Original URL:http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/0113najera13.html

Know99 empowers kids
The Arizona Republic
Jan. 13, 2004 12:00 AM
Mel Meléndez

Well-rounded communicator is in the know

Marcos Najera's powerful one-man show Jabón (Soap) highlights the oral histories of family and friends punished for speaking Spanish in Arizona schools.

So it's no surprise that his work as know99 Television's creative director helps empower students, many of them bilingual Latinos struggling to hold onto their culture, to remain in school.

Najera's day job melds the 31-year-old's three loves: education, journalism and acting, with a dash of activism thrown into the mix.

"How many people get to combine their passions while helping kids realize that they have a voice and a say in their future . . . that they can be their greatest advocates?" the Phoenix native said. "I'm very lucky."

Those who know the Stanford University graduate say luck has little to do with it because his five-year stint as a TV news reporter and producer and former career as a public-school teacher make him more than qualified for the job. Phoenix hired Najera in 2002.

"Know99 really lucked out because where are you going to find someone who was a teacher, a journalist and an artist to work on such a venture?" said Deborah Sedillo Dugan, acting executive producer for Phoenix 11, where know99 is headquartered. "That's a tall order."

Najera, who's single and has no children of his own, has the jovial disposition and boundless energy required to work with kids, said Gerardo Higginson, senior assistant to the mayor.

"He's a professional, but he has a lot of patience and can really relate to the kids, which inspires them to do good work," he said. "He's also a good role model because he follows through on his ideas to make them a reality."

A typical day finds Najera reviewing resources and submissions for the 24-hour education station that airs on cable Channel 11. He then works with students who research, script and film much of the original programming, including AIMS test preparation tips and advanced math lessons. Najera then helps edit the segments, before meeting with graphic designers to discuss branding strategies.

Najera, who caught the acting bug as a child playing a chicken in an opera at Phoenix Symphony Hall, credits Stanford University professor Anna Smith Devere with inspiring his stage work. That includes his first one-man show, Hip-Hop Gent (Hip-Hop People).

"To watch this person of color who was a teacher, an artist and a journalist of sorts because she did political docudramas, really inspired me," Najera said. "It showed me that you don't have to give up one interest to pursue the other."

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