Community Partner Making Media Making Change

Community Partner Feature: Joua Lee Grande

Joua sitting at a slight angle wearing a black sweater with red design.

Collaboration with community partners brings HECUA’s model of transformational learning to life. We know that the 15-20 hours a week students spend interning with a local organization is just as valuable as the time they spend inside the classroom. Periodically, we feature the community partners who make experiential learning possible.

Joua Lee Grande (she/her/hers) co-teaches HECUA’s Making Media, Making Change (MMMC) program alongside HECUA Program Director Raechel Anne Jolie. MMMC is hosted by St. Paul Neighborhood Network (SPNN) where Joua is the Program Manager of Media Education. In addition to co-teaching MMMC, she also teaches a 15-16 week summer program called DocU (for beginning filmmakers who are underrepresented in the industry), New Angle Fellows (a program for emerging filmmakers), and she supports various workshops and programs at SPNN.

Founded in 1984 to offer a media voice to underrepresented people, SPNN is a non-profit located in St. Paul, MN. Their mission is to empower people to use media and communications to make better lives, use authentic voice, and build common understanding. HECUA has partnered with SPNN to deliver the MMMC program for about the last five years. Joua has been co-teaching the program since January 2018. Through the program, HECUA students spend class time at SPNN and many complete an internship there as well. We asked Joua about her experience working with HECUA students.

“I enjoy working with the students. I like helping young people grow, understanding what they are curious about, helping them achieve their goals. Sometimes, students come in and don’t see all the roles that are possible with media. I help them see multiple roles and all the opportunities. Students in college are so curious and hungry to learn, to get experience.

Learning media can be frustrating because of all the technical aspects. Yet, students leave class with more confidence, and projects that they can be proud of. It’s always amazing to see how students go from struggling to learn the media, to completing their work. I feel so proud to see their projects that will make a difference, large or small. I get to see their realization that media doesn’t exist for entertainment alone, but can have an impact, both in its message and the collaboration it takes behind the scene.”

Joua explained that sometimes a student’s relationship to SPNN will continue long after they complete a HECUA program.

“It’s great to see some of those students come back and become members of SPNN, and use the skills and tools to make change in the world, translating the experience into life beyond college.”

One student that comes to her mind is Madi, an MMMC alum.

Madi would check out equipment and I’d ask her ‘what are you working on these days’? She was in AmeriCorps — Green Corps — using her media skills to produce videos for an organization she was passionate about and wanted to support.

While SPNN offers a hands-on educational setting for HECUA students to learn new skills, Joua shared that students also play an important role in advancing SPNN’s mission.

“It’s such an important program,” she said. “What happens on college campuses is that students are separated from the communities they are learning about. HECUA brings students out into the community, similar to what we do. We want to be in the community, on the ground, learning from and supporting people and communities – much like HECUA, so our missions align very well.”

She explained how two current interns come to mind when she thinks of this unique partnership.

Sydney and Missy are two interns I am working with now. Sydney came in with more media skills; Missy with more organizing skills. So, when a community member comes in the door — Sydney can help with skill building: learning the technology. There was an older person who came in with no media skills. Sydney will sit down with them one-to-one and help them to produce a media work that is meaningful, an important story that needs to be told.

Missy is really relational — she gives moral support and cares about community projects. Through that care, she helps community members tell their stories. Missy is helping me plan a big screening we’re having for documentaries. Her organizing experience strengthens these events. She helps with outreach to businesses to donate food and other items, as well as raising funds.

Interns also help us in the long-run with video projects like TechnTip videos, where we put out tutorials to help our members learn how to do things like editing or lighting. It’s a project about learning new skills for themselves (the interns) and then they create a video on that specific skill so community members can learn how to do it, too.

The additional capacity that interns provide to SPNN is key to connecting with members and building community. In Joua’s words, “Interns are part of this ecosystem.”

“SPNN, like other cable access, can’t hire enough due to lack of funding – so having interns helps a lot.  We value community connections so much … The connections interns make with SPNN members all goes into forging relationships to further the mission of SPNN. It really contributes to what we’re trying to build here.”

We asked Joua if there is one book/ article/ podcast/ song/ film that inspired her or changed the way she thinks about a social justice issue. She told us about a film called “Water” by an Indian-Canadian woman, Deepa Mehta.

It’s a narrative film about what happens to women in India when their husbands die. They become untouchable and must live with other widows, often even very young women. It tells the story about one woman and child in particular — all the challenges they face.  

Oh my gosh, it was the first time in my life I learned that film is not just for entertainment, but also for carrying a message. That shifted my young mind — the power of media and what can be done with it.  It was part of a trilogy: Fire, Earth and Water being the last.

This now shows up in everything I do: there are so many issues and stories, and communities that people don’t know about. If these stories can be told, people will get motivated to take action for positive change. For everyone we accept into the programs I run, we have application and interview process. I always hire someone who has compelling stories to tell which are of importance and not normally shown and told.

For example, in the Fellows program, there is a formerly incarnated young man who was adopted, and then found out his mother gave birth to him in prison. His film is exploring the stereotypes of  women of color who are stripped of their relationship with their children. It’s very powerful and important. With incarceration, there is so much ignorance, ideology, and assumption. The film explores race, the over-incarceration of people of color, and the use of CPS. The topic of women who give birth in prisons is not talked about much either.”

In all of her work, Joua says she is a teacher and learner at heart.

“The best way for people to learn, is to teach that’s my philosophy. It’s my own practice: when I teach a skill I learn all the more.” 

HECUA is proud to partner with SPNN to support their work to empower voices in the community. We are especially thankful for Joua and her commitment to co-teaching HECUA students through the Making Media, Making Change program. To learn more about SPNN, click here to visit their website.

Do you know a student who might be interested in MMMC? Share this blog with them or share this link to the MMMC page.

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