Martaize “Tez” Smith woke up early in the morning to practice his lines before the film crew arrived at his home in north Minneapolis.
The 15-year-old high school student is an aspiring filmmaker, but that day he was going to be on the other side of the camera. “I was a little nervous,” he said. “That was something I’ve never done before, but I’m a performer. That’s me. That’s who I am.”
Tez is one of three teens who star in a series of new digital videos that highlight the youth served by Best Buy’s Teen Tech Centers, which provide teens from underserved communities around the U.S. with free access to a wide range of technology and skills training. We recently opened our 17th center, and we plan to expand to 60 locations across the U.S., Canada and Mexico by 2020. (Learn more about our commitment to youth here.)
The videos share real stories of how teens are using technology to pursue music, photography and other passions, despite the challenges of living in communities where many students don’t have access to tech or the internet at home. Every kid has dreams, but not every kid gets an opportunity to achieve them.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Tez said. “I was asking for tips on camera settings and things like that. I took some of those things, and I’m already five times better than I was before.”
In their own words
Every student attending a Teen Tech Center has a deeply personal story to tell. We wanted to honor that by showing the impact of the centers through the eyes of the students who rely on them every day.
“We really felt the kids should tell the story,” said Bruce Bildsten, Best Buy’s executive creative director.
Bruce and his team chose to do that through the power of spoken word. Each of the three students wrote a poem about their own personal journey. Then they worked with Joe Davis — a nationally touring writer, speaker and performer based in Minneapolis — to refine it.
“All the kids wrote all of their own stuff, and it was definitely true to who they are,” said J.T. Evans, who works closely with the students as coordinator of the Teen Tech Center at Hope Community. “It was similar to our process at the center. They’ll get an idea and bounce it off me, but they create everything themselves.”
Naje Wright, one of the teens profiled in the videos, wrote her poem about the internal struggles she faces in her life and how she hopes her story will inspire others to be true to who they are.
“I had never written a piece like that before,” the 15-year-old said. “It was about me. I didn’t sugarcoat anything, and it came out just like I wanted it to.”
The director, A.V. Rockwell, also spent a lot of time with the teens prior to production to finalize the poems with them. Those one-on-one sessions helped her bond with the students and derive inspiration for the storytelling style for each of the videos.
“I was really impressed by all three of the teens,” said A.V., an award-winning screenwriter and director from Queens, New York. “They blew me away.”
The project culminated with four days of filming at sites across Minneapolis, including inside each of the students’ homes and the local Teen Tech Center. The videos include cameos from the teens’ families, friends and mentors.
Seeking to inspire
This is the first time Best Buy has supported our youth initiatives with an awareness campaign, highlighting the critical need for tech education in underserved communities. The videos will be shared on social media and on the TVs in all Best Buy stores.
“Our Teen Tech Centers give kids who may not have a lot of opportunities in their lives the opportunity to succeed,” Bruce said. “We need to let more people know about this.”
Naje hopes her story will inspire other teens like her to visit a Teen Tech Center and pursue their dreams.
“If I didn’t go there on my 15th birthday, I don’t think I’d be where I am right now,” she said. “When you leave a Teen Tech Center, you’re definitely not leaving with the same experience you came with.”
She recently got a sneak peek at her video and was thrilled with how it turned out.
“When I first saw it all together, I literally cried,” Naje said. “It was so cool to see something I accomplished.”
And that’s what the Teen Tech Centers are all about.
For more information about our Best Buy Teen Tech Centers and the new awareness campaign, visit BestBuy.com.