During the summer of 2015, eleven middle school students in Fayette County attended the DuBois Youth Leadership and Media Academy. Over the course of six weeks, they made short films, developed leadership skills, and learned about local black history.
The Academy was housed at the DuBois on Main museum in Mount Hope, which honors the heritage of the all-black DuBois High School. The school was open from 1907 to 1956. In spite of the inequality they faced, many DuBois students made outstanding local, state, and national achievements in the fields of science, the arts, medicine, religion, education, the military, public service, and business.
Academy students filmed oral histories with DuBois High School graduates and selected footage from the interviews to create short films. The topics of the films included segregated schools in Fayette County; cooking and growing food; and the importance of radio to older generations. Several local media professionals dropped in for workshops and discussions. Underpinning the program was the history of the all-black DuBois High School and educational segregation in Mount Hope. During one session, students discussed race and racism with an organizer from Race Matters West Virginia, a statewide network dedicated to reducing racial inequality.
A leadership instructor worked with the students throughout the summer to think about ways that they can lead in their own social circle and community. Students used a variety of games, puzzles, and role-playing to talk about how leadership shows up in their own lives. At a Community Leadership Roundtable discussion, students met and talked with community leaders like a House of Delegates member, the executive director of a nonprofit, a small business owner, a mayor, and others.
At the end of the summer, students showcased their short films at a Premiere Party where they received individualized awards and small cash prizes for what they had contributed to the Academy. The videos and photos that the students created then became part of DuBois on Main Museum’s exhibits and were later donated to the West Virginia State Archives.
Catherine Moore, co-founder of the DuBois Youth Leadership and Media Academy, shares the experience of one participant, Mary*:
“This is a story of a student whose confidence grew over the course of the summer. Mary is a very quiet, shy, and unassuming young person. She applied for the Academy all on her own, without encouragement from her teachers, and her application was one of the most thoughtful and heartfelt that we received. Mary had recently been placed to live with her grandparents so she was experiencing some painful adjustments at home. Over the course of the summer, Mary demonstrated her willingness to lead and teach others. Her maturity and her keen observations stood out. She wasn’t the loudest, boldest, or flashiest leader, but at the end of the Academy, her peers democratically elected her the Leader of the Year. She was shocked by the decision when she accepted her award. Mary’s grandmother said she had been talking for weeks about how much she wanted the leadership award (and the accompanying gift of a video camera) but how doubtful she was that she would win. Winning the award grew Mary’s confidence and taught all the participants about what leadership can look like.”
Grants from The Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation and the National Coal Heritage Area Authority allowed for the purchase of media equipment, healthy snacks, student awards, staffing, and more. Other partners included the West Virginia Community Development Hub, Appalshop, WVU Extension Services, and Beauty Mountain Studio.