Monday, May 26, 2014

RIP richard jaeggi

The foundation of a place is its local culture: the stories, struggles, and triumphs that those in a community share and cherish. But where does that culture come from? How do we encourage people to be self-aware about their surroundings, to document, create, and ultimately change the course of their world?

'No Human Being Is Illegal'_cropped
An art piece by the Gandhi Brigade on Georgia Avenue in 2007.

It's something that I've thought a lot since I began writing Just Up The Pike nearly eight years ago. But it's also the mission of the Gandhi Brigade, a youth media organization in downtown Silver Spring whose director Richard Jaeggi passed away yesterday. He was an adult with a strong voice in our community, but he gave it to young people who otherwise may not get heard.

The Gandhi Brigade started in 2005, right around the time the revitalization of downtown Silver Spring finally took hold. Their mission was to prepare young people to take part in their communities through the creation of art and media, hence the motto "Youth Media with a Focus."

It was good timing for them, and for Silver Spring, which had newly emerged as a hangout for teens from all over the region. With Richard's guidance, the organization gave those kids access to cameras, art supplies, training on how to use them, and a bully pulpit. From a storefront in the otherwise dead City Place Mall, the Gandhi Brigade has weighed in on everything from skateboarding to gun violence to national immigration policy.

Thus, Richard and the Gandhi Brigade became an integral part of the community and the ongoing debate over the place of young people in downtown Silver Spring. Their annual Youth Media Festival, with an art competition, live performances, and workshops, has taken over downtown streets for years.

There have been occasional missteps, like a 2009 concert on Ellsworth Drive that erupted in fights. But like any good teacher, Richard turned it into a lesson. “I also believe in making mistakes and not giving up and getting it right the second time, or the third time, or the fourth time," he told me.

For a kid, growing up is an iterative process, requiring a willingness to make mistakes and the resilience to get up and try it again. But it's also useful for a community constantly in flux, and sometimes quick to dig in its heels and simply accept things for how they are.

In a posting on the Gandhi Brigade's Facebook page, Richard's family members said that they'll be volunteering at the next Youth Media Festival, returning to the Silver Spring Civic Festival this Saturday, May 31. Silver Spring has a lost a giant, but one who laid the groundwork for more giants to follow. And it's up to us to make sure that happens.

1 comment:

Woody Brosnan said...

Very well said. Richard will be missed.