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South Philly women make voices heard

Media producers Elizabeth Estrada and Zarinah Lomax shed light on untold stories in their radio and TV shows with PhillyCAM.

Two South Philly women, Elizabeth Estrada of Point Breeze and Zarinah Lomax of Pennsport, recently won CAMMY Awards through their work with PhillyCAM, a “community media center that brings together the people of Philadelphia to make and share media that promotes creative expression, democratic values and civic participation.” (GRACE MAIORANO/South Philly Review)

Across mainstream media, innumerable stories seep through the cracks of coverage.

Two South Philly women, though, are amplifying the accounts of unheard voices, pumping the narratives of people’s muted conditions and experiences onto traditional airwaves.

The producers, Elizabeth Estrada of Point Breeze and Zarinah Lomax of Pennsport, recently won CAMMY Awards through their work with PhillyCAM, a “community media center that brings together the people of Philadelphia to make and share media that promotes creative expression, democratic values and civic participation.”

Known as “People Powered Media,” PhillyCAM, based off of 7th and Market streets, features original television, radio and digital projects created by community members from across the city, releasing daily content through WPPM 106.5 FM and local cable stations.

For both 27-year-old Estrada, a New York City native, and 34-year-old Lomax, a South Philly native, PhillyCAM enables the visionaries to uncover situations they can relate to themselves, as they have not seen many of their own depictions represented in the media.

“I wasn’t connecting with things on TV the way I was living,” Lomax said. “I prayed about it, and was like, ‘I don’t feel like I fit in.’ I felt very rejected. … With all the stuff that I lived, that I had gone through, why wasn’t I able to find some sort of outlet to help me to heal?”

Lomax, who says she survived molestation, sexually transmitted infections and bulimia growing up, connected with PhillyCAM a few years ago, leading to her hosting and producing the award-winning program, “Talking the Walk,” which clinched the CAMMY’s Innovation Award for TV.

The open-mic forum, which is now in its fourth season, invites guests, mostly artists, from across the city to share their traumatic experiences with Lomax in an Oprah-style interview.

Although the show uses Christian testimonies as a form of recovery, Lomax, who is working toward her bachelor’s degree at Liberty University and was ordained as minister last year, says the show is not intended to coerce guests into any religion but rather give them a platform to unveil their truths as an outlet for healing.

“Here, it’s very open, and I enjoy it, because you get to share your truths, your beliefs but you get to share it in a loving way without judgment,” she said. “Whether somebody chooses to believe in Christ or not — that’s their decision. We just share that this is how we’ve healed. If you’re dealing with this, you can heal as well, and that’s it. … (The healing) is through our stories. It’s really just through our stories. … And we say that it’s just as simple as you hearing people with real purpose with real pain that have overcome.”

Estrada, a first-generation Cuban-American who studied at Ithaca College and The New School, was born and raised in a predominantly-immigrant population in Queens. Falling in love with media production as a child, Estrada worked for a Los Angeles television agency, then later with New York Women in Film and Television and finally Firelight Media, a film production company that works on social justice documentary filmmaking, before landing at PhillyCAM.

Like Lomax, she also felt her experiences were under-reported, leading to her work with PhillyCAM’s “Atrevete,” a TV show that explores the realities of being multicultural in Philadelphia and across the United States.

Reported in both Spanish and English, Estrada, along with her fellow producers, won the Innovation Award for Radio for an experimental pilot radio version of the show, which featured a slew of nuances, including the story of an undocumented Mexican immigrant who has taken sanctuary in North Philadelphia and interviews with Latinas at last year’s Women’s March.

“Just having a product,” she said. “Having something that is just so inexplicably just related to your experience of navigating these different worlds in English and in Spanish as somebody who is a citizen and was born here but also someone who has roots outside of this country. … For so long, women, women of color, immigrants, Latinas and all these different kinds of populations, our experience has been so dismissed and silenced. And, we are in a reckoning, in some ways, where we are really being loud and refusing to be silenced and refusing to be invisible.”

Whether related to religion, race, gender or sexuality, no matter the experience, Lomax and Estrada stress the vital nature of communicating such spheres, especially for women, amid current political and social climates.

Weaving these influences into mainstream media and culture could lead to solutions that may not surface if voices feel hushed, creating a community that may not be present otherwise.

“I think it’s important now,” Lomax said. “Not even just now, but important because a lot of people are suffering in silence, because it’s not shared.”

And considering the gamut of new platforms and devices in today’s day and age, individuals now more than ever have the opportunities to continue this shift.

Whether becoming a member of PhillyCAM, which includes receiving media production classes and distribution of content to cable channels that reach more than 1 million people in Philadelphia, or simply sharing thoughts on social media, society has entered a golden age for activism through expression.

“Connecting that to the fact that we are in an age where we consume so much (media), to be able to elevate our stories, our voices in using these platforms is so important to really create a society where we all understand one another,” Estrada said. “And we understand where we’re coming from and we understand our experiences and PhillyCAM fosters that kind of space.”

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