Published November 28th, 2022 at 1:30 PM
At just 13 years of age, Reynard Zweifel came close to being killed at the hand of another teen attempting to complete a gang initiation.
The attacker pointed a gun at Zweifel’s head at point blank range as he walked home from school in Kansas City, Missouri. But the gun apparently malfunctioned and all that Zweifel heard was a click.
Zweifel had slipped his Dad’s gun out of the china cabinet to protect himself. Zweifel fired the weapon over his shoulder to scare off the attacker, but Zweifel shot and killed the boy in what a judge would rule was self defense.
Today, Zweifel directs programming for the Kansas City performing arts group HYPE — Helping Youth Prepare for Excellence.
He remembers that fatal event at 13 and the long road from then to now.
“I started not trusting people,” he said. “I started being mad at everyone I was in contact with, and I didn’t have the necessary outlets that I needed.”
This lack of opportunities led Zweifel to cultivate them for Black and brown children growing up as he did.
At 17, Zweifel began attending Victory Temple Christian Life Center where he met part-time pastor Thurman Mitchell, a television newsman. Mitchell became his mentor and put the first camera in Zweifel’s hands, introducing him to the sound ministry. Soon Zweifel joined the video ministry at Calvary Temple Baptist Church, whose Calvary Community Outreach Network created HYPE.
Zweifel carries his experience growing up in the city’s disenfranchised community. His work has brought him back to the spaces where gun violence, poverty, and food insecurity are prevalent.
HYPE provides extracurricular activities for participants ages 13-24 interested in learning video production and editing and podcasting, or refining skills in music, dance and drama.
Not only is Zweifel providing connections to unique outlets for underprivileged children, he is also acting as a mentor. Zweifel’s “there to help them, whatever they need,” he said. “Whatever they come to me and say that they need, we’re there to find a resource for them to get them connected.”
HYPE uses a state-of-the-art studio to equip students with knowledge of operating a studio, using cameras, creating sound, conducting interviews and creating sets and stages.
HYPE members have produced quality television programming giving culturally sensitive, upbeat HIV/AIDS and substance abuse prevention information to their peers. Students learn the basics of video work including camera operation, editing and audio as well as interviewing techniques.
Producing content on real and relevant issues has created many opportunities for the youth in HYPE. Many have had conversations with police officers about neighborhood policing and brutality, seeking to mend socio-cultural gaps between officers and the youth.
In particular, Zweifel remembers watching an 11-year-old girl who had grown up fearful of law enforcement meet with police officers and work through their biases together to reach common ground.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, youth working with HYPE kept Calvary Temple Baptist Church services streaming. They would gather at the Rev. Eric Williams’ home with their equipment and set up a live stream of the sermon to everyone in the congregation.
HYPE’s youth have experienced real-time growth and helped heal community relationships under Zweifel’s direction. He values watching the youth in behind-the-scenes roles create media content while adding to their character. He is committed to putting technology in the hands of young people, believing they will enhance their lives as they pave new avenues for teens to talk about the issues of their community.
Aubrey Hughes is a reporter for the Kansas City Call. John McGrath is a video producer for Kansas City PBS.