Published in National Post. [Toronto magazine, Feb. 9, 2008.]
Neighbourhood must-see TV
For most Torontonians, day-to-day life in Regent Park is a mystery. It was designed that way. Walking by, on a trip to Cabbagetown or Riverdale, one only sees the brown blocky exteriors of its buildings. But plans for a Regent Park TV station, RPTV, may give Torontonians a realistic glimpse of daily life in the area.
The station is part of Regent Park Focus, a drug-awareness program that provides media training to youth in the area. Participants produce a quartery magazine and broadcast a 30-minute radio show on Tuesday evenings on CKLN. The group offers free youth programs on video production, photography, music production and Web design.
"Our hope with RPTV is that it becomes a fully engaged community process," says Adonis Huggins, program director for Regent Park Focus. "It would have a significant impact on the community."
Throughout its 17-year history, Regent Park Focus has already made an impact. Its facilities are accessible to interested youth even if they aren't enrolled in a program.
Three afternoons a week, participants from the O'Connor Focus group in Victoria Park travel to Regent Park. To them, the experience has been nothing but positive.
"Instead of [getting into trouble]," says Jessica Simpson, 18, "we can learn something."
In a recent three-hour session, participants were introduced to storyboarding and script writing and then asked to storyboard, shoot and edit a public service announcement on a topic of their choice.
"It's really about the youth who come in," says Huggins. "[For the O'Connor participants] it's really trying to encourage them to produce videos about their community. For the youth that come after school, it tends to be about reporting and covering different events."
For some of the participants, the program is providing them with the training and access to contacts that will assist in their pursuit of a media job. "I used to come here all the time two years ago," says Web site technician and Regent Park resident Fahim Mohammed, 19. Originally a participant, Mohammed will slip into an instructor role when Regent Park Focus's new Web design program launches.
The program's success is being replicated in other parts of Toronto. The Rexdale Protech Media Arts Centre opened last July and Regent Park Focus works in partnership with many community groups within the province.
With promising negotiations underway with Toronto Community Housing to move into a new 5,000-square-foot space that's above ground, Regent Park Focus's future looks bright. However, that doesn't mean Huggins can't see other avenues for growth.
"One of the things we haven't been able to do is attract the corporate support that a program like this needs," he admits.
RPTV videos can be viewed online at regentpark.tv. For more information, call 416-863-1074.