Book Review: Drop That Knowledge

Youth media has been transforming the lives of young people for decades. Like an oasis among the often-oppressive urban, rural and suburban American landscapes, where privilege and power often go unquestioned and unchallenged, at youth media programs teens experience voice, value, visibility, peer and adult collaboration, integration with the local community (and on-line communities), and recognition in creating collaborative, thoughtful media (video, radio, web, print, photography to name a few).
Youth media is not just about handing young people cameras and having them post videos onto YouTube nor is it simply about getting on the airwaves to do a “youth” feature. Youth media is a strategy that uses media technology to amplify the critical analysis, expression and voice of young people. The relationship between adults and youth at these organizations model what it means to be a responsible and proactive citizen in contemporary society. In these small environments, young people are encouraged to work across difference and understand both the power of one’s ability to create while building a solid foundation and deep analysis of the media, power, and the dynamics of race, class and sex in society.
Whenever I have visited a youth media organization—there are approximately over one hundred throughout the U.S.—I always wonder what my life would have been like had I the youth media experience as a teenager. As an educator, I intend to replicate some of the core principles and methodologies I have gleaned from working in the field. But how can the world of educators who have not had the pleasure to work in the field—or who do not even know of its existence—become informed?
The recently published book Drop That Knowledge: Youth radio stories helps educators, grassroots organizers, academics and the general public learn from the insights and lessons learned by a pillar organization in the youth media field—Youth Radio in Oakland, CA.
I had the pleasure of visiting Youth Radio twice. The first time, when construction of their new head quarters was almost complete and Nishat Kurwa was kind enough to give me a tour of what has become a haven for youth in Oakland. The second was in the past year, where I experienced the thriving world of the organization’s teen radio producers and adult allies in action.
The co-authors of Drop That Knowledge, Vivian Chavez and Elisabeth Soep, are seasoned youth media educators and academics. Vivian Chavez, is featured as one of four personal stories captured in “Alumni Lives”—the final chapter in the book—which gives the reader a clear sense of youth today and how youth media responds to their needs and concerns. She explains:

Being defiant was a necessary device, an antidote to guard against the adults in charge of my education and sometimes obstacles to it… I needed an outlet. Through youth media training, I gained effective communication skills… to unlearn ideas that did not serve me… Common among alums were a desire to be heard, for community, interdependence, connection… something to belong to,…add meaning to our lives and transcend individual differences (p. 141).

