By: Michael Henderson, Director, Mutual Aid Collaborative

Generation NOW was conceived by Messiah Equiano, a 2021 Chicago Peace Fellow, and aims to provide opportunities for young people to work on a teen talk show that addresses everyday issues that teenagers face. The program pays teenagers to produce, direct, and act in the show and provides them with a safe environment to express their thoughts.

In August of 2022 Generation NOW filmed its first talk show that addressed “Dating and Violence”. Messiah Equiano, Executive Director of CHI-Rise, and Nicole Davis, Executive Director of the Talk to Me Foundation, saw first hand how therapeutic and empowering this platform was for teens. They deemed the first filming of Generation NOW as a success and proposed a second talk show to the Chicago Peace Fellows Mutual Aid Collaborative.

The Mutual Aid Collaborative consists of 74 Black and Brown leaders and committed allies who live and work in the communities they serve on the South and West sides. They have raised over $100,000 to support several active projects. The Mutual Aid Collaborative met and collaboratively voted to provide Generation NOW with the funding to film a second talk show at the Foster Park District.

Messiah and Nicole wanted to expand the dating conversation in the second filming and talk to teenagers about love. Nicole thought “Keeping with February as the month of Love and with so many young men and women at the ages of 12 and 13 dating, Generation NOW wanted to know what love looks like to them”. On Saturday, February 4, 2023 Generation NOW filmed a talk show focusing on young peoples’ understanding of love entitled “The Love Recording”. 

Continuing the vision of the first talk show. Generation NOW provided young people with a safe setting to be open about their opinions, while also providing them with experience with different aspects of television production. Teens work on the project as writers, production members, or actors and were compensated for their work. Funds provided by the Mutual Aid Collaborative were used to pay ten teenagers $250 each for their involvement in a day of filming. 

Messiah and Nicole agreed that teens are not always given the space to feel safe in the city of Chicago or in their homes and “it’s ok to open up” and be vulnerable.  The intimate and safe filming provided teens with a platform to voice their beliefs without judgment, but also with a chance to enact their visions in a production and to work together collaboratively. Each participating teen/young adult performed their expression of love  through forms such as poems, monologues, and skits. Following the performances, discussions were held to explore the themes and messages of the show. The transparency and vulnerability of the answers according to the 25 plus attendees had the crowd “up in smoke”. 

For one scenario performed at the “Love Recording,” young men and women were given flowers and candy to reenact how they will ask a person out for a date. The attendees were amazed at the vulnerability in the response and stories from the teens. The majority of the girls suggested that it’s the responsibility of the guys to ask the girls out for a date, while some of the boys agreed that if a girl is asked out and has a boyfriend the girl should let the guy know. Another vulnerable teen shared his experience and story of being assaulted by a girlfriend. These stories allowed the teens to have open conversations about dating and the different kinds of expectations and responsibilities they feel in romantic life. The second filming was as successful as the first with both teens and parents participating with excitement. 

Generation NOW aims to provide teens with opportunities to express themselves. Messiah believes it’s important to let teenagers know “they value their voices, they value their experiences, they value their input and their involvement in their communities”. CHI-Rise and the Talk to Me Foundation “want to give back” to their community and teens. They are looking to produce episodes of Generation NOW monthly. They are also looking towards expanding the programs to different communities, and looking specifically at communities with higher risks of violence and to get more parents involved.