Checking in with: What If

It’s Testing Phase, and we’ve been making the rounds to participate in our Youth Challenge cohort’s events throughout Chattanooga. We’ve talked about these solutions for 6 weeks. Now we get the chance to see them in action.

What if stepping outside my house meant risking my life?

What if my siblings never came back home?

What if my father would have stayed?

These are some of the questions that Howard students crafted with the belief that phrasing these situations in the form of a question will open up the possibility for empathy. The students of What If invite other students who aren’t experiencing these issues to pause and wonder, “What if that was happening to me?”

In order to bring these hypotheticals to life, they are producing a series of videos on the topics of bullying, gang violence, abuse, and poverty that will be presented at Howard High School and at the Bethlehem Center in May. Greg Steinmetz of Chosen Productions contributes his film equipment, expertise, and experience with youth to bring these ideas to life.

The What If team exudes equal amounts of passion towards all stages of production: writing, acting, filming, and editing. Sometimes this means laying on a sidewalk to enact a dramatic scene or piling into cars and driving to a new filming location around Alton Park.


Latearria and Kaya, best friends and 9th graders at Howard are clearly enthusiastic about the project. They’re working on the issue of depression and poverty, posing questions like “What if poverty made you do illegal things for food?” and imagining how it might translate into a film.

Authoring these questions is an exercise in putting themselves in other people’s shoes. Their conversation led to a discussion on how poverty affects parents. Latearria brainstormed with us, saying, “Poverty really does affect the parents more, with making sure your children have clothes and food, a nice home and shelter, not having to worry about bills and stuff like that.” Kaya jumped in, “You want your children to have what you never had and poverty makes that hard for a parent, I think.”

Aubrey, Development Assistant at the Beth, prompted them: “Can you phrase that in a What If question?” Kaya: “What if poverty made my parents depressed? Latearria paused, then posited: “Or what if poverty was the cause of my mother’s depression?”

Both girls had no problem articulating why this project is perfect for them: “I like expressing myself because I can relate to most of the stuff that we are doing “What If’s” for,” Kaya began.

“I don’t get to express myself a lot,” Latearria added, “Well, I do, but it is stressful, like some people don’t see my point of view or where I’m coming from so I like to express it in writing and in What If’s and bringing it to my point of view and my background.”

“I really don’t talk about my problems,” Kaya explained, “but with these What If’s I can bring these problems out without talking too specifically about myself…because I get emotional quickly when I’m talking about my problems. That’s why I like coming here.”