Jeannine and Jenielle Cook received thumbs up all around after their organization’s debut class.
“It was fun. We got to play,” 8-year-old Amanda Clesey said.
“We could take pictures of anything,” added her 11-year-old brother Shane.
The siblings from the 1600 block of Newkirk Street along with three other children took part in Positive Minds, a nonprofit supported by New Beginnings Nonprofit Incubator at Resources for Human Development, Inc., and run by a trio of sisters to offer area children the opportunity to work together and showcase their community via mediums such as photography, audio and video.
“Students tend to direct the program,” Jeannine said. “After brainstorming and finding out what they want to do, that’s where we’ll take it.”
Jeannine moved to Philly in 2001 to attend college and Positive Minds came into existence the following year.
“Positive Minds started as like a college club,” she said. “I started it when I was at University of the Arts. It was me and two other girls. My sisters didn’t live in Philly at the time.”
She and her sisters Jenielle and Minista Jazz may have grown up in Virginia, but have impacted children in Uganda, Trinidad, Florida, Virginia, New York and Philadelphia through the program. Now with all of sisters living in South Philly, they are focusing on theyoungsters on the 1600 block of Newkirk Street.
“My father lives on the block. My children play on the block,” Jeannine, of 28th Street and Snyder Avenue, said. “We know everyone on the block.”
That’s how Positive Minds came to Grays Ferry. While it isn’t the first time their nonprofit has been in effect in the city, it is the first time the program was not run out of an established recreation center or through another organization, Jeannine said.
“This is the first time we’re bringing the arts to the students instead of the other way around,” she said.
The completely free program that is held from 1 to 2:30 p.m Saturdays (or Sunday in the event of bad weather) is open to children age 7 and up who reside on the 1600 block of Newkirk as well as surrounding blocks, but is not limited to youngsters as the organizers hope parents will take part as well.
“I just didn’t want it to be closed off in that way,” she said. “I wanted it to be more of a community thing and less of a kid thing.”
For now, the younger generation enjoys being in control of the class.
“We got to split up in two groups and tell our elders what we want to take a picture of,” Messiah Toure, Jeannine’s 7-year-old son, said.
With a computer set up on the porch, the group received a lesson on cameras as Jeannine and Jenielle explained the influence they could have on their community on the inaugural session.
“Before we try to make the whole entire world a better place, let’s start to make where we are a better place,” Jeannine said to the group before explaining the group’s three rules: Peace, love and respect.
After some fun activities to get the kids acquainted with each other, Jenielle taught the youngsters about cameras, hard drives and camcorders. Then the group split up to explore the block as the leaders took pictures of examples of positive things on that block as suggested by the kids.
“We’re going to be taking some images and learning how to make our community into what we want it to be even more and infusing positivity into our community,” Jenielle, of 20th and Tasker streets, said to the children.
Jenielle’s group set off to take pictures of a swimming pool, barbecue grill and flowers as she gave them a sneak peak of taking photos at different angles while Jeannine’s group captured recyclables and residents cleaning their sidewalk.
After uploading and sharing each other’s finds and giving a lesson on different photo angles, each child received a disposable camera with which they were instructed to take the whole roll of film with nine high, eye and low angle shots.
The children walked along the block taking pictures of cars, homes and each other utilizing what they were taught.
“You guys did an amazing job,” Jenielle, who majored in film at the Art Institute, said to the children at the end of the class. “You guys got a really good experience that not a lot of kids your age get.”
Keon Cardwell, 7, and Keith Williams, 8, joined in the festivities after Jenielle spotted them on the 1600 block of South Marston Street.
“I just saw them sitting on the porch,” she said. “They looked bored … They enjoyed this and got experience they probably really never had.”
Both boys did thoroughly like the experience.
“We took pictures with our own cameras,” Keith, a North Philly resident, who was visiting his grandmother on Marston, said.
The program will continue to expand the children’s knowledge of multimedia with the introduction of close-ups and the theme of “Community: Where Everybody Knows Your Name” highlighted last week’s session.The children are taking pictures of the various houses to give as gifts to the residents.
“That’s just beginning to open up the dialogue and let them know this is what the peace is about,” Jeannine said.
By the end of the class, the sisters hope the students have a short film with the students acting and directing it, which will be unveiled locally Aug. 21.
“The sky is the limit,” Jenielle said. “If the video could be entered in a contest, that is our goal.”
Although starting small, the siblings hope their organization will grow, but first they hope to make a difference on just one block of South Philly.
“I feel really good. I feel confident with the progress we’re going to make,” Jenielle said.
Contact Staff Writer Amanda Snyder at firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 117.