Robin Hickman's great uncle, the renowned photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks, said he chose to shoot a camera instead of shooting a gun. This summer, Hickman is trying to to teach East Side youth the same appreciation of media arts through a project called YouthVoices East Side.

The goal of YouthVoices is to have black teenagers living on St. Paul's East Side create their own media projects showing the vision they have for their lives and their communities, said Hickman, CEO and president of SoulTouch Productions. We ran a story Thursday that mentioned the project and several initiatives that are taking place on the East Side this summer.

The idea for YouthVoices came about in the wake of the Ray Widstrand beating in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood last summer. Widstrand was walking through a group of young people near his home when he was assaulted. The incident caused an uproar with neighborhood residents. Hickman said media reports focused on the negative perception of the East Side and the brutality of the attack, but something was missing.

"In that situation, black youth did not have a voice," she said.

Hickman hopes that will now change. She recently reached out to about 150 mostly high-school-aged youth to talk about the project. The kids say that they are interested in a range of different mediums including television, newspaper, radio and photography. And they want to orchestrate a press conference later this summer to introduce the initiative.

There's still a lot of logistical planning that needs to happen before the project starts, Hickman said. She hopes to partner with local minority journalists (possibly including Strib staffers) to serve as mentors for the youth.

"We have to see them as contributors to the healing of our community."

1520581 bytes; 3480 x 2540; Gordon Parks, photographer, filmmaker, and more, is shown in a October 23, 1986, Star Tribune photo

I picked up a camera because it was my choice of weapons against what I hated most about the universe: racism, intolerance, poverty.  I could have just as easily picked up a knife or a gun, like many of my childhood friends did... most of whom were murdered or put in prison... but I chose not to go that way. --Gordon Parks

Photo by Star Tribune/Bruce Bisping