The World According to Beryl

November 28, 2023

Beryl McNair is 71-years-old and ready to share her talents with the world. Born and raised in Portland, she’s always been an advocate for children and seniors — and now she’s here to advocate for herself. After a chance encounter with Open Signal Cohort Facilitator Melissa Salazar, she realized the potential that her story held to inspire others. Beryl took the leap and applied for Open Signal’s Production Cohort, finding the confidence to explore her creativity and bring her message to the screen.

Her project is titled Unlearning to Learn, because, in her own words, “for this whole project, I’ve had to unlearn things from the past to get to learning.” Open Signal’s Production Cohorts connect emerging media makers with one-on-one support, giving Beryl the opportunity to dive into media making as a way to reflect on the moments that shaped her and the lessons that made her the empowered creative she is today. The intent is to talk sincerely about life through all its stages. With Melissa’s support, she’s teaching herself how to use a green screen, audio and video editing as a new way to express her feelings. By bringing her experiences and wisdom to light, she wants to help others who may feel alone. 

Her journey wasn’t easy; there are gaps in her memories of youth, moments of hardship and grief. As a young African-American woman navigating the educational system, Beryl internalized the messages she received in elementary school: to stay silent and limit her dreams. In elementary school, this led to feelings of isolation and low self-esteem. Regardless, she advocated for herself, finding allies who believed in her potential. In her junior year of high school, she was recognized with a position in the federal government through the Neighborhood Youth Corps under President John F. Kennedy. This opportunity gave her school and employment credits, eventually leading to a permanent position after graduation.

Photo courtesy of Beryl McNair.

It’s that same tenacity and energy that she brings to the cohort, not letting age or inexperience stand in her way. “As an older person it takes me longer to learn something, however when I understand the project I go sailing along to finish it thoroughly.” You can find her at Open Signal every week, storyboarding and filming, using her hands to bring the past to life.

Unlearning to Learn will be a 5-minute animation, made with the intent to show others that they can break free of expectations and self-doubt. “You have to one day learn how to take wings and fly,” Beryl notes. Through this process, she’s found a renewed sense of self-respect. “I am building relationships to discuss my feelings and what I want, taking the initiative to make decisions for myself and solve complex problems. Finally my confidence has been built as tall as the Empire State Building!”

You can watch a preview of Unlearning To Learn at Open Signal on December 8th. Media makers from the Summer 2023 Production Cohort are premiering their work at a screening in our studio, and we invite everyone to come and experience these exciting projects! Meet the filmmakers and celebrate their dedication to community media and lifelong learning. Register for the event here: Summer '23 Cohort Screening.

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