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Kathleen is a freelance writer living in Austin, TX. When she's not writing, out meeting interesting people or taking in live music, she can found on the never ending search for the world's greatest breakfast taco. Although b-fast tacos will never replace her deep Pittsburgh roots steeped in Primanti Brothers sandwiches and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Follow her on twitter @mediamaj or on Instagram @pinkninja218

A Youth Mind: How These Texas Teens Want To Change The African Narrative

Campbell Erickson is a connector of young people.

Campbell Erickson is resourceful.

Campbell Erickson embodies entrepreneurialism.

Campbell Erickson is 16 years old.

Last summer, Erickson sent out a call to action to fellow Austin, TX teenagers who follow him on his Instagram account. The call was for people who wanted to make an impact and to change a particular narrative around the nascent nation of South Sudan.

But this isn’t just about Erickson. In response to his call, six Austin based teenagers, attending different high schools and varying in age have come together to start a project they call “A Youth Mind.”

“‘A Youth Mind’ comes from the idea that literally the minds of youth, I feel personally, aren’t recognized as much as they should be this day and age, especially when it comes to documentation and recognition of places, people and culture,” Erickson said. “The mind of a kid who is growing up is so open and so creative.”

But that’s just the name. It was the end goal of changing the conversation around different parts of the world that attracted the others to the project.

“Ignorance, to me, is my greatest fear. If you have resources and have things available to you, you have to choose to be ignorant. If you can choose to understand people and choose just to know things, why would you choose not too? Team member, Sophia Alami-Nassif, 17, said.

“People think you’re doing this cute little project. It made me want to work harder to make people understand. To almost prove to people we are not that little kid project.”

The goal of A Youth Mind is to combat ignorance through education. Through an Indiegogo campaign that raised $1,700, the A Youth Mind team is set to purchase disposable cameras that they will send through their NGO Austin-based partner, Lone Star-Africa Works, to South Sudan.

Once the cameras make it to the young people in South Sudan communities, they will use the cameras to shoot raw footage of their homes, their schools, their families and their friends.

Then they will send the photos back to Austin to the A Youth Mind team. The goal will be to distribute the photos as print books made through a platform called Weeva that will be sold to buy more cameras. The photos will also be distributed to various traditional and social media channels for maximum exposure.

After South Sudan, the team’s hope is to expand to other countries.

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“We want to increase awareness using the raw image of a country like South Sudan instead of the Western media taking the photo.” Erickson said. “The final goal is to create an exchange between communities because we want young people all over the world to grow up with this awareness of other young people, this awareness of other cultures, of other places.”

As young people trying to combat ignorance in other young people, the A Youth Mind team is receiving a different kind of education outside of traditional schooling.

This project is not a school project. It is not a charity. It is a global humanitarian partnership started by young people who are passionate and want to remain engaged with the world.

“I actually believe in this. We are receiving validation from the feedback we are getting, and I don’t necessarily feel like you always get that in school,” Alami-Nassif said. “I feel like you are just expected to show up and do a task. The thing about this project is that it focuses on humanity, and I think school is really lacking that.”

The experience in entrepreneurial leadership and global awareness that the team is gaining cannot be quantified in a grade.

Nor can the ‘real world’ aspect be quantified, which was apparent when the team found themselves representing A Youth Mind at a booth at SXSW Eco in October in Austin, TX.

“It was humbling. It was a step into reality,” Ori Green, 16, said. “It wasn’t necessarily condescending, but you could see how being a kid and trying to start something like this, you get those natural ‘arts and crafts’ kind of feels to it. People think you’re doing this cute little project. It made me want to work harder to make people understand. To almost prove to people we are not that little kid project.”

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Some SXSW Eco conference-goers did understand. Using a whiteboard, dry erase markers and a goal to spark conversation, the A Youth Mind team engaged conference participants by asking them to write the first word that came to mind when they think of Africa.

“We were going for stereotypes and things you think of when don’t really think of Africa. But we got so many amazing ideas and people’s thoughts,” Joshua Tsang, 16, said.

SXSW Eco was a pivotal reality check for the team.

“Afterward, I had to take a step back and think, ‘Woah, this is kind of actually going somewhere big.’ It was the first real deep breath of actuality for this,” Green said.

