Nestled in a quaint village on the outskirts of the jungle in Anjuna, Goa is an old Portuguese house that is the home to a small media organization with a big voice. Video Volunteers, or VV, aims to mobilize and equip marginalized communities all over India to raise awareness about local issues and urge government officials to take action. VV professionalizes the work of volunteers, or Community Correspondents, through training to give them transferable film making skills and the physical equipment to make their own news and tell local stories that matter most to them. Community Correspondents are intentionally recruited to ensure diversity and they are compensated for their work. So not only is Video Volunteers creating news that matters but it is also strengthening the local workforce by empowering women and religious minorities to earn income through their film making. Stories are pitched to government officials and mainstream media to advocate for change and to raise awareness. I am truly honored to work with such a powerful organization because I am passionate about giving a voice to the voiceless, or as I prefer to say, giving a mic to the mic-less.
Since childhood, I have seen the power of using your voice and your gifts to do something to uplift others. I was always the talkative kid—I don’t know why, I just had a lot to say and decided that the best time to speak my mind was all the time! I annoyed my older sister who always thought I was just a show-off. But I honestly wasn’t a show-off, I was just expressive—ANNOYINGLY expressive. I always volunteered to answer questions in class, I competed in oratory contests and debates, I made up and wrote elaborate stories in school that I passed around between classes—My own little soap opera about the many woes of 5th grade. I am not proud of this fact but I was even called Crystal “Loquacious” Williams as a sweet sobriquet from childhood friends to parody my actual name Crystal Lequeta Williams. You name it, any opportunity to release a flow of thoughts and opinions, although admittedly sometimes half-baked perspectives, I was the first to sign up—Yes, I was, indeed, THAT KID who always had something to say.
But I was also THAT KID from a troubled past of poverty and neglect which landed my sisters and me in foster care. I remember times when, as a child, I felt like what I said didn’t matter. No one took me seriously when I tried to speak up about what I needed and many times, I did not know how to translate my sadness and disappointments into words that adults would understand and act on. These emotions mostly flowed out in tears of frustration because my vocabulary could not bear the weight of the profundity of my adolescent experiences. Because my mother was poor, she had no voice. She did not have access to the mental health treatment that she needed as a mother who experienced the death of two children and thus rendered her unable to take care of her other children. As her child, I had no voice. But then, one day, someone handed me a microphone. For the first time I heard the power of my own voice. Actually, it was more like, I felt it—I had always heard my voice, but in this instance, I could feel it and oh, the power that billowed from within. It felt like magic! I wanted others to feel their voices too—the power and depth of own unique voices.
My proclivity for speaking out and speaking up came from years, and dare I say generations, of being an unheard child, from and unheard family, in an unheard city. What I mean by “unheard” is not metaphoric it is simply being poor, minority, and marginalized—and these are universal conditions. This is not unique to me and my family, the WORLD is full of us—the downtrodden and forgotten many. We are on the street corners of New York City, in the ghettos of Memphis, Tennessee, and in villages all over India. We have a voice, you just can’t hear it. Unheard people do not need to be “given a voice”—we already have one! Instead, there is a need to for the tools and training to understand the power of ones own voice and how to use that voice to make lasting individual and collective change.
Giving a voice to the voiceless implies that some people do not have a voice but I believe that EVERYONE has a voice. But because of the way our societies are set up, the people with power are the people who get to dictate whose voices are heard the most. Because of this truth, unheard people need the tools and the empowerment to share their perspective with the masses. People in the smallest villages across India do not need someone to give them a voice. They already have one and it is just as valuable and powerful as everyone else. But no one can hear their voices beyond the thick walls of classism, caste-ism, and commercialization. These communities need a platform to stand on in order to be heard. They need an amplifier to ensure that what they have to say reaches the right people who can create the right change—they need a camera, a stage, and microphone.