It’s a Wednesday morning in the orange and blue halls of Julius L. Chambers High School.
18 students make their way to the library where a gray cart filled with iMac desktops and digital Canon cameras await them.
Each high schooler grabs their computer and other materials to begin editing a short film.
These students are a part of a program called Envision Me, a four month long introduction to the fundamentals of filmmaking.
Students decide what story they want to tell through film and spend the duration of Envision Me filming and editing it.
At the end of the program, students will showcase their work at the Harvey B. Gantt Center.
The program is a collaborative effort by the Gantt to enhance the academic achievement of underserved schools by providing them with visual art resources.
Individual funders support the $50,000 initiative, according to David Taylor, CEO and president of the Gantt.
A pilot version of the program was introduced in 2021 and what is now Envision Me was formally implemented at Julius Chambers in September of this year.
A young person creating life
For 17 year old Jala Fair, this program is a chance to show what her life is like as a teenage mom.
Fair, who has no digital camera experience, said she was approached by Nicole Beverly, the education initiatives manager at the Gantt, who asked if she wanted to join the program.
“I asked her what made her walk up to me,” Fair said.
“And she was like, ‘I just walked up to you’ and I was like ‘oh my gosh, it had to have been God.”
Fair says she plans to include footage of ultrasounds, her parents’ reaction to the news of her pregnancy and what she is doing to prepare for the arrival of her baby girl.
“The video is gonna look all peaches and cream but as I’m doing my voiceover, whoever sees the video, they’re gonna know it’s not all peaches and cream,” Fair said.
Fair said she understands that there are people who are in her shoes, young and old, and she wants them to know that they are not alone.
Dare to dream
Julius L. Chambers High School is a Title I school meaning the majority of its students live at or below the federal poverty line.
As of 2022, there are 94 Title I schools in Mecklenburg County, as reported by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools website.
“I think Mr. Taylor really loved Julius Chambers, which is one of the biggest high schools in the county,” Nicole Beverly told QCity Metro when asked why they chose to bring the program to the school.
“He really wanted to forge that partnership in making sure that they have the best resources that they can have.”
Beverly is responsible for ensuring that Envision Me participants and instructors have adequate support and equipment.
Initially, many of the students were reserved, Beverly said, but as time went on, they opened up to all that the program could offer them.
“They’re growing their photography skills, their filming skills and alot of students have forged friendships,” Beverly continued.
To be accepted into Envision Me, students undergo a video application process and are selected by a panel of judges at the Gantt.
The application is open to anyone, although the school does its best to select students who may have hidden talent.
“The way we look at it is, if you only take the students with A’s and B’s, it’s kind of defeating the purpose,” said JeBrandon Oden, the social studies department chairperson at Julius Chambers.
“I might find a student who’s not motivated inside of the traditional classroom but has a super set of skills that haven’t been discovered yet.”
Oden, who serves as the program’s advisor, passes along important information between the school and the Gantt.
Oftentimes, Oden said, the school can be shown in a negative light but now, it’s looking to alter that narrative.
“When they look forward to coming to Envision Me, they’re going to behave better in the classroom and they’re going to take more pride in their school,” Oden told QCity Metro.
“When they graduate, they’re going to be more willing to come back and pull up the next generation.”
Ball is life
Jhavi Walker is a junior who is making a film about how basketball has impacted his life.
Walker is on the basketball team at Julius Chambers and wanted to document what goes on at the practices as well as other ways he improves his skills.
Although he had never touched a camera prior to joining Envision Me, he feels that the program would help him understand how to analyze sports film.
“I mean it’s a little cliche but ball is life,” Walker said. “I want to be a sports analyst so I was going to be in this field [filming] regardless.”
As of now, Julius Chambers is the only school in Charlotte that has the program, but the Gantt is hoping to expand Envision Me to more schools in the future. The initial investment that this program received will be spread out over four years.
“We’re gonna take the data that we learned from this year at Julius Chambers and figure out what our next steps might be,” Taylor said.
Taylor also said the Gantt center plans to host Envision Me workshops and camps during the summer.
“What we’re finding is that by the end of the process, they’ve become much more expressive and confident about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.”
Students will showcase their work Dec. 16 at the Harvey B. Gantt Center. The event is free and open to the public from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.