Students from Oakridge Neighborhood in Des Moines want you to hear their voice. They want you to hear their message.

To do that, they produced a music video that recently went live on YouTube. Their message is clear: “Success Is My Protest.”

It’s an upbeat, positive message from youths who otherwise may feel voiceless at a time when maybe their voice is needed most, said Emmett Phillips, a youth navigator at Oakridge Neighborhood Services.

“At a time where people are really striving to send a message about how they feel about social inequity and about certain things going on in the world, I thought it was very important for our kids to have their voices heard, but also in way that is in the safest fashion and maybe even a bigger impact than what others may have been doing who had that same feeling,” Phillips said.

The youths, in third through eighth grade, are part of Oakridge’s performing arts program that was supposed to have a big show at Franklin Junior High School. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, that couldn’t happen. At about the same time, a friend of Phillips’, DeAn Kelly of Beyond Walls, was commissioned by Station One Records in Des Moines to do a community-based mixed tape to generate funds for a nonprofit. 

Kelly developed that into the “Writing History” initiative, which grew into a community art project that expanded beyond music to include stories from people in the community.

Phillips said it was part of that project for which Kelly reached out to him to work with the youths at Oakridge.

Kelly worked with students during workshops over the summer to develop a concept. That, Phillips said, is when “a really strong feeling hit me.”

“This is also a time when there’s a lot of rioting and protests going on and a lot of police and citizen engagement,” he said. 

He said he heard the message “Success Is My Protest” in his mind. He wrote the first four lines and pitched it to the students, and it took off from there.

“The kids got really motivated to speak about the things they feel proud about, the things they’ve accomplished and the things that keep them going no matter what’s going on in the world,” Phillips said.

He said he worked with another friend, Eli Fox of Elive Productions, who donated his time to shoot the video, “and we were able to organize the kids into doing something really cool.”

“A lot of it was self-directed by the youth,” said Philliips, who appears in the video. “They are a very talented, dynamic bunch. As adults, we mainly helped curate it and keep people focused, but it was very much self-directed.”

Phillips said the video is a continuation of the work Oakridge does to empower the students to realize their full potential.

“This was really just a manifestation of the type of culture we strive to cultivate with the kids here,” he said. “Use your voice, but also do your due diligence so you know what you’re saying and you speak with confidence and feel proud about it.”

Oakridge provides a wide array of services to support and engage residents, including housing, child care, before- and after-school programming, workforce readiness, education, classes on financial literacy and English as second language, and driver’s education.

The “Success Is My Protest” video is part of a fundraiser for Oakridge Neighborhood’s arts program and its campaign to build a Creative Arts Center. To contribute, go to writinghistory.org.

“This project has shown me how important it is for young people to have a creative outlet to express themselves and to present themselves into the future in a positive manner,” Phillips said.