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Emile Cambry, Jr.: Enacting Change through Film and Technology

January 13, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Alexandra Kadlec

The 21st Century Youth Project and the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival are two recent initiatives born of big ideas, ones that are now driving other big ideas and ambitions within the Chicago community and beyond: those of youth development and entrepreneurship, partnerships between social change activists and agents, and reform inspired by the art of filmmaking.

Emile Cambry, Jr. has been an instrumental force in launching both 21 CYP and the CISFF. With a background in economics, business, and finance, and experience working in technology and social development, the nonprofit sector, and filmmaking, it follows that his ideas are as expansive and far-reaching as his education and professional endeavors have been.

As efforts to develop 21 CYP and the CISFF continue, Emile shares what his experiences have been along the way, as well as the current status of both projects.

Apps created by 21st Century Youth Project students

The 21st Century Youth Project, a free 13-week after-school program, provides students with technology, business, and leadership skills in order to encourage and enable short- and long-term successes. Participants are taught how to create market applications for mobile platforms such as the iPhone, iPad, and Android, and are also given the opportunity to meet and learn from mentors in the field.

21 CYP’s pilot program was brought to the Naperville School District and the Crete Monee School District in January of 2011. This upcoming January, 21 CYP will expand to at least three additional schools in the Chicago area: Hales Franciscan, Innovations Academy, and the Lab School. In-progress discussions are also taking place with other schools in Chicago and Atlanta, GA. In addition to mobile applications, the 2012 program will also teach students how to produce and distribute short films.

At a fundamental level, 21 CYP was designed to equip youth with the self-confidence, creative thinking skills, and analytical skills necessary to forge their own successes. Emile credits similar initiatives he participated in, namely the Lead Program, as highly transformative and impactful experiences that have gotten him to where he is today. 21 CYP is a meaningful way for Emile to give back, and in doing so, to continue developing a new generation of leaders.

The spirit of giving back is also intrinsic to the aims of 21 CYP, as the program’s vision extends beyond singular student development to that of connecting and strengthening schools as well as larger communities. In an effort to reach and engage a broader audience, the program has produced the 21st Century Entrepreneurial Institute (—an online platform to facilitate learning for current 21 CYP students, which can also be used or adapted by partnering schools and organizations. The goal is for the basic model of 21 CYP to be a starting point, and an inspiration, for other communities to foster youth development, entrepreneurship, and leadership—in new and unique ways.

Increased publicity, such as CNN’s recent coverage of this and other like-minded programs, has resulted in schools across the country contacting those at 21 CYP with hopes of bringing the program to their communities. Given the successes of its inaugural year and planned expansions for a second year, it looks as though 21 CYP is off to a running start.

From Art to Action

The Chicago International Social Change Film Festival, founded by Emile and attorney Todd Belcore, also focuses on education and empowerment, albeit of a different kind. The festival’s mission is to encourage and support the work of independent filmmakers around the world, and to promote filmmaking as a valuable contribution to the understanding of social change.

The CISFF will also provide a forum for audiences and filmmakers to engage in productive dialogue while heightening public consciousness around important social change issues. In this way, the festival is less an event and more a conduit between information and action—or rather, art and action.

Emile Cambry, Jr.

With the CISFF formed just this fall, its founders and collaborators are still in the initial stages of planning. Discussions primarily center upon how to create and provide a space that is real, interactive, and dynamic for the festival’s participants. Once the advisory board has been filled, the next step will be to reach out to corporate sponsorships. The MacArthur Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, and the Sargent Shriver Center for Poverty Law are among some of the organizations the CISFF hopes to partner with. Although a specific date has not been nailed down yet, the festival is tentatively planned for October 2012.

Film submission guidelines are relatively open: the subject matter should be about social change. So far, 35 films have been submitted, a response that has been encouraging and exciting for Emile.

When asked about the potential for filmmaking to enact social change, one film in particular resonates with Emile: The Interrupters (2011), a recently released documentary by Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz that follows former violence-makers turned protectors of Chicago communities. Emile defines the film’s success by its aesthetics as much as the filmmakers’ emphatic outreach to Chicago-area organizations to respond in practical ways to issues the film unearths.

The CISFF holds great promise for what it can also bring—that is, much interest, opportunity, and change.

With only a brief history behind them, what have been the factors responsible for driving the ideas of 21 CYP and the CISFF forward into actions?

For Emile, it’s about bridging belief in oneself and finding the right collaborators to build with you, the latter of which he feels hugely grateful to have found. When asked how he’s able to tackle so many different projects in addition to his full-time job as an MBA professor at North Park University, he replies, “I think it’s just working with great people who are very action-oriented. They’re really the stars of making these things happen.”


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