FSM has served over 6,000 students since 2000 and now serves over 700 participants each year. FSM continuously strives to create innovative programs and establish unique partnerships that will impact the lives of Chicago's young people.
Free Spirit Media was established in 2000 with the formation of HoopsHIGH, a sports broadcasting program. Jeff McCarter, a cameraman, editor, and Emmy Award-winning producer in the film and television industries, developed the idea of matching youth passion for basketball with his media expertise to allow students to broadcast high school sports. Free Spirit Media immediately saw the effectiveness of its method and expanded to include other types of media production.
In 2001, FSM and Umoja Student Development Corporation’s summer Community Builders program began creating documentaries and exploring the value of media activism.
In 2004, North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School (NLCP) invited FSM to build an integrated media program within its school, thus allowing FSM to develop and deliver a multi-year progression of in-school video production courses. In 2007, NLCP opened a second campus at Collins High School and invited FSM to expand with them to teach video production classes and lead after-school programming.
In 2006, FSM launched an intensive journalism program at the Gary Comer Youth Center on Chicago’s South Side. Those students now produce FSM News, a 10-minute weekly news show.
In 2009, FSM expanded to Westinghouse College Prep and Power House High Schools. FSM offered after school programs at both schools and in 2010 began offering in-school elective classes at Power House.
In 2010, FSM launched an after school program at Little Village Lawndale High School.
In 2016, Free Spirit Media expanded to the Nichols Tower at Homan Square. The organization's media lab in the historic building hosts FSM News West and Real Chi Youth.