Chavez is now an Associate Professor of Health Education at San Francisco State University.
Soep’s role throughout the book is clear. Her work guiding students to unbury the “lede”, interview participants and edit their pieces starts with an important questions to examine and stretch perspective: “How do you know? How do you know what you know?” Soep’s honest examination of her own role as an adult—when to step in and when to step out—helps the reader navigate and think about important parameters of space and dialogue that working with youth requires.
Lissa Soep joined Youth Radio as a PhD student conducting research at Stanford and has been working at Youth Radio ever since, teaching at Berkeley as well as San Francisco State. She is currently the Research Director and Senior Producer at Youth Radio. Both Soep & Chavez have multiple books and articles published under their belts.
Together, Soep & Chavez give the reader access to multiple case studies in their experience at Youth Radio, which is community-supported, has roots in public media, and offers training in radio, music, and video—and even provides a health component including food, martial arts, and yoga. The mandate of Youth Radio is described in an epilogue written by Youth Radio’s founder, Ellin O’Leary: “to prepare young people to maintain and reinvent journalism’s best principles, so they can deploy today’s new tools and platforms to speak truth to power, to cultivate credible sources, to tell the story no one else is telling, and to create art and report on emerging trends and cultures.” O’Leary asserts: “I believe that young people trained in youth media will continue to bring about change—by revealing both the connections and the gaps between what happens in Oakland and what happens in Washington, and places in between and beyond (p. 177).”
Drop That Knowledge adds to the growing body of research in youth media. The book begins with introducing key theoretical terms such as converged literacy and collegial pedagogy, situating youth media pedagogy in the ethos of progressive academia and higher education. The authors then introduce some solid takeaways and tips for practitioners and educators on the ground, including the phases of production, nine identified factors that promote youth engagement, interview tips, and specific elements of what they coin “the feature” and “the frame.” Engaging stories, challenges, lessons learned and activities fill up the near 200 pages of this volume. Drop That Knowledge wraps up with three key chapters: Alumni Lives, an epilogue by Youth Radio founder Ellin O’Leary, and specific training exemplars from Youth Radio curriculum. To review Lissa’s own chapter layout and overview, go to her blog here.
Drop That Knowledge emphasizes an important element to youth media and youth radio: youth-adult collaborations. Despite new technology and the assumption that young people are experts in navigating new media, Soep & Chavez show the reader that youth media projects are mediated processes that guide and mentor young people to connect their experiences to advocate for change in a manner and voice that can reach (and resonate with) a large audience—for Youth Radio, that means National Public Radio (NPR) with a listenership in the millions.
As the editor-in-chief of Youth Media Reporter, a professional multi-media journal that documents the best practices of the youth media field, the questions I ask of a chapter or book that needs to be forthcoming, is: what qualities, values or principles make a youth media educator? After meeting and publishing about three hundred educators, all of whom come from many different ethnic and educational backgrounds who enter youth media’s world all too often by happenstance, I want to know what a youth media educator is as defined by the field. What does a youth media educator look like? With the possibility of youth media exponentially growing—as it its progressive power that lays in its strategic uses of technology, mediated process, and access to large audiences is realized—providing a concise depiction of what it takes to be a youth media educator is critical to sustaining this important work. Perhaps an extension of the final chapter of “Alumni Lives,” as modeled in Drop That Knowledge could lead Soep & Chavez to collaborate once again to capture such a blueprint from the voice sof young people and their adult allies.
As an educator, I would have also liked to see more gender analysis and more discussion during sections that bring up conversations on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) issues throughout the book. Increasingly, youth media programs are providing important safe spaces for exploring gender stereotypes and identities that attract queer teens and feminist praxis. Currently, there are several girl-specific youth media organizations—TVbyGirls (Twin Cities), Reel Girls (Seattle, WA), Girls Write Now (New York, NY), Teen Voices (Boston, MA), Khmer Girls in Action (Long Beach, CA), and the 15-25 Rock n’ Roll Camp for Girls to name a few—and LGBTQ youth media programs—particularly provided at Reel Girls (Reel Queer), REACH LA (Los Angeles, LA), BeyondMedia Education (Chicago, IL), and Global Action Project’s Supafriends (New York, NY)—who would benefit from such insight and pedagogy.
Drop That Knowledge is a great launching point for educators to learn more about the youth media experience, sharing perspectives and constructing opportunities while guiding the generation of powerful stories to affect social change. That youth media affords any young person with a platform to discuss oppression and experiment with crafty, media innovation is reason to learn the art of youth media, starting with Drop That Knowledge.
Ingrid Hu Dahl is the editor-in-chief of Youth Media Reporter and a program officer of youth media at the Academy for Educational Development. Dahl is an adjunct professor, currently teaching Imagery & Culture at Rutgers-Newark. She holds an M.A. in Women’s & Gender Studies from Rutgers and lectures nationally and internationally on youth media/media literacy, identity, LGBTQ issues, women’s leadership and social change. She is a founding member of the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls in Brooklyn, NY and in the band, Rad Pony.

Traditional and Youth Media Education: Collaborating and Capitalizing on Digital Storytelling

