It started simply, with the pure joy of dance.
Fifteen years ago, dance instructor Tamaira Sandifer launched a mission, bringing hip hop classes to economically disadvantaged kids in Sacramento schools, offering them a different form of self-expression and a dose of empowerment.
As she met students, got them talking and saw how creative they were, the woman known as Miss Tee realized the dance classes offered a bigger opportunity: a chance to help students build their own creative careers, or as she puts it, to be a “youthpreneur,” by learning how to produce professional-looking social media videos that highlight students’ varied skills.
Sandifer and her team at Studio T Arts and Entertainment recently opened a small online media lab on Fair Oaks Boulevard, and they are stocking it with video and podcast equipment.
Dance class is now the carrot. It lures in students who then learn how to plan, record, edit, produce and market online content that shows off their talents and skills.
“We teach kids how to be entrepreneurs using their existing talents,” she said. “How to create content and what to do with that content.” You can view a video about the group’s efforts, produced by staff and students, at https://vimeo.com/638756449.
To expand this effort, the Studio T team is asking for community help this holiday season via the Sacramento Bee’s annual Book of Dreams gifting campaign. The group is requesting donations to purchase $7,500 worth of equipment for use in schools and in the Studio T media lab.
“The dream for Studio T youth is to purchase MacBooks, podcast equipment, cameras and more to produce relevant content that uplifts the human spirit and teaches youth to be safe and have vision for their lives,” the nonprofit wrote in its application to The Bee. “We are requesting $7,500 to secure proper technology to keep our young people learning and growing.”
It’s been a logical evolution for the Studio T team, and a timely one, Sandifer said. She talked recently about the effort with The Bee while sitting at a recording table in the media lab’s podcast room as a team of young assistants edited videos at a row of computers in an adjacent room.
Young people consume online “content” every day on their smart phones via Instagram, TikTok, Youtube, Discord and other social media. They see how people with tech and marketing savvy are making money by showcasing skills and creating brands.
“Passion pays,” Sandifer said. But to get the opportunity to join the creative economy, young people need access to equipment and guidance.
“They are not lacking in creativity. They are lacking the tools.” she said.”
Her efforts got a shout-out from Mayor Darrell Steinberg during his recent State of the City speech.
Steinberg, who has been pushing to turn Sacramento into an incubator for entrepreneurs and tech-based businesses, highlighted Studio T, calling it “a remarkable online enterprise” that is trying to help young people create an economic future despite perhaps not having access to college.
Studio T’s work is varied and flexible. One Studio T participant adds art designs to old sneakers and is marketing them on social media.
Another former Studio T dance and marketing protegee now has his own business in Los Angeles as a photographer and provides dance lessons on the beach.
Another young woman who does hair now has an online presence with a business logo and a way of signing up clients.
Sandifer said the COVID-19 pandemic has made the moment even more critical to create educational and economic initiatives for youth, some of whom suffered during the school shutdowns because they lacked access to online learning.
“These kids missed out,” she said, not only on education, but also on social and emotional learning, and on support services such as counseling associated with school.
That’s put more Sacramento youth at risk of slipping into gang violence, pregnancy, drugs, homelessness or even suicide, Sandifer said.
Studio T videographer Lance Casey II, a former studio student, calls his experience with Studio T personally “transformative.”
As a late teen, he was in what he calls a “pit.” He regretted choices he had made, but was not motivated to improve himself or his situation. He dropped out of school because of depression.
“I was condemning myself,” he said recently, taking a break from editing a video at the Studio T lab. “I’m a whole different person. I have discipline, work ethic, and (I’m) emotionally stable.”
“I’m ecstatic to be able to come in every morning and work with people that I enjoy and work for the company that actually brought me out of the pit that I didn’t know I was in.”
And, he loves the fact that he has an expertise in videography and editing that he can share.
“I’m hoping to impact their lives,” he said. “I want to help. It is not the dance that reaches them. It is us being who we are, giving them a place they can feel heard and express themselves. I want to help people.”
How you can help
For more than three decades, The Bee has asked readers to provide a gentle lift to Sacramento organizations helping the needy during the holiday season. Last year, more than $200,000 was raised to help 32 community organizations. To help in this year’s Book of Dreams campaign, you can make a donation at: sacbee.com/bookofdreams