Oakland’s Youth Radio celebrates book release
on September 19, 2010
On a typical weekday, the first floor of Youth Radio’s offices in downtown Oakland is teeming with students working intently at rows of computers. But the scene Thursday night was much different, as dozens of people crammed into the narrow space to celebrate the release of Youth Radio’s new book, Drop that Knowledge: Youth Radio Stories.
Drop that Knowledge, which is co-authored by a Youth Radio alumna and a current staff member, examines the organization’s contributions to journalism while also serving as a tool to share Youth Radio’s teaching model with educators. The book offers a behind-the-scenes look into what makes Youth Radio tick by detailing the development of some of the organization’s most ground-breaking stories.
“To me, this is like a wedding of scholars and young people,” Ellin O’Leary, Youth Radio’s president and chief content officer said, kicking off the event. “It is an invitation for scholars to be a part of what we do.”
The event, which included a student performance and a panel discussion about the futures of journalism and education, attracted program supporters and alumni. Attendees mingled with current students while sampling hors d’oeuvres provided by the organization’s healthy food program, Youth Radio Eats.
Co-authors Elisabeth (Lissa) Soep, Youth Radio’s research director, and Vivian Chavez, Youth Radio alumna and San Francisco State University professor, shared their goals in writing the book before chatting with guests and signing copies.
“It’s about recognizing the knowledge that young people bring to the issues that get talked about,” Soep said. As she spoke, a mural on the side of a building across the street, depicting a young man in a suit, was visible through the window behind her. “It’s imperative that adults and people who possess ‘knowledge’ get into conversation with young people; not because youth voice is an answer, but because it’s where a really interesting set of questions can emerge.”
Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, Youth Radio has blossomed from a small radio skills training initiative in Berkeley to a national organization with bureaus in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. The participants, young people who range in age from 14-24, create original pieces about issues that matter to them using the organization’s state-of-the-art equipment. In 2008, through a $5 million capital project, Youth Radio moved its long-time headquarters in Berkeley to the corner of 17th Street and Broadway in downtown Oakland.
Youth Radio content has been broadcast on outlets ranging from National Public Radio to CNN.com, and has garnered such awards as the George Foster Peabody Award and the Alfred I. Dupont/Columbia University Award for Excellence in Broadcast Journalism.
Drop that Knowledge shares some of Youth Radio’s most memorable pieces, including one of its first NPR broadcasts in 1999, in which a young man read e-mails from a pen pal in Kosovo during the Kosovo Conflict. Participants create stories about a range of issues including HIV/AIDS, hip-hop and peer pressure.
Beyond radio skills development, the organization now offers a wide range of interdisciplinary programs focusing on areas such as health education, technology and violence prevention.
“Youth Radio has been filling in the gaps that are left by failing public school systems,” said Jacinda Abcarian, Youth Radio’s executive director. “Many of the services that we offer actually have nothing to do with media, but we use media as a hook to get young people involved.”
Each year, Youth Radio serves some 1,200 young people, at no cost to participants. The program is especially aimed at low income students and students of color, and with support from Oakland’s Measure Y, the organization also offers a program specifically for local youths who have had encounters with the juvenile justice system.
“Young people who come from high stressor backgrounds, which a lot of ours do, have challenges in meeting their basic needs,” said Jabari Gray, Youth Radio’s development manager. “We realized that we cannot just show our students the path. Sometimes you have to give them a little bit of what they need to get there.”
By illustrating the development of some of the organization’s most compelling student stories, Drop That Knowledge offers readers a glimpse into Youth Radio’s innovative model for providing youth with the tools to create media.
“We take an issue and put a personal face to it,” said Abcarian. “A lot of people hear a Youth Radio piece, but they don’t understand how much trust-building had to happen with that young person for us to pull that story out. “
For more information about Youth Radio and Drop that Knowledge, please visit www.YouthRadio.org.
Correction September 19, 10 am: An earlier post of this article incorrectly listed Vivian Chavez as the Community Action Program coordinator at Youth Radio. This has been revised to professor at San Francisco State University.
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