Left: John Braman, Right: Judy Goldberg
From elementary schools to universities, educators are increasingly incorporating digital storytelling into the curriculum. This trend is good news, especially in New Mexico, where traditional approaches often fail due to diverse learning styles, language barriers, and a pedagogy that does not connect theory to its application. The trend of digital storytelling is also good news for local youth media educators; however, we must carefully establish partnerships with local schools to train young people and teachers in the school environment.
Youth Media Project (YMP), an organization that teaches digital storytelling skills (primarily radio) based in Santa Fe, NM, provides a partnership model approach that combines teacher training, student-produced media, required academic courses, community radio and the Internet to serve a myriad of young people and educators.
History and Context for Youth Media Project
YMP is an outgrowth of an educational curriculum called “Drawing from the Well–Connecting School to Community” (Note: where learning stems from choosing essential questions and interviewing community knowledge-bearers). Inter-generational exchanges spark the impetus to investigate history or current-day events. Through digital documentation, students discover the stories they want to create about their own culture and communities. Short radio documentaries, art displays and a final, public and community-based celebration demonstrates student learning.
Over the years, YMP has developed expertise in creating learning environments where non-traditional learners can discover the success that comes with producing work that has both personal and social meaning. Teachers report that student confidence soars in a multi-modality process that involves listening, speaking, inquiry, writing, recording, peer feedback, and a finished product that is aired regionally.
YMP is a small organization with only one full-time staff member, four part-time specialists, and three volunteers, including the professional staff of the community radio stations. Staff are hired on the basis of their expertise in media literacy, language and communication arts, special and gifted education, audio production and broadcasting.
YMP’s small size can be an advantage, as it has the flexibility to seize partnership opportunities with teachers who are zealous advocates of media education. Then YMP works with those teachers to amplify, extend and support their efforts. Funding for this support comes from grants, private foundations and contracts with partner organizations.
Currently, YMP’s partnerships include six teachers whose academic disciplines are in creative writing, theater, English and history, environmental and sustainability issues, conflict resolution, and student health and prevention. Overall, YMP has developed partnerships with eight northern New Mexico schools, colleges, and non-profit youth-serving organizations.
These partnerships include direct service in an educational setting, providing one-on-one teacher coaching, facilitating in-class youth audio productions, and broadcasting student work through affiliations with community radio stations. The student populations include a wide range of cultural and socioeconomic factors—from the young, international undergraduates at the United World College to the urban population of older and mostly Hispanic students at Santa Fe Community College.
YMP’s success has been in nurturing the independence of each collaborating teacher’s approach while instilling core practices, so that the collective group has enough in common for a professional dialogue.
For instance, in a pre-season training in September 2009, all collaborating teachers gathered to flesh out the ingredients of excellence in student work. They identified authentic voice, concise language, varied and appropriate use of the four elements of radio—continuity, actualities, sound effects and music, and compelling issues—as core components to a constructive peer critique process. This kind of dialogue based on shared principles, the respect and appreciation of peers, and a supportive environment is necessary for any group of craftspeople to find satisfaction and excellence.
The two case studies that follow represent the progress of a teacher and student through YMP.
Case Study: Joey Chavez, Teacher
Joey Chavez is a professional actor, playwright and theater director. He is also Santa Fe High School’s director of the Theater Department and a full time teacher.
A very busy and successful educator, Joey saw the advantages of applying his mid-level drama class to radio production. Together with YMP and SFCC support (paying a part-time faculty to teach a dual credit/dual enrollment course on a high school campus), he and YMP director co-designed curricula, resulting in students’ writing and performing radio dramas.
Two years later, YMP became a technical support and an outlet for completed radio pieces in Chavez’ new course “Radio and Film.” However, after one semester when computer problems and a difficult group of students resulted in no final products, Joey and YMP decided to let go of the editing portion of instruction so students would focus more on writing, recording, creating sound effects and music, which led to a final performance of their radio dramas.
This year the students will not only air their final presentation on a live radio show, but, as a requirement for their class, they will perform their pieces in front of a live theater audience. The partnership afforded Chavez and his students radio and internet outlets for student work and students reported that the teaching methods resulted in deeper listening; from room tones to the nuances of meaning in human expression.
Case Study: Carmen/Karmen Gallegos, Student
Carmen Gallegos is a Mexican immigrant who, at age 14, was already working to help supplement her family’s income. Like many immigrant students, Carmen, the eldest of three, was the primary intermediary between her Spanish-speaking parents and the English-speaking world of Santa Fe.
Carmen started with YMP as a freshman in high school, first as a dual credit/dual enrollment student in classes offered at SFCC and later as a participant in YMP’s after-school program. After a YMP presentation in her high school AVID class to recruit students, Carmen signed up for “Radio Production” and “Narrative Radio” through SFCC’s Media Arts Department. Carmen became engaged in radio production and soon with the community radio station based on campus—the result of her dogged interest, dedication and productivity.
Carmen produced three radio pieces: one about her Quincienera (a Mexican coming of age ritual); another exploring identity issues as an immigrant and what it’s like to live in two worlds; and third, a poetic piece about an imagined illegal immigrant field worker. These pieces were seminal, demonstrating the potential of YMP and leading to funding support, which has helped YMP come to where it is today. Carmen’s pieces can be heard on PRX; specifically: How Many Times Do I Have to Say Goodbye?, and A Revolution to Make This Country a Better Place: A Montage of Interviews from Various Participants at the 2007 U.S. Social Forum.

