Sol Guy and Josh Thome
New Media Cultural Storytellers
Photograph by Farah Nosh
Sol Guy and Josh Thome want to tell you a story. About a trio in South Africa whose hit song is credited with lowering the AIDS rate in their region. About a baby left in a box who grew up to run a medical clinic for thousands of people in East Africa's largest slum. About one of Brazil's most successful hip-hop artists who puts his time, energy, and money into building community centers and empowering children. About a boy who survived Liberia's brutal civil war, exposed the training of child soldiers, and now builds orphanages and playgrounds for a new generation. About a Haitian health-care worker who dramatically cut her region's infant mortality rate by using songs to convey crucial medical facts to thousands of illiterate villagers.
Stories like these form the fabric of Thome and Guy's new television series, 4REAL. "We've found these amazing young leaders all around the world," Guy explains. "People creating real social change using music, art, and culture to propel communities forward. They've been through some of the most horrible experiences imaginable, yet have come out shining with phenomenal passion and power."
The series is enriched by a Web site, live music events, and school visits designed to reach, connect with, and inspire youth. "Mainstream media has grown stagnant; today's youth are thirsty for new, meaningful ideas," Thome says. "We're trying to fill that void and show them the power of being proactively involved in the world."
Each segment of 4REAL takes a celebrity guest on an adventure to a different developing country, highlighting extraordinary young leaders who ignite change under extreme circumstances. Celebrities such as Cameron Diaz, Joaquin Phoenix, Mos Def, and K'naan create an instant connection with young viewers. "Everyone we take on these trips is just blown away," Guy says. "Once you see what people are accomplishing, you'll never think about these issues in the same way."
4REAL brings more than a media spotlight to the efforts of young leaders. "We see them as partners," Thome says. "So as the series makes money, they'll make money—50 percent of the profits." The program's Web site offers additional opportunities to learn about and support featured projects. "For us, the true measure of the show's success will be the follow-up it generates. The people we draw attention to are already creative and empowered. They're not sitting around waiting for our help. The way they transcend surroundings and inspire others is amazing. But they need solidarity and partnerships to take their ideas even further. We're creating a new charitable model, giving youth a fresh way to engage with issues and affect change."
The different yet parallel paths that brought childhood friends Guy and Thome together is a story in itself. Riding the wave of the hip-hop music explosion, Guy's business savvy placed him at the center of a global grassroots cultural movement—and on track to becoming a top recording industry executive. But at the height of his success, he grew disillusioned with the North American hip-hop scene's increasing emphasis on violence and materialism.
Meanwhile, Thome had expanded what began as a high school environmental club into an international movement of youth engaged in social change. Yet he increasingly sensed that activism needed to gain more mainstream appeal and economic empowerment. "Our worlds were so similar, so related, but they hadn't really connected yet," Thome recalls. "We committed to working together to intersect popular culture with social change in a way that had true artistic quality, a strong economic engine, and the power to make a real difference."
The result is Direct Current Media, a multimedia production company developing television programs such as 4REAL, films, music, and online content. "Youth have always been a key force in creating change. This generation has so much energy and potential—we want to help them see that it's actually cool to care."
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Mainstream media has grown stagnant; today's youth are thirsty for new, meaningful ideas.
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