OAKLAND -- There was no red carpet set out at 13th and¿ Harrison streets, but the film screening for 12 young men had all of the excitement of a Clint Eastwood premiere.
But instead of gunslinging and gang violence, the Warriors for Peace, a digital storytelling program put on through The Spot, showed their mini-documentaries that focused on how Oakland's violence affects young minority men.
An audience of about 100 crowded around a projector Wednesday night at The Spot's headquarters to watch the four videos, which ranged from short skits to introspective interviews with Oakland residents about their thoughts on drug use and gangs.
"When I was talking to my friends they were like, 'yeah, that's really dope' because no one has made a video about Oakland and showing the misconceptions about the violence," said Phuong Dang, 19, one of the participants.
"Not everyone in Oakland is violent. We're not violent -- just trying to spread the knowledge."
While the other young men, who ranged from 15 to 21 years old, expressed similar feelings, the screening and the program were meant to give them a chance to understand the impact of Oakland's crime on their own lives.
"(We) wanted to think of a creative way to allow the young men to be able to share and express all of the experience of violence in their lives," said Sherilyn Tran, director of The Spot. "Behind that there is a lot of trauma and a lot of emotional, mental
The Spot is a youth center in Chinatown that offers various programs, including Warriors for Peace, aimed at minorities to get them off the streets. The center has been functioning since December, but the Warriors of Peace started in September.
Through collaborations with Kaiser Permanente, the National Council on Crime & Delinquency and other organizations, The Spot put cameras and video editing software in the hands of young men who wouldn't normally have the chance to express themselves creatively. It also offered them a $200 incentive if they complete their videos.
"I really wanted to reach out to young men that were open-minded, but young dudes that really wouldn't have the opportunity to discuss these issues and how to deal with it," said program coordinator Mike Tran, no relation to Sherilyn Tran.
Out of the original 18 who started the program, six dropped out due to economic or family reasons. All of the young men are in either high school or in their first years of college, and with most of them residing in East Oakland, finding the time or money to make weekly after-school meetings was not always easy.
For those who remained, the biggest hurdle was to get them to open up.
"We took into account that this is a heavy personal matter and we took into account that this isn't something that men are really taught to really talk about in terms of their feelings and to cope," Mike Tran said.
The videos were the program's capstone, but the group spent more time learning instead of viewing themselves through a camera lens. A third of the program was devoted to getting the young men comfortable with each other and to create a safe space for discussion and journaling.
Some of the topics that they tackled were how to positively redirect anger and learning how to introduce themselves.
"We don't know if any of them will go into digital media as a career path, but we know that they've taken with them a lot of life skills," Sherilyn Tran said. "Our goal was the process of getting to the videos -- the sharing, the building and the bonding."
While Mike Tran was impressed how far the group has come along in terms of talking about themselves, they were still nervous to express themselves to a room filled with family and friends.
For many, this was the first time those close to them had a chance to see their thoughts on topics, such as domestic violence, affecting their age group. One video about a fictitious relationship entitled, "Love: Could of, Would of, Should of" asked, "Should I let my anger take over or should I just talk to her?" -- a mirror of the questions the men explored before shooting their videos.
While many of the other videos focused on community interviews, the guys were giddy to introduce their work and answer questions about it. They were even more excited to know that their videos will be uploaded to YouTube and submitted to local film festivals, which the center wants to do to help others in the young men's situations.
"At the end of the day," Mike Tran said, "they're the ones making the change on their terms, when they can and how they can."