2-Cent: "edu-tainment" for New Orleans youth

When I heard that 2-Cent Entertainment was hosting the first annual LISTEN! LITERACY AND ARTS FESTIVAL in New Orleans on May 21st, I got in touch with Kevin Griffin to find out more.
At 27, Kevin is the oldest member of a group that started in 2004 with the goal of creating alternative media by and for young people in New Orleans. They describe what they do as “edu-tainment – education in an entertainment format.” Kevin explains, “We’re giving you something you need wrapped up in something that you want.”
I first heard of 2-Cent in 2007, when I saw a powerful 90-second video they created called New Orleans for Sale! It’s about post-Katrina tourism in the Lower Ninth Ward and I found it so compelling that I emailed Brandan Odums, one of the people who started 2-Cent, to ask how it came about. He and friends had been producing short videos together and music labels would sometimes ask them to interview entertainers in the Ninth Ward. They were interviewing one musician when a tour bus passed by.  The musician asked how they could put up with people disrespecting their community that way.  The young man who performs in the video, Nik, was upset by this. Then he saw some brochures at a hotel where his friend worked advertising "destruction tours.” Brandan explained that the tours were “complete with price tags and meal plans.” So Nik came up with the idea for the video that is part documentary, with actual spectators arriving to witness the devastation, and part performance art.

In addition to creating music and videos, the 2-Cent members have been involved in mentoring. In 2009 they organized the Change We Can Create summer camp to teach media literacy to a young teenagers.

Kevin explained that the Listen! festival evolved out of a project last year, when 2-Cent donated 2,400 books to Langston Hughes Academy. Members of 2-Cent had been shocked to learn that the library at the school was an empty room with no books in it. They worked with Scholastic to make the books available and turned the delivery of the books into a performace event, a song and a video.

When I asked Kevin to explain the focus on literacy he said: “The people who created change prior to us were readers.” He wants young people to know “You can be that person, too. You are that person. You just haven’t tapped in to it.”
Four thousand books will be given out to young people attending the festival, which is billed as “a fun outdoor festival with a purpose.”

LEAH MAHAN has been working on documentary films since 1988, when her life was changed by an internship with filmmaker Henry Hampton on the Eyes on the Prize series about the civil rights movement.  She recently received a Sundance Documentary Fund grant and will complete her documentary about Turkey Creek in 2011.