Born & Raised: Harlem
First EVC Project: Life Under Suspicion (Doc Workshop, Fall 2012)
Current Occupation: Media educator, EVC
Education: AA, Liberal Arts, New Media Technology, LaGuardia Community College; BA, Theater, Herbert H. Lehman College
Raelene was born in Harlem and has lived there in the same apartment with her family her entire life. After dropping out of high school, she enrolled in a GED program in 2012. Her advisor recommended she apply for an internship with EVC’s Youth Doc Workshop (YDW). Her YDW group’s first project was documenting the details and impacts of the NYPD’s notorious stop-and-frisk policy. The resulting film was Life Under Suspicion: Youth Perspectives on NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Policy. Raelene at first had been shy in the workshop, since it was her first ever internship, but she learned a lot of technical skills and began to find the power of her voice. After the workshop ended, Raelene knew she wanted to return the next semester to advance her skills and continue to grow.
The next semester her YDW team, after discussing many possible topics, chose to focus on the plight of Raelene’s family. The film the young people produced, Breathing Easy, depicted the story of the toxic mold in her family’s apartment, its impact on their health, including asthma, and their fight with the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) to get the apartment fixed. Through that project, she met community environmental activists from WEAct, who invited her to screen her film at their conference on housing rights. Breathing Easy was also shown in Atlanta at the Center for Disease Control Museum’s exhibition “Health Is a Human Right.” Leveraging the film to make change, EVC screened Breathing Easy for the New York City Council and eventually gained support on the issue from New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. Under this pressure, New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) relented and agreed in 2015 to renovate the family’s apartment. The apartment was mold-free for a while but again fell into disrepair due to the NYCHA’s neglect, and the mold returned. The fight continues.
After her second semester at EVC Raelene passed her GED exam. She could have moved on, but she returned to EVC for a third semester. Her group produced Beyond Bullying. Interviewing her friend for this film helped her understand how the trauma he experienced from childhood abuse laid the groundwork for him to bully others.
Raelene carried her experience and growth at EVC out into the world. After EVC, Raelene worked for Deep Dish TV’s Waves of Change program, where she taught girls how to create interactive websites on community issues. She went on to study new media technology at LaGuardia Community College and eventually, in 2020, received a BA in theater from Lehman College. She has taught film and media production at a variety of New York City organizations, and in 2016 EVC was proud to hire her to work principally with justice-involved youth at the Harlem NeON Arts, a program of the NYC Department of Probation. Raelene continues to work for EVC, and can often be seen MCing our screenings.
Favorite EVC Project:
“Life Under Suspicion. It was completely hands on. I learned everything technical I needed to know on that project. I wasn’t really into politics before that, but that film taught me who is in charge of what. This made me interested in fighting social injustices.”
Proudest Youth Media Moment:
"Of course I’m going to say, San Francisco, when I flew out there for the Media for a Just Society Award for Life Under Suspicion. I didn’t think something like a little internship at a small nonprofit would get me out of the city to see another part of the country! It was exciting and refreshing. Especially since that was my first time flying."
Advice to the Next EVC Generation:
"Even when you’re feeling burned out and like nothing is progressing, you have to remind yourself that there is a message that needs to be received by your audience. In order to create change, a just society, in order to raise awareness, you need to speak up and show your audience why policies need to change."