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Scenarios USA: An Amazing Opportunity For Teens

Scenarios USA: Fostering Self-expression Among Teens

What is the real deal about race? Sexuality? Identity? Could you answer these questions with intelligence, honesty and thoughtfulness? What about your teens?

Maura Minsky and Kristen Joiner believed that teens could provide insightful answers to such thought-provoking questions given the right environment. So, they created the right environment by cofounding Scenarios USA, a non-profit organization that uses writing and filmmaking to foster youth leadership, advocacy and self-expression among teens.

Every year, Scenarios chooses a “real deal” question and creates a curriculum of nine lessons that help teens address the question through storytelling and writing. The program culminates in a screenplay competition. Out of hundreds of entries, three stories are produced into short screenplays directed by the author and a Hollywood director.

Creating Writing Opportunities For Teenagers

Last year’s theme was, “What is the REAL DEAL about Masculinity?” The question inspired Earlaina Kemp, the Cleveland winner, to write MANchild, a script about an inner-city family with an emotionally-absent mother, three young daughters and Tommy, the older son who functions as the parent. Driven by necessity, Tommy makes some bad choices, yet turns his life around and secures a scholarship to college. Through the script, Earlaina wants to show that, “No matter what you did in the past, you can have a brighter future.” She worked with director Rawson Marshall Thurber, whose credits include Dodgeball, to create a powerful, 17-minute film. Kemp is a freshman at Central State University.

While the script belongs to the winner, the project belongs to the community. The entire class and the writers whose stories made it to the finalist round get mentored in movie production, from sound and set design to acting and promoting the film. The winning writer and several finalists become part of the Scenarios USA speaker’s bureau. The youth speak to their community and their peers locally, as well as nationally. Earlaina and her fellow writers have spoken at Case Western Reserve University, the Cleveland International Film Festival, the prestigious City Club, and nationally at the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the Directors Guild and Healthy Teen Network.

In picking the winner, judges prioritize content, not grammar.

“Whether you can write the Queen’s English is not relevant,” says Maura. “We want young adults to reveal their true identity with raw honesty. Do you have a story to tell? We value your voice, not your grammar.”

Helping To Foster Youth Leadership

Each admission is judged on five criteria: impact on teens, creativity, potential to develop a full story, educational value, and constructive image and message. Twenty people, including educators, filmmakers and teenagers, must all agree on one winner. The “What is the REAL DEAL about Masculinity?” writing contest is currently open to students, ages 12 – 18, in Greater Cleveland, New York City and the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas.

What is the real deal? Every teenager has an answer. And with the help of Scenarios USA, 11,000 teenagers have submitted their stories and 19 have been made into films.

Is your teen interested in the program but not a student at a participating school? Talk to a teacher who is willing to be a sponsor. Non-participating schools can receive the curriculum by contacting Scenarios USA. To learn more about the contest and view the films go to

Funding is provided by The Abington Foundation, The Bruening Foundation, The Cleveland Foundation, Cuyahoga County Board of Health, George Gund Foundation, Medical Mutual Foundation, Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation and the Ford Foundation.

Photo courtesy of Scenarios USA

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