenile’s ‘Slow Motion’ directly to my mother’s derriere while his hips undulated along to the tune. We both slinked away, cackling. To this day, we can’t hear that song without exchanging looks. Neither one of us has ever forgotten.

flickr/Victoria Pickering
flickr/Victoria Pickering

Children have defining moments in their relationship with their parents when they are either shown or realize that their parents are not gods, but everyday people. Like a lot of little girls, I had a built-up image of my mother. She was perfect. Part of her perfection had been founded upon this concept of her being a “lady” – and that I, still a child, would learn much of what it mean to be a “lady” from her. Whereas women may be treated all kinds of ways in society, “ladies” command respect. I had been raised to believe that when a lady respects herself — dresses appropriately, talks a certain way, educates herself — she’ll be treated better than other women. “Ladies” do not get harassed by strangers on the street. Except they do.

I knew there was no way in hell my mother was secretly “asking for it’ when that man started singing to her behind. Until then, I had never seen my mother for what she is — a woman, among many things, and therefore, a sexually objectified being. That day, she wasn’t an accomplished ophthalmologist, a mother, a wife, a sister or an amateur Black art collector. She was a butt that was sung to. In the oddest of ways, it took a Chinatown crackhead to bring us closer together not only as mother and daughter but as two women.