KCM Agency and Zenith Division’s President and Co-founder Roy Choi called Children in Harmony (CIH)the most important project of his life. Roy has always believed that gender equality and the empowerment of women is a resolution to many of the problems plaguing our world. His desire to be a proponent of change led him to the idea of using music to empower girls, and this idea evolved over the last few years into a mission of combining music and emotional intelligence education to empower girls and create empathy in boys. It was with this purpose in mind that Roy founded Children in Harmony.
As the first step in taking action, CIH has created a program called Amani (“harmony” in Swahili) in partnership with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. The program combines learning theory with music therapy and music-making. Through the creation of music, children are empowered to express themselves and build a connection with those around them. CIH hopes to bring Amani around the world and kicked off the program in Tanzania this past August.
In order to support this cause near and dear to Roy, KCM Agency's media subsidiary, Zenith Division, donated their time and services to document the Amani program in action from start to finish. We asked Zenith Division’s Director, Brent Mata, to share some of his experiences from the two weeks he spent with the CIH team in Tanzania.
Thinkbox Q&A with Zenith Division Director Brent Mata:
1. Zenith Division was part of the media team for Children in Harmony's inaugural trip to Tanzania. What were your responsibilities during this trip?
I had the pleasure of helping this production as Director and Cinematographer. The entire production was a major collaboration. We were a small crew and, along with the efforts of our local members, we were able to acquire many hours of footage to tell this story.
2. What were some of the challenges you faced while abroad? ex. Sourcing equipment, language barrier, etc.?
We relied heavily on our local production team, PPT, to help us source the gear we needed, which was very limited. They also became incredible guides for us in Dar Es Salaam and Bagamoyo. The language barrier rarely affected us, specifically due to the team we were partnering with. Beyond that, the largest challenge was just the time we had to tell this story. We were so fortunate that, though this schedule was intense, that our footage, characters, and overall theme came through when we wrapped.
3. You brought your personal RED camera and Ronin (camera stabilizer) for the trip. You ended up donating your Ronin to the PPT Media House team, with whom you worked closely with in Tanzania. What led you to make that decision? What effect do you hope your gift will have on the future productions of PPT?
From our first conversation with the board of CIH I felt connected to this project. It was my pleasure to bring as much of my own gear that I thought would elevate the imagery of the film. This project was all about a human connection, and we wanted to make that as evident as possible with quality footage. As for donating my stabilizer, that was a joy to do. Roy pulled me aside one night and said how much he wanted PPT to know what their participation meant to all of us, then suggested the gift. Honestly, it was hearing him express that kind of altruism that inspired me. We both hope that, in the limited accessibility of production gear in that area, this will help them create unique imagery and promote their company in a greater capacity.
"Honestly, it was hearing him express that kind of altruism that inspired me."
4. How did the children react to the program? What impressed you the most about them?
These kids were so smart and creative. They took to the program's methods, specifically Yale's Mood Meter, very quickly. They were able to navigate the mood meter, recognizing their current emotional state, and how they could direct their feelings moving forward. The point was all emotions matter. It was an honor to watch them adapt such a wonderful skill set.
5. You and the CIH team are headed to Flint, Michigan next, which also happens to be your hometown. Did you have a part in CIH choosing Flint as a location to implement the Amani Program? If so, what were your reasons for advocating for the city?
I love Flint, and am so happy that the CIH team chose to include my home in the program. When Erik contacted me about involving Flint, I couldn't champion it more. Michigan cultivates an incredible amount of creative people, and I think that Flint deserves a spotlight that focuses on the amazing people that live there.
6. Will we be able to see the footage you captured in Tanzania? If so, when and where can we expect to see it?
Of course! The editing process begins shortly after we return from Flint, and will take us a bit of time to wrap. Erik Gregory and Roy Choi will be sharing teasers of our final edit (and have already) throughout the process. Interested parties should check out the CIH and KCM social media feeds for them!
7. Lastly, if you could sum up your experience in one word, what would it be and why?
Grateful. I learned so much from those kids in Tanzania, as well as my family at CIH. I would have never anticipated this shoot to have lead to that impact, and I'm happy for that surprise. Erik Gregory used one word that changed my perspective on how we should perceive humanity's experience, and that's dignity. We shouldn't look at another person's situation and feel grateful for our own. Rather, we should look at the joy they have, and expand on that, help navigate an area that continues to develop that awareness.
Check out this vignette of the Amani Music Makers story:
Through Brent’s experience, we saw just how CIH is shaping our world into a better place for young people. It has inspired not just Brent, but the team as well. Providing and giving room for opportunities to explore our individual passions is part of the company culture that KCM continues to foster. We are then able to elevate the team as a whole by sharing our learnings. Just as Roy used his resources to take action for something he believes in, we are inspired to use our own skills and experience to support the causes we stand behind. It all starts with the desire to make a change and a community of like-minded individuals willing to step up and take action.