"Once upon a time, when you were out of high school and you needed a job, a family member took you down to the factory, you got a job on the line, and you had a good life," Ariel Moore says. "In today’s world, we believe that creative media arts provide the same kind of good life opportunity that the assembly lines of old provided. We’re particularly interested in showing that opportunity to underserved communities."
Moore is a co-founder and producer at Ward 1 Productions, a youth-driven creative agency in Ypsilanti offering various kinds of content production, including videos, social media, and event planning. Its mission is to help local youth realize a viable career path in content production through employment and apprenticeship opportunities in which they aim to shed light on seldom-told stories of the Ypsi community. Those stories will often focus on Ypsi's Ward 1, although they won't be limited to it.
The Ward 1 team consists of adult and youth coaches who utilize their professional knowledge and connections to teach local youth new skills, like videography, editing, and interviewing. The agency's tagline, "We tell your story with you," reflects its dedication to working closely with clients and their youth participants throughout the content production process.
About a year ago, Ward 1's founding members initially started working together on a documentary for the Ypsilanti Housing Commission, commemorating the former Parkridge Homes development. Local youth produced the Parkridge Homes Documentary last summer under the guidance of creative professionals. At the end of the project, the team decided it wanted to continue producing videos, so Ward 1 Productions was born.
"We all kind of knew that what we were building here wasn’t just going to be something that just lasted through the summer," says Ward 1 Productions co-founder and director Charles Peterson. "It kind of molded into something that was a need. We’ve got a community of Ypsilanti business owners and organizations that need marketing, videos, and content, and we’ve got youth that need working experiences and training."
Young people ages 18 to 24 who are interested in pursuing content production can work with Ward 1 Productions through employment opportunities offered by Michigan Works! Southeast. Three youth coaches are currently paid through Michigan Works! Southeast's work experience program, using Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds provided by the U.S. Department of Labor. Two other youth coaches who were involved in the production of the Parkridge Homes Documentary still pitch in when they can and receive compensation for their work directly from Ward 1 Productions.
Michigan Works! Southeast deputy director Shamar Herron has noticed growth in the content production industry. He thinks it's a viable career path for local youth because there's need for media content online and there are plenty of opportunities for professionals in the field.
"The skills that you learn here locally, you can take across the globe. You get these foundational skills that are applicable across many mediums," Herron says. "Maybe you don’t go and help design a video. … You may work at a news station, or you may work for a radio station, or you go into the private sector and do some video editing. You think about some of the hottest movies out there and the people who are chopping it up and mixing it and blending it back together to make some of the best movies that you’ve ever seen. These skills are transferable."
Moore envisions Ward 1 Productions serving as a stepping stone for youth who want to further their knowledge of content production by attending college or working with other creative professionals. She hopes the agency is eventually able to spur enough growth and interest that it's able to employ more youth through project-based compensation. Those youth could potentially go to class or other engagements during the day and then work for Ward 1 Productions on nights and weekends. Ward 1 Productions established a nonprofit, Ypsi Youth Productions, to support the enhancement of its educational component for youth.
But the impact of Ward 1 Productions goes beyond teaching youth about various aspects of content production. They also have the chance to pick up some life skills and lessons along the way. Martaze Jones, an 18-year-old youth coach for Ward 1 Productions and a resident of Ypsi's Ward 1, says his involvement in the project has helped him improve his communication and networking skills. He has especially enjoyed connecting with different mentors and peers who have different backgrounds and are in different stages of their careers.
In May, Jones plans to begin studying graphic design at Washtenaw Community College. He believes he'll be able to use some of the skills he's learned through Ward 1 Productions, like editing, as he pursues a career in graphic design.
"Ward 1 is the future of Ypsilanti because we’re pushing creative arts, and creative arts is what inspires my peers and I," Jones says.
Ward 1 Productions is always open to accepting new projects and forming new partnerships with creative professionals who share the agency's commitment to job skills training. The team is currently working on several new projects. An upcoming video for Love at First Try, 230 W. Michigan Ave., will highlight the boutique's new clothing line. Another video for Telling It, an after-school program hosted at Parkridge Community Center, will tell the stories of the program's youth participants.
"The history of Ward 1, or Parkridge, is deep and has a lot of resonance, especially amongst African-Americans," Moore says. "To be able to sit in a community with that depth of history and pride, and at the same time bring light to a story that’s seldom told, is a tremendous privilege. Ward 1 matters, Ward 1 is important, and the Ward 1 story is a privilege to tell."
Brianna Kelly is the project manager for On the Ground Ypsi and an Ypsilanti resident. She has worked for The Associated Press and has freelanced for The Detroit News and Crain's Detroit Business.
All photos by Doug Coombe.