Street-Level Perspectives: Shane Calvin

Street-Level Youth Media, with its spacious multimedia center at 1637 North Ashland Avenue, is still new to the Urban Gateways family. We are getting to know the space, getting to know the youth who have been creating there for years, and getting to know the enormous potential of this newest part of our organization. We wanted to give you the inside scoop, and to do that we thought we’d speak with someone who knows the drill: Shane Calvin has been attending programming and open lab hours at Street-Level since 2012, and he is now a Street-Level Intern with his own podcast. Read on to learn about his experiences at SLYM!

Urban Gateways: So first of all…how did you get involved with Street-Level to begin with?

Shane: It was so long ago…they were doing a public event at Street-Level in summer 2012 when I was 17, I think it was in partnership with Your Life is My Life. That’s where I met Lisa L.U.S.T. [media instructor], and she was talking about the music industry and her workshops around music at Street-Level. I got a pamphlet and I started coming to photo workshops, music workshops, and I’ve been here ever since!
What sorts of projects have you worked on at Street-Level?

So many…as an example, in summer of 2013 I was in their music video program, and we were in charge of coming up with a rap song about originality. I put in my corny 16 bars. I’m really into video; I’ve learned a lot over the years about Adobe Premiere Pro, and Final Cut Pro.

And then my friend Brandon was like, you want to be a talk show host right? You should do one now! So I told the Executive Director I wanted to do a show, and I’ve been testing the show out for a few years now, really since 2013. Now, this year, I’m taking myself seriously and putting out a podcast every week called “Shane in the Fast Lane.” It’s about anything that a young person would want to talk to their friends about, that they might not feel comfortable telling an older adult. It’s about unapologetic, honest conversation. Saying whatever it is that’s on your mind. Sometimes I interview people at SLYM, sometimes I take a SLYM audio recorder home with me to do interviews.

I’m also working on an album, singing and spoken word.

Over the years you’ve been at Street-Level, what are some of the most important lessons you’ve learned?

Mostly what I’ve learned from coming here is that when you give a performance, you have to give your all and be passionate about what you’re doing. If the passion isn’t there, if the audience doesn’t see it, they won’t believe it.

People only support people who are consistent with the things they do. It’s not just about talent. I needed to figure things out for myself. 2017 happened and I’m saying to myself, you’re an adult, you don’t know if you’ll live to be 95 or 25. If there was any time to make your dreams happen, it’s now. That’s when I thought, I’m going to do this talk show. And a podcast, that requires lots of consistency.

Consistency is key. Another thing I’ve learned is, in order to be a successful artist, there’s always room to grow. You can always be a little better, a little stronger in one area. And don’t focus on what the next person is doing. Because then you forget about yourself. The energy it takes to watch the competition, it takes away from your stride. You can support others, but don’t forget about yourself.
What have you gained in general, being a part of this community?

I feel like I’m growing closer and closer towards being comfortable with myself as a queer black individual. Sometimes I feel like in my life I don’t have support. I have days when I dread SLYM closing, my heart sinks to the pit of my stomach. Because it wasn’t until I started meeting people who were like me, who were going through things like me, in order for me to grow towards accepting myself and get out of that habit of arguing with reality. I think this is the first year I’m really being honest with my own feelings. Being at Street-Level, I’m actually starting to get rid of this need to be masculine the way society wants me to be just because I happen to have male anatomy. I’m growing to the point where I can free myself.
So on April 26 you went to Springfield with NextGen and a group from Street-Level…can you talk about that experience?

It was all about youth activists and youth organizations coming together to meet Illinois politicians to discuss issues like higher education and immigration reform. We went to Springfield with cameras and audio equipment. I was interviewing activists on why they were there and what they hoped to get out of being in Springfield. I was part of a group meeting their representatives, and my job was to record the conversations.

I feel like there is definitely a lack of diversity in Illinois government. A lot of the problems that particularly people of color face in Illinois…it’s important to have people representing you.
You’re currently working as an intern at Street-Level, right? Through an employment program with Howard Area Community Center?

I’ve always wanted to work here. To be honest I always wanted to get a coin off working here. Actually this is my second time interning. My first started in May 2016 and I interned throughout the summer. I loved interning. This time I knew for sure I wanted to work on a podcast and promote it, get it out there. And work on my album – people have only heard one song from me so far, and it hasn’t been released yet.
Anything else you’d like to add or tell our blog audience?

I’d just add that the podcast is helping me too, in a way. I’m getting more comfortable talking to people, because I may not seem like it, but I’m actually more of an introvert. But, the thing is, if I get comfortable in a certain situation, my personality comes out. I guess I’m a professional extrovert, personal introvert. I still get terrified talking to people, but I’m getting used to it through interviewing.

I listen better; I can listen, then give my opinion. I feel like I’ve gained a sense of that balance. Before, I thought I was listening but I wasn’t. Now I’ve gotten to the point that, like in Springfield, I could’ve gone on for an hour talking to activists. I’ve gained the skill that when I listen to the person I’m interviewing, I can come up with questions on my own, let the interview go where it’s willing to go. It’s also helped me articulate myself better.


The group from Street-Level in Springfield, Illinois with NextGen on April 26. Shane Calvin is lower right.

Big thanks to Shane for taking the time to tell us about his Street-Level experiences!

Thanks also to Howard Area Community Center for sponsoring Shane’s internship!


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