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Behind the Scenes of Our Teen Tech Center Stories

By John Vomhof Jr.

Martaize "Tez" Smith woke up early in the morning to practice his lines before the film crew arrived at his home in North Minneapolis.

The 15-year-old high school student is an aspiring filmmaker, but that day he was going to be on the other side of the camera. "I was a little nervous," he said. "That was something I've never done before, but I'm a performer. That's me. That's who I am."

Tez is one of three teens who star in a series of new digital videos that highlight the youth served by Best Buy Teen Tech Centers, which provide teens from underserved communities around the U.S. with free access to a wide range of technology and skills training. We recently opened our 17th center, and we plan to expand to 60 locations across the U.S., Canada and Mexico by 2020.

The videos share real stories of how teens are using technology to pursue music, photography and other passions despite the challenges of living in communities where many students don't have access to tech or the internet at home. Every kid has dreams, but not every kid gets an opportunity to achieve them.

Best Buy hopes to change that. That's why we've committed to working with our partners to help prepare 1 million teens per year for tech-reliant jobs by 2020 through our Teen Tech Centers and other tech-education initiatives.

Tez is a perfect example of how that comes to life. He visits the Teen Tech Center at Hope Community Center in Minneapolis almost every day to use the music studio, digital cameras and computers. He has already won an award for one of his videos.

He hopes to turn his passion into a career. Being on set for the professional video shoot provided even more inspiration.

"I've never seen anything like it," Tez said. "I was asking for tips on camera settings and things like that. I took some of those things, and I'm already five times better than I was before."

In their own words

Every student attending a Teen Tech Center has a deeply personal story to tell, and we wanted to honor that by showing the impact of the centers through the eyes of the students who rely on them every day.

"We really felt the kids should tell the story," said Bruce Bildsten, Best Buy executive creative director.

Bruce and his team chose to do that through the power of spoken word. Each of the three students wrote a poem about their own personal journey, then worked with Joe Davis — a nationally touring writer, speaker and performer based in Minneapolis — to refine it.

"All the kids wrote all of their own stuff, and it was definitely true to who they are," said J.T. Evans, who works closely with the students as coordinator of the Teen Tech Center at Hope Community Center. "It was similar to our process at the center. They'll get an idea and bounce it off me, but they create everything themselves."

Naje Wright, one of the teens profiled in the videos, wrote her poem about the internal struggles she faces in her life and how she hopes her story will inspire others to be true to who they are.

"I had never written a piece like that before," the 15-year-old said. "It was about me. I didn't sugarcoat anything, and it came out just like I wanted it to."

The project culminated with four days of filming at sites across Minneapolis, including inside each of the students' homes and the local Teen Tech Center. The videos include cameos from the teens' families, friends and mentors.

The videos were directed by A.V. Rockwell, an award-winning screenwriter and director from Queens, New York. They will be shared on social media and on the TVs in all Best Buy stores.

Seeking to inspire

This is the first time Best Buy has supported our youth initiatives with a public-awareness campaign, highlighting the critical need for tech education in underserved communities.

"Our Teen Tech Centers give kids who may not have a lot of opportunities in their lives the opportunity to succeed," Bruce said. "We need to let more people know about this."

Naje hopes her story will inspire other teens like her to visit a Teen Tech Center and pursue their dreams.

"If I didn't go there on my 15th birthday, I don't think I'd be where I am right now. And I'm only 15," she said. "When you leave a Teen Tech Center, you're definitely not leaving with the same experience you came with."

She recently got a sneak peek at her video and was thrilled with how it turned out.

"When I first saw it all together, I literally cried," Naje said. "It was so cool to see something I accomplished."

And that's what the Teen Tech Centers are all about.

Best Buy Teen Tech Centers

Best Buy Teen Tech Centers.

Best Buy is helping teens develop tech skills for the careers of the future. Watch inspiring videos and help us share some of their stories.