Just TV: Changing lives, one video at a time
It’s a chilly Tuesday night in late November and Winnipeg’s West End Cultural Centre is filling up fast.
For the hundreds of people streaming through the building’s big wooden doors, the 8th Annual Just TV Showcase is a casual evening of free entertainment. But for many of the performers preparing backstage, it’s the biggest night of their lives.
Take 20-year-old Jimmy ‘The Jamster’ Thomas.
Throughout his teens, Jimmy spent most of his spare time listening to hip hop, scribbling out lyrics and dreaming of the day he could share his music with the world. Much like his favourite rapper in the 2002 movie 8 Mile, he couldn’t see himself doing anything else.
“When I saw that movie I decided I wanted to become a rapper like Eminem,” Jimmy says. “Something just clicked in me. I started listening to his music and writing lyrics to his beats.”
But Jimmy had a problem. Passion and ambition, he realized, would only get him so far. He needed training. He needed advice. He needed an audience.
Then he found Just TV.
Based out of Winnipeg’s Broadway Neighbourhood Centre, Just TV is a program designed to engage youth aged 16 to 24 through music and video in a safe and positive environment. Now in its eighth year, the program provides mentorship from industry professionals including producer Murray Pulver and musician Jason Burnstick, and has helped launch the careers of local artists like Ila Barker, Ali Fontaine and Hera Nalam.
The program’s videography component has also evolved. By learning how to shoot, edit and produce music videos, the youth pick up technical skills that can lead to careers in the film industry. Just TV has also teamed up with the City of Winnipeg for an annual paid apprenticeship program.
“When the first group of kids came in, they were really interested in making hip hop music,” says program coordinator Laura Johnson, who has been with Just TV from the beginning. “Since then, we’ve found that more and more kids coming in are interested in different types of music, but also a lot more kids are interested in videography and the behind-the-scenes stuff.”
Since joining Just TV about two years ago, Jimmy has studied his craft, honed his song-writing skills and plans to release his debut album in the near future. His first music video (for Heaven) earned him a Manitoba Aboriginal Youth Achievement Award and a $1,000 prize.
But best of all, Jimmy says, Just TV has rejuvenated his sense of self-worth and helped him overcome stage fright.
“They taught me to believe in myself and follow the positive voices in my head saying I can do it,” he says. “Thanks to them, I swallow my pride and I go on that stage.”
According to Johnson, Jimmy’s increased confidence is a typical by-product of Just TV’s supportive environment, which promotes creativity and celebrates self-expression. But the key element, she says, is the program’s sense of community, inclusion and collaboration.
“One of the most unique things about the program is you see kids come in from very, very different walks of life,” she says. “The outgoing kid who has grown up listening to hip hop is now mingling with a kid who is really technical and more introverted. There’s this level of respect among them because they’re all artists, and I think it teaches them how to value diversity and how to work together.”
For all of Just TV’s rewards, however, the program’s biggest perk is an opportunity for the youth to show off their skills in the annual year-end showcase. For some of them it’s a music video they’ve been working on for the past year; for others, like Jimmy, it’s performing a song they wrote in front of a live audience.
“It’s a graduation of sorts,” Johnson says. “To get up there, these kids show more courage and perseverance than a lot of adults I know.”
As for Jimmy, who chose to perform his original song, Heaven, there is no more fear. Only gratitude.
“I wouldn’t be where I am right now without Just TV,” he says, moments before taking the stage. “They taught me about music, they taught me about life.
“I’m just so happy to call them my family.”
For a behind-the-scenes look at Just TV’s 8th Annual Showcase, check out our Just TV Spotlight.