Idea Leader:
Carlos Payne

Location: Detroit, MI

Partner Organization: DRIVE-AREME Youth Program

Project Summary: Several Idea Leaders came together with the ambitious goal of creating a film, soundtrack, and website focused on combating the high school dropout crisis.  The group decided to focus on a few of the factors they saw as issues – teen pregnancy and bullying through social media.


Detroit Youth Journey to making a Film to End the High School Dropout Rate

After receiving the great news that the DRIVE-AREME (Determined to Rize I Vow to Excel – Arranging Resources to Empower Minds Everywhere) Go Getters project was selected as a recipient of the AT&T My Idea grant, the DRIVE-AREME youth went straight to work devising a plan to create a film, soundtrack, website and premiere all to combat the high school dropout rate. Some may believe this is a very ambitious idea, but it was not for these group of young people ages 13-17 from metropolitan Detroit. 

“Taking on shooting a movie in which none of our participants had any experience was a good-fit for our organization because we let our participants dream and dream big and then teach them how to turn those dreams into reality,” said one of the Co-Founders of DRIVE-AREME. 

The students are taught about PACE: Prevention and Awareness Community service and higher Education at their monthly DRIVE-AREME programming. Then the youth are charged to be leaders, servants of their community and empowered about themselves and their academics.  Now that the goal was set it was time for the Go-Getters to produce.

Before any writing began for the project, as an added bonus to their My Idea Grant proposal, in November 2010 the DRIVE-AREME My Idea Leader Carlos Payne along with his two Adult Supporters, Helki Jackson & Shantelle Cavin, were invited to attend the Grad Nation Conference in Hershey, PA. 

“It was awesome,” said the Idea Leader. “I had never been on a plane before and I met kids from everywhere.  I had to speak that evening too at the banquet about our project.”

“We were so proud to see Carlos speaking to this illustrious group including one of the founders of the America’s Promise Alliance Mrs. Powell, representing Detroit, DPS, and the entire DRIVE-AREME family,” replied Shantelle Cavin, co-founder. “It was a very touching and memorable experience that I know our trio will never forget.”

In December after completing one of their required community service activities for the Homeless, the DRIVE-AREME youth began brainstorming for the film. Since they knew the subject was about the high school dropout rate they first had to determine what the reasons students are dropping out were. Suggestions range from drugs and alcohol to broken homes and psychological issues. 

However there were two main concerns that youth said were the most important: teen pregnancy and social media. They said it is very difficult for teen mothers to stay at school because it is physically obvious that she is different from the other girls at the school therefore she will be the constant conversation piece at school. And with the introduction of social media, any true or untrue information is so easily spread throughout school, so fast and instantaneous that it could be very difficult for a student to stay in school when the entire school knows some very personal and intimate information about you that you would never share with anyone.

As the New Year began, so did writing the script for this teen pregnancy and social media movie addressing the high school dropout rate.  At the same time the students were developing the script, they were also working on the concept for the website, writing for the soundtrack and deciding on their vision for the Premiere of the Movie. All while only meeting once a month. This also began the challenges. 

“With meeting only monthly the students needed to be very focused and this can be difficult keeping this age group and the fact that students are from different schools and neighborhoods all on the same page,” commented Helki Jackson, co-founder. 

A much needed outing in February where the youth attended The University of Michigan of Michigan’s Men’s Basketball Game brought the group closer together. 

“I think we got to know each other well that day and that everybody was cool,” said Leigha Warren, youth participant.

 The students were introduced to improvisation and began acting exercises for the film.  As the day progressed the youth were jelling and were becoming a unit. As they became more comfortable with each other the more horseplay began and the less focus. 

“Again it is to be expected to have some challenges with focus and it was just more heightened for us since time was always of the essence with our limited meetings,” mentioned one of the DRIVE-AREME founders.

When March came around, the script was complete, the website was launched and now the youth were centered on making this idea real.

“You started to see the other youth outside of the Idea Leader be more accountable and vocal addressing their peers,” said Jackson. “Making sure people were timely and paying attention during our rehearsals and knowing their lines, I think they could finally see a glimpse of the fruits of their labor and they where becoming anxious to see how far they could go.”

So a date was set for the film shoot April 14-15, 2011.  The momentum was going great and then the next challenge presented itself; funding.

When taking on a large task in an arena in which all are green including some of the administration (two person team), some costs incur that may not have been considered. 

“Initially we believed we could get college film students to jump all over this idea and want to be a part of such an amazing project,” said the Idea Leader. “What we didn’t consider is that the students are in school and working on their school projects and not as accessible as we thought.  Therefore we had to seek out professionals which affected our budget. We also believed that it would be really easy to solicit additional funds for the project as well which was also not the case. Some funding institutions were neighborhood specific or donate to only certain missions.  The first thought was if it is something that can tremendously help a young person, those working on the project in addition to those the project will reach, it should be funded without hesitation. Since that wasn’t the case, it was a great learning curve for DRIVE-AREME as a new organization and allowed the program to truly appreciate and thank America’s Promise Alliance for taking a chance.”   

The April shoot went fabulous. The students were able to work on the set, in addition to participating, giving them new career ideas. The DRIVE-AREME youth quickly transitioned from film, to the studios for music recording, and planning for the Premiere. Overall for the youth, mentors and staff, this has been a beautiful journey to developing a body of work that can be used in the community, in the classroom, in recreation centers, churches, and other organizations of the kind for times to come, and a lasting imprint in this world from a small group of young people that care.