In 2008, longtime educator and activist Fran Tarr began filming a documentary that followed the lives of two young teens living on opposite ends of the globe.
Ryan Smith was from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, and Mohammad Abu Srour lived in a refugee camp near Bethlehem.
Tarr's intent was to capture on film a special project she created that presented hands-on workshops in writing and creative performance to both teens in their respective cities. She wanted to use those workshops as a pathway for both teens to assume leadership roles amongst their peers, challenging the media's negative imaging of young blacks in Brooklyn and young Muslims in the Middle East.
The resulting documentary, "Brooklyn Bridges-- To Bethlehem and Back," became the impetus for a second documentary in 2010 entitled, "Breaking Walls," and then an outreach program by the same name.
"I led these young men and their peers through a writing-performing workshop demonstrating that they and their peers are not predators or prey but our best hope for a future filled with understanding and tolerance," said Tarr. "What was amazing was, even before meeting each other Ryan and Mohammad were so similar. Their personalities, gestures, sense of humor... I was just blown away."
Ryan Smith and Mohammad Abu Srour have since met each other. And on Wednesday, July 5, both Ryan and Mohammad will meet again-- this time, in Berlin, Germany-- to guide four teens from ACORN Community HS in Brooklyn, four teens from the Aida Refugee Camp near Bethlehem and six teens from the Nelson Mandela International HS through a nine-day writing-performing-cultural exchange workshop. There will be a culminating performance of their original writing on Friday July 13, in front of a live audience of Berliners.
Bed-Stuy Patch caught up with Ryan and Tarr last Wednesday, as they worked on completing the final bit of filming in front of Ryan's family's home on Macon Street, before preparing to leave for Berlin.
Ryan was 18 when he first began filming. Now he is 22. He is no longer a teen; he has grown into a young man who is happy, relaxed, confident and ready to continue traveling the world; ready to make a difference in the lives of other teens.
"It's just been a blast, getting to work with new people and surround myself with people who I can see as family," he said. "I'm pretty much blessed. It's always been a dream of mine to travel around the world, and this case, I'm living my dream. And as I go on, it's been a blessing to be able to help the kids in my community who have the same dream."
"It's hard for me to describe what this feels like," said Tarr. "We never thought in 2008 when we first started this journey that we might still be friends, let alone have traveled this extraordinary journey together."
"Maybe we're not solving world crises, but we're challenging the stereotypes," said Tarr. "It's exciting to see [these youth] who are usually seen as the ones in need of an intervention taking their place on the world stage as creative leaders. It's like a dream."
You can follow Ryan, Mohammad and Tarr on Facebook and Twitter at "BBDocumentary." You can also visit their website here, where you will find an app you can download and follow them on their journey overseas.