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Art of Me elevates and celebrates community storytelling

By building relationships with Northeast Ohio school districts, Art of Me teaches young people the importance of creative storytelling.

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio — What do you get when you mix mentorship, filmmaking, and a drive for change? You get Art of Me, a multi-generational program that takes a creative approach towards spreading messages. Stephanie Wahome, the program's Executive Director, says her mission is twofold.

"I saw that there was a need for our young people to not only experience their stories, but understand what they're experiencing is important to share with the world through Art of Me. We work with our young people to help them identify who they are and who they want to be through the simple expression of art."

By building relationships with Northeast Ohio school districts, Art of Me teaches young people the importance of creative storytelling. Then, the next phase begins. 

"When we open up this competition. We ask them, what does power and community mean to you" explained Associate Producer Chanda Bynum. "And these students are able to write short stories that focus on those themes. Around that time, we identify the winner. We help that young person or adult take their story and make it into a screenplay."

And this year, the program's reach expanded beyond just young people. Two screenplays were chosen, one from students and another from a group of senior citizens. 

Jalen Cater, an eighth grader from Harvey Rice Wraparound School, was one of the winners - for his film "Timeout."

"The actual day when the winner was to come, and they announced the winner. When it was me, I didn't know what to do with myself. I was 14 at the time," Cater recalled. "For me to be so young, writing in a movie and being involved with cast and crews and directors and stuff like that, it was very exciting."

And the cast and crew of the film comprised of some of Cleveland's top talent and even national additions. Actor Anthony Woods plays the lead role and says he felt an immediate connection to the story. 

"First off, it's very important to me because I deal with anxiety myself. So to be able to portray it to a film, which is what I love doing is amazing," he said.

"Jalen took two themes that we do not see much in the BIPOC community, but also in the Black American community, mental health and black men. So these are taboo subjects. I think for the black community," Bynum??? said of his work.

"Everybody goes through it and it's so easy to hide it behind a smile. So I think just really brings importance to life, added Damion Dyer, the film's supporting lead.

Director of Photography Malcolm Lott drew his inspiration from that very idea. 

"As a viewer. The biggest thing I want to have for this experience is I want you to see what it feels like for someone," he said.

And the film's director Carl Walton II, describes a positive and welcoming atmosphere throughout the production process.

"Going through this directing a powerful piece like this. It's kind of directing it on camera and behind camera. We have a lot of great people and a lot of great energy that's on set. So it's kind of easy to work with all these moving pieces and tell this story."

Above all, Wahome says the goal of Art of Me is that every young person has the ability to share their voices through writing or the creative arts.  

"You have a story to share. Your story is what we need to help us solve tomorrow's issues."

You can still enter Art of Me's 2023 "Dream to Big Screen Competition" through April 15th - the winning story will be made into a film in your community by an accomplished director and film crew. You can learn more and enter here.

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