By David Drake
He is just 20 years old, but Rene Silva has proven that age is just a number. This young man, who came into the limelight about 10 years ago, has been helping his favela community fight negative stereotypes by using the media. Silva started his first newspaper publication, Voz da Comunidade, at the early age of 11. And by the time he was 19, he had written his first book, A Voz do Alemão. Silva, however, did not come into the spotlight overnight. Popularity found him after broadcasting the news of a confrontation between drug traffickers and policemen, where a 72 year old Dona Dalva was accidentally shot during the fire exchange only to die in the hospital later on.
During this confrontation, Silva and two other teenagers were able to broadcast the events of the day in real time, something that no other media house was able to do. This drew attention to the teens as the news of what was happening in the neighbourhood travelled quickly, and went far beyond the borders of Brazil.
Not only was this young man able to tweet the incident minute by minute, but he also streamed videos and posted pictures of the actual shooting by capturing what was happening with someone else’s mobile phone. He had firsthand news based on what he was seeing and hearing, something that made his reporting authentic and reliable. The newscasting was referenced to by Brazil’s well-known celebrities and actors. His Twitter followers grew from a mere 180 to more than 20,000 overnight. Following this incident, Rene’s stories were written with special reference to his work during the time of the crisis including a story carried out by BBC.
Voz da Comunidade was Rene’s first brainchild. The local newspaper was initially published to reach out to the local community by helping highlight their problems and needs. This humble idea was first introduced with the help of Silva’s teacher, and the school’s copy machine was where it all began with only 100 copies. With time, the publication grew, as did the number of advertisers and sponsors who were willing to buy space and fund the newspaper. The distribution grew to over 3000 newspapers which were distributed to the slum residents of Complexo do Alemao.
Rene was able to buy computers and a webcam with the money he received from the sale of the advertisement space. This helped take his news online where the newspaper become popular and more sponsors came on board to help him with financing and more equipment. His efforts grew from a simple newspaper, to a blog, followed by a website. The enterprise has employed other young people aged between 14 and 17.
According to Silva’s own words, the newspaper seeks to give the slum residents a voice which other major media outlets cannot afford to give them. Speaking of the newspaper, Rene told Aljazeera that, “It says what the residents want to say and what they aren’t able to say through the large media outlets, because I don’t believe the large media has a channel that’s really linked into the community,”
Rene is now a celebrity, not only in his community, but also around the globe. He has appeared in talk shows and soap operas. He has also worked with “Brotherhood Sister Sol” a Harlem-Based NGO in New York, in addition to giving a talk at the Harvard University during their “Digital Connections” Symposium. Silva was also one of the 4 Brazilians selected in 2012 to carry the prestigious Olympic torch for the sporting event held in London.
Voz da Comunidade’s objective
Silva has been recruiting various contributors from other slums in Rio and other major cities within Brazil to report for Voz da Comunidade. He has also recruited two contributors from New York who will be reporting on events related to Brazilians living abroad. The contributors will also be translating stories featured in the website from Portuguese to English. Silva’s aim is to offer his historically underprivileged community with a voice where they can responsibly air their problems and needs via technology. According to an interview given to Rafael Johns of Youth Radio, the main driving force for Rene is to help the people living in the slums to solve their social issues.
Silva also aims at highlighting and exposing the wealth of talent that is hidden in the communities, something that has not been the case with many social media platforms. In fact, according to Rene, most of the forefront media giants have been keen only in highlighting the social ills and negativities, a trend that his newspaper and website would like to change. The desire to help and fight for his community to get better living conditions acted as the main driving force for him to become a journalist and start his company, VOZ. Rene is a role model for many children and teens from Complexo do Alemão and all of Brazil.
David Drake is the Chairman of LDJ Capital, a multi-family office; Victoria Partners, a 300 family office network; LDJ Real Estate Group and Drake Hospitality Group; and The Soho Loft Media Group with divisions Victoria Global Communications,Times Impact Publications, and The Soho Loft Conferences. Reach him directly at David@LDJCapital.com.