Morgan Willis was hired as the Allied Media Conference Program Coordinator in January 2012 and jumped into her role like she'd been doing it for 14 years. We're excited to kick-off a series of post-AMC blog entries with Morgan's reflections on her first AMC.
AMC2012 Reflections: Morgan Willis, AMC Program Coordinator
The Allied Media Conference is about too many things to adequately name. There is no greater pressure in this context, than being asked by a potential participant, “So what is the Allied Media Conference anyway?” (I still don't know how to answer this succinctly.) I may have rattled off the names of the Tracks, Practice Spaces or Network Gatherings or a few aptly-titled sessions but it never felt sufficient. Eventually I was able to boil it down into defining media as anything we use to communicate and impact the world. But still, the essence—the point of why thousands of people made it their business to travel to Wayne State, from around the way and around the world—felt too large, or too complicated to aptly name.
Whenever someone said it out loud on my behalf I winced a little bit. This is her first AMC. I'd look down in a type of self-consciousness I like to pretend doesn't exist in me anymore—of place and belonging. In the milliseconds between hearing this (now) almost unbelievable thing, and whatever facial expression or response followed, I imagined all the reasons why their reservations or concerns would be justified.
I've never done this before.
I'm not from Detroit.
I forget everyone's name instantly.
Making media for me means something in between vision boards and journaling.
I often fail at following instructions...and on and on as if anyone knew those things or cared.
I never met any of the concern I had for myself. Instead, I was met with the type of energy and curiosity that underscores the conference. People who were refreshingly interested in my story and sharing their own with a purpose.
I arrived in mid-January to the AMP office for the coordinators meeting and could find nothing else to say but, “I feel like I want to get a tattoo!” which is really a ridiculous way of saying, “I CAN FEEL MYSELF SHIFTING!” None of us looked alike, sounded alike, had identical interests or perspectives except knowing that in our hearts and minds we had tools to engage the world in making media that empowers. I took furious notes about technologies and applications I'd never heard of (Drupal, PiratePad, Wordle, the list goes on...) That weekend, a great deal of the language of the conference was developed. I was watching myself participate in creating a loving community centered around things that were both unfamiliar and yet somehow quite comfortable. The AMC, I would later learn, is haven for striking this masterful balance.
After reviewing and reviewing (and reviewing) sessions, we sat in a staff meeting where one of the Detroit Future coordinators asked if there was a theme emerging for the conference. Pssh, no. Of course not. Themes sound cheesy and forced. Themes are limiting. Themes are so...passé. And really: how is it possible to organically draw connections between 'You Can Dance AND Think', 'Intro to Podcasting' and 'The Hip Hop Coloring Book'? Where is the thematic link between Nation Inside and Intergalactic Conspiracy of Childcare Collectives? We couldn't name what exactly was happening through the conference. Creating one phrase or idea to capture it would do something to the stories each voice was bringing into the space. Above everything—the integrity and authenticity of the stories being told was key. Despite not having it be a one-liner, storytelling was the theme, the motivation and the goal.
I was amazed by the people I met at the conference. Eliza, the 45-year old woman who stopped by the info desk (where I was sitting) every morning just to check in and share with me some of the sessions she was most excited to attend. Her emphasis was on finding spaces where she could, in her words, “lightly sample” technology just so she could get over her fear of it. The young man who walked towards me with an attitude; his mother had dropped him off with no real explanation. He just wanted to learn about filmmaking. “I just think I have a story to tell,” he said, as if that could be shrugged away. I circled the relevant (and some extra) sessions I thought he might enjoy and hours later found him happily coloring sheets of paper in the Media A Go-Go Lab that would later become an animated short. Even the lost and found took on the spirit of the conference with people almost excited to find someone's stuff and turn it in—something about being connected to someone else's happy ending was electric.
I am a person who relies on almost indiscernible magic to sustain my belief in who we are as people and change makers. At the conference I watched for people's eyes to light up. I watched for early arrivers each day. I walked into my apartment where members of my collective were staying and found them sprawled out on the floor circling sessions they were excited to make it to in the morning. The art, the imagery and the community that people felt as they walked, held discussions, watched screenings, asked questions, greeted and parted from each other was nearly overwhelming. It was beautiful. The stories being told were not one-off moments of oh-how-niceness. These stories were the basis for creating media that strikes at the root of institutional oppression on almost every level, for providing access, an audience and any other type of canvas each of us needs to collectively build and share. The people and stories we allow into spaces like the AMC are irrefutable evidence of the power that comes from speaking up with love and solidarity.
Making media and supporting the content for the Allied Media Conference is a pretty amazing job. The story of me finding my place at AMP and in Detroit is still unfolding. It is the story of change and personal exploration. I am so grateful to have been allowed passage into this amazing community of leaders in a city that is brimming with all types of wonderful. As I continue to discover new ways to turn vision into strategy as a facilitator, organizer and human-being lover, I can already feel the impact that my very first Allied Media Conference has had on my ability to contribute to a more just and creative world.