While the future looks bright for A Youth Mind, the project is not without its challenges. But with true entrepreneurial resourcefulness and dogged determination, the A Youth Mind team is accepting challenges in stride.

“One challenge is how do we get cameras through customs in South Sudan? We have a solution and this is working with churches over there to help get the cameras through.” Erickson said.

Flexibility, determination and a collaborative team will get the first round of photos back from South Sudan in the early part of 2016.

The goal is for the first book to be published by the summer of 2016.

“Our plan is to execute this first project and see what went good and what went bad and how we can make it better,” Green said. “How can we do it cheaper, more efficiently. Then after we do that we have a world of options. Literally.”

Photo Credits: Submitted.

Should There Be An Age Limit For Trick Or Treating?

How Old Is Too Old To Go Trick Or Treating?

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How old is too old to trick-or-treat at Halloween? For a seemingly innocuous question, there sure are plenty of people who have opinions on the issue. To be exact, 24, 800, 000 million. That’s how many hits Google returns when “Halloween Age Laws” is searched.

One group who feels strongly about the answer to how old is too old for trick-or-treating is the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). The results from a survey conducted by this group that caters to the 50 plus crowd states that 12 years old is the best time to retire the costume and candy bag.

Small towns across the United States feel the same way. In Meridian, Miss., Boonsboro, Md., and Belleville, Ill., all have spent time enforcing trick-or-treat age limitations over the past decade. In Hampton Roads, Va, one such ordinance has been in place since 1968. In this case, the trick-or-treat age limitation is 13.

This article states that the law in Hampton Roads, Va was originally put in place after a Halloween full of deviant debauchery 1967, since then the law is barely enforced.

But this seems to be one more restriction that is placed on teens when they have one awkwardly sized shoe still planted in childhood while the other foot is hesitantly inching toward young adult life. Do all adults feel the same way as the previously mentioned small town sticklers and the AARP?

No. One blogger believes it is okay to let teens trick-or-treat if they want to. She made the point that children and teens are growing up faster and faster. She wouldn’t mind holding on to these years just a little bit longer by remaining open to teens showing up at her door on Halloween.

Or here’s an idea: Why not let teens decide when it is appropriate for them to stop trick-or-treating. Peers are good at pointing out behavior and activities that are deemed “uncool” or childish as Youth Radio reports.

Maybe a teen over the age of 12 isn’t ready to give up dressing up in a crazy costume and collecting candy for fun. Why should adults stop them? Adults do that enough.

Or maybe take a different approach: Turn trick-or-treating into a civic engagement or social justice opportunity. Instead of asking for candy, why not ask for canned goods to donate to a local food back as suggested over at Elephant Journal?

No matter where you shake out on this issue, it’s important to keep things in perspective. Teens are dealing with far greater issues like bullying, peer pressure and general adolescent insecurity. Is the once-a-year trick-or-treat battle really one that needs so much attention?

Besides, if the tables were turned, how would the AARP feel about a poll asking teenagers the question: At what age should people over the age of 50 stop driving cars to keep the roads safe?

Like this piece? Rise News just launched a few weeks ago and is only getting started. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with global news. Have a news tip? (No matter how big or small!) Send it to us- editor@risenews.net.

Cover Photo Credit: Steven Depolo/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Scissr: The Game-changing Web Series About Gay Women

Lauren Augarten, the creator of Scissr: A Lesbian Web Series, is paving the way for creatives in the digital age by bringing a diverse point of view to an otherwise mono-perspective media landscape. That is both intentional and personal for Augarten.

A native of Australia, Augarten arrived in New York City in 2007 ready to carve out an acting career. But she quickly became disillusioned by how the industry was portraying female sexuality on screen.

“I came out a bit later in life, in my early/mid-twenties. I had no idea how to meet women and had no way of knowing where to go,” Augarten told Rise News. “I was kind of walking around trying to find places to go and trying to find things to watch just to understand what I was going through. I couldn’t really find anything.”

And so the Scissr pilot was born. Augarten, alongside the Australian director/producer duo Stephanie Begg and Josh Mawer tell a story of three twenty-something lesbians trying to figure out life in New York City.

