As filmmaker Lendl Tellington starts his residency at the Creative Alliance, a community arts space near Patterson Park, he’s drawing on the media grounding and camera skills he learned at Wide Angle Youth Media as a high school student.
Tellington, who is Black, is one of more than 5,800 young people the Baltimore nonprofit has taught since its founding two decades ago. He said Wide Angle gave him exposure to the power of media, space for experimental work and a foundation for his career.
Tellington’s portfolio includes short films detailing the lack of African Americans in astronomy and photography capturing students and teachers affected by Philadelphia’s underfunded schools.
Wide Angle works to share experiences and perspectives of the city’s youth to help challenge stereotypes in media from advertising campaigns to Hollywood script writing. The students' photography, videos, public service campaigns and other media have reached an audience of 2 million people around the world.
“Wide Angle is always a proving ground for how to leverage the arts,” said Tellington, 33, a graduate of Baltimore School for the Arts. “Wide Angle matches the hustle that a lot of Baltimore kids have to have with real, tangible skills.
“You are given tools and you learn how systems work.”
Susan Malone, the group’s director, said the events of the year, from the disparate impact of the pandemic on racial minorities to police-involved killings of African Americans, have underscored the importance of diverse representation in government, media and all industries.
Wide Angle works to make sure young people from communities that have historically been marginalized and underrepresented can participate in making decisions that affect their lives, she said.
For example, when city schools hosted a forum for parents on bullying, Wide Angle students made a video on the subject to help frame the discussion. The organization built a “Why Black Lives Matter” curriculum to share with teachers across the country to encourage students to reflect on racial identity and become politically engaged. Wide Angle also assists youth in publishing their stories in the open platform Medium and in The Afro, one of the country’s oldest Black publications.
“We want to make sure we are uplifting the perspectives of young people as part of the larger conversation, whether it is a law that impacts them or a discussion about where tax dollars are going," Malone said.
The organization typically works with about 400 young people, ages 10 to 24, in workshops, apprenticeships and other activities. Courses include how to host a virtual event using social media to promote it and how to create a documentary film using cameras, capturing sound and editing the video.
Malone said the goal is to help young people compete for jobs, while teaching them communications skills. She said the education also can help them supplement their income with freelance work coordinating live events or making music videos.
Destiny Brown said working with Wide Angle taught her everything from how to add lighting on a set to how to pitch a proposal to a potential client. The 18-year-old joined Wide Angle as a high school sophomore to work on a public service announcement promoting safety at railroad crossings.
She is now a drama major at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and teaches online courses such as virtual event planning part-time at Wide Angle.
“Wide Angle has been such a rock for my life,” said Brown, whose mother is Black and late father was white. “This work is so important. You grow as a human being simultaneously as you grow as an artist.”
The projects produced by Brown and other young people can help tear down generational and cultural barriers, Malone said.
Malone noted the 2020 Hollywood Diversity Report by the University of California, Los Angeles, that shows 5% of film directors and 13.9% of writers were people of color, although racial and ethnic minorities combined make up 40% of the U.S. population.
Christopher Holloway joined Wide Angle for a couple years in middle school when the organization came to the Cherry Hill library with video camcorders. But it wasn’t until after he had experimented with different possible occupations that he knew he wanted to use the skills he learned at Wide Angle to build a career.
He earned a degree from Full Sail University in Florida, where he studied film and visual effects for cinematography. He worked in the film industry in Canada before returning recently to Baltimore.
“I found myself infatuated with film,” said Holloway, 28, who is Filipino and Black. He worked on visual effects and lighting for the film “Cats.”
“It all started with Wide Angle," he said, "in them believing in us enough.”
Sean Mussenden, data editor at the Howard Center for Investigative Journalism and a senior lecturer at the University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism, said the young people Wide Angle works with elevate the media they create.
The Howard Center and the group worked together on an award-winning “Code Red” climate change project that looked at heat islands in Baltimore. The students wrote blog posts, took photographs and helped build the sensors used in the project.
“We were deeply impressed with their ability to produce professional-level work under the guidance of the organization,” Mussenden said.
The city youth brought a sophisticated understanding about Baltimore and necessary empathy to families the team reported on, he said.
“Partnering with them made our project richer and better,” he said.
LaTrisha E. Milton, young adult services coordinator for the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and a Wide Angle board member, said the organization’s success is rooted in allowing young people to be creative.
“It allows them to dream further," Milton said. “Finding their creative vein and cultivating that is not just about a side hustle, but it could be an entire career.”
Ly-Anh McCoy said Wide Angle helped her to do just that. She recently started a job at the spice maker McCormick & Co. in Hunt Valley as internal corporate communications content and campaign manager.
McCoy, 27, whose father is Black and mother is Vietnamese, said it was the exposure Wide Angle gave her as a junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute that set her on her career track. Her homeroom teacher mentioned the organization was looking for young people to participate in a truancy campaign to target the high rates of absenteeism in the city. She said their work ended up on mouse pads, posters and advertisements on the side of buses.
“It helped me decide what I wanted to do when I went to college,” said McCoy, of Hanover. “I could see myself retiring from doing this work.”
Facts to know about Wide Angle Youth Media
Wide Angle operates on a $1.2 million budget.
The budget is supplemented by revenue from professional products the young people and their teachers create for clients, including Under Armour.
The staff includes about 30 people made up of full- and and part-time employees and paid apprentices, ages 18 to 24.