Schenectady film work to boost young lives

Prince Sprauve doesn’t like a quiet audience.

When things got too quiet at Proctors’ Apostrophe Cafe in Schenectady Saturday afternoon, he would stop his speech to bring everyone back on board: “I know I’m not talking to myself. I need you all to talk to me.”

Sprauve was standing at a podium to announce three things at once: The launch of the non-profit he founded, Told By Us Productions; the first major project of that organization, a multimedia effort to combat Schenectady’s high teen pregnancy rate; and the receipt of a $150,000 grant from the Schenectady Foundation.

It was a big day for Sprauve.

“I’ve waited years for this day to happen and it’s finally here,” he said.

But he didn’t just wait. He was working.

Told By Us Productions grew out of an afterschool program the 30-year-old began at Schenectady High School in 2007, called Revolution Studios, that aimed to empower disadvantaged students through music and film.

After the release of the program’s first film, “Fast Life,” Sprauve partnered with friend Ryan Sanborn to transform the idea into a non-profit that eventually became Told By Us.

The non-profit’s first major initiative, which will take all of 2016, is a multimedia project aimed at, ultimately, reducing the high rate of teenage pregnancy in Schenectady by raising awareness and connecting at-risk communities with the resources they need.

The centerpiece of the project will be a teen-produced documentary film called “Cradle,” which will shoot throughout 2016. Sprauve expects a debut in 2017.

“We’re taking the target audience to address the target audience,” Sprauve said. “This is not just a movie. No. We’re creating social change. We’re breaking stereotypes. We’re bringing down walls. We are defeating the odds.”

Sprauve does not shy away from big ideas or big promises.

“I’m going on record and saying this: This will change the community,” he said. “It will.”

According to Sprauve, Schenectady County has the third highest rate of teen pregnancy in the state. According to Schenectady Foundation Executive Director Robert Carreau, who spoke at the event, the city regularly tops the Capital Region for teen pregnancy.

On average, in Schenectady County, about 53 in 1,000 teen girls are pregnant at any given time. That number is 38 in Rensselaer County, 28 in Albany and 19 in Saratoga.

“That hurts us in so many ways. It hurts us economically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally,” Sprauve said. “Truthfully, I don’t think a lot of people even know.”

Sprauve knows because he went and found out. When he was just beginning the “Cradle” project, he interviewed 19 young parents in the city to hear “what went wrong.”

One was a teenage girl who was so terrified to see a doctor that she didn’t go until 41⁄2 months in. At one point, she had her younger brother jump on her stomach to try to abort the birth. She gave birth at five months, and the child is developmentally stunted.

Another was a teenage boy who quit school and got a job when he thought he’d gotten a girl pregnant. Eventually, he learned he was not the father.

“Those are the kinds of things that our kids are facing that we’re not knowledgeable about,” he said. “We need to create an atmosphere that’s going to be conducive for kids to come forward and talk about this.”

In addition to the documentary film, which will feature an original soundtrack, the “Cradle” project will include several commercials, music videos, and forums about sexual health and professional development.

All of the young people working on the project, Sprauve said, will go through training in terms of the music and entertainment industry and sexual education. His hope is they’ll come out the other side not only more able to carry on the work and improve their communities, but with a valuable skillset that could lead to a career.

Saturday’s launch party featured many of the artists and musicians working on the soundtrack, as well as a studio for promotional photos.

Carreau said “Cradle” fits well with a new initiative launched by the Schenectady Foundation to give voice to the city’s youth.

“We want to see kids graduating, we want to see kids finding jobs, education, we want to see them getting more involved in their community and we want to see them developing their skills and talents and giving them that opportunity that maybe they just didn’t have before,” he said. “And we see ‘Cradle’ as a key element in that.”

In addition to the $150,000 from the Schenectady Foundation, TBU has also received $10,000 from the Carlilian Foundation.

Sprauve did not shy away from what this project is going to take. It’s a year-long effort involving the production of a feature film, among other things. That means volunteers and talent. That means money.

“And that is why we need y’all’s support. We can’t do this without you all,” he said. “There are a lot of people who are middle class and upper class and they want to help in so many ways, but they don’t know how to. Well here’s your connection. Here’s your bridge.”

This article was originally published at The Daily Gazette.