The main characters Aviva, Emily and Corey connect through an iPhone app- Same Same and hang out at a bar called Scissr.

Each character is thoughtfully introduced as a millennial-aged person attempting to navigate relationships, friendships and life issues. At the end of the 10 minute pilot episode, they meet up at Scissrs, and the viewer is left wanting to know how each character’s story will develop.

Like the viewer, Augarten wasn’t satisfied with just a pilot. She showed Scissr to people in Hollywood and got some on board. But leaving Scissr up to Hollywood meant she would have to compromise too much in order to have the project made.  

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“There are all of these different elements of the story that I want to show the world before I sign my rights away and sign my life away,” Augarten said. “I want it to be done with integrity. That’s when I decided I wanted to do a whole season so I would have that out there instead of just 10 minutes of the beginning of the story.”

She created a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to make Scissr: Season 1 possible since she found it challenging to find an individual to fund a new project about a specific sexuality and about a specific gender. The goal is to raise $30,000 by mid November.

The crowdfunding campaign has given Augarten the confidence to move forward.

“By crowdfunding, I feel like now I have to do it, and I have to do it really well.”

In addition to being the creator and the main promoter, Augarten also plays Aviva, one of the main characters.

“She is confident and a bit cocky, but that’s a front. Deep down, she’s soft.”

Like Augarten, Aviva has come out later than the other characters.  Aviva also fumbles with the same questions Augarten started asking when she came out, “What is a lesbian? How do I navigate this new identity?”

“It’s thrilling and amazing, but it is totally scary. What is so scary to me in coming out a bit later is you wake up and you’re a virgin,” Augarten said. “It’s a whole other world. You’re discovering parts of yourself, and you’re trying to figure out how to interact with other girls when they already know. They’ve had this experience earlier on. That is definitely something Aviva is going to have to deal with the same as I did.”

WATCH: Pilot Episode of Scissr

The other two main characters, Corey and Emily are dealing with slightly different, but no less frustrating and confusing identity and life issues.

When we meet Corey, played by Paulina Singer (‘South of Hell,’ WeTV; ‘The Affair,’ Showtime) , we discover the she is fresh from a break-up.  Singer describes Corey as having a little tiger underneath her quiet exterior. According to Singer, Corey is an artist and a skater, which garners some pretty innovative ideas on how to change how basic the world seems to be.

“I don’t think she’s found her voice yet. I hope her break up forces her energy into activist mode, and her anger turns into motivation to stop the idiots in power,” Singer told Rise News.

Emily, played by Kelly Sebastian (Pull Away and Forever Into Space), is a NYC transplant that’s trying to make it as a musician.

“She is confident and a bit cocky, but that’s a front. Deep down, she’s soft.  She wants a girlfriend, but has no clue what she wants in a girlfriend, hence the wide range of conquests,” Sebastian said.

“If I have the opportunity to diversify my team, I’m going to take it.”

The depth and diversity in the female characters are what attracted Sebastian to this project in the first place.

“When Lauren [Augarten] approached me with the project she explained that she wanted to make a show that showed all types – queers and straights – and the depths of those growing up experiences, struggles, successes and the human experience of young people,” Sebastian said.

It’s Augarten’s hope that the depth and diversity can extend to the other side of the camera as well.

“My goal now with the next six episodes is to expand my community with people who are not represented in the industry to work with me. It is important to me to find people who can tell a story that is not my story,”  Augarten said. “I have a lot to say, but I find that my voice alone bores me. I want to be a part of a community. That to me is what is really exciting about being a creator, you have the power to make changes. If I have the opportunity to diversify my team, I’m going to take it.”

Augarten has 21 days left in her crowdfunding campaign to start making that happen and she is determined to get it fully funded.

She has already taken some of her own advice that she would give to fellow millennial creators: “Find the people who can do the things you can’t do and whose work you admire and like. Find out what is going to be helpful to them too.” Augarten said.

To Learn more about Scissr, you can follow them on Twitter and Facebook. You can donate to their Indiegogo campaign here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/scissr-season-one#/

Like this piece? Rise News just launched a few weeks ago and is only getting started. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with global news. Have a news tip? (No matter how big or small!) Send it to us- editor@risenews.net. 

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