This past summer, as a college sophomore, Carmen was selected to work with YMP as an Americorps VISTA volunteer. She and another college student, Dolna Smithback, who had also participated as a high school student with YMP, spent the summer producing and hosting radio shows with younger students. They traveled to Connecticut (by invitation) to tell the story of the Global Youth Leadership Institute’s program and participated as mentors and team-building leaders for the YMP two-week Summer Intensive, a partnership course in media and service leadership with SFCC.
Today, Carmen is getting a degree as an elementary school teacher and dreams she will be a practitioner in the field of youth media. Carmen has stated, “Now I know what I want to do with my life.”
Lessons Learned about YMP’s Integrated Approach
For those who run an independent youth media program or for those who work within educational systems, successful partnerships create a win-win-win-win-win—for youth, educators, youth media programs, society and funding agencies. Success will come easier if program directors and staff manage those relationships effectively. Consider these points:
Have memoranda of agreements with collaborating teachers carefully delineated, then signed. These memoranda should include the responsibilities of each party, equipment acquisitions and maintenance, an assigned educator who is invested in the program success, and regular planning meetings to meet deadlines and assess progress. It is best to establish these roles and norms before the work starts.
Identify how elements of media education align with teacher’s required standards and benchmarks. Knowing the standards and benchmarks will help you defend the program when needed and claim your interdisciplinary accomplishments to funding agents. Given the range and type of classrooms, YMP relies upon the creativity of teachers for this alignment. YMP is compiling data about this for on-line resources and workbooks that can help orient new teachers.
Coordinate schedules. Ensure that collaborating teachers can commit to meetings and your organization can spread its staff resources across the week and month in an equitable way. A note of caution: at YMP, projects take longer to complete and require more staff time than initially envisioned.
Orient prospective teacher-collaborators. In your initial conversations, make sure collaborators understand that student productivity necessitates:
• openness to changing how work gets done in the academic setting;
• addressing conflicts when they occur, since this is essential to the teamwork involved in production; and,
• commitment to projects that exceeds the norm for most school assignments.
Using these guidelines, YMP has proven that partnerships between youth media and educational institutions effectively serve immigrant, marginalized youth, as well as the gifted and talented. Youth media organizations can draw on best practices in experiential learning and collaborations to train teachers to integrate media curricula and help students of any age to develop oral and digital communication skills. When traditional education falls short, youth media can reach peers, educators, adults and policy makers to activate social change.
A resolute friend of youth peace and justice initiatives, John Braman lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he is president of Dream Year Consulting Group and serves on the city’s Board of Education Strategic Planning Committee. John’s consultations with schools and colleges specialize in organizational development, fundraising, strategic planning, executive coaching, and the design of mission-extending, revenue-enhancing programs.
Judy Goldberg has worked as an independent video and radio producer, as well as a media arts educator, since 1979. She hosts a 1/2 hour radio show, Back Roads Radio; featuring writers, storytellers and community people telling stories centered around a central theme. Her development of “Drawing from the Well,” an interdisciplinary curriculum connecting school to community, is the forerunner to founding and directing the Youth Media Project.

Social Justice Radio: A Strategy for Long-term Change

New Mexico is a state rich in diversity with respect to gender, race, ethnicity and social class. Yet, even though young people may share the same classroom, they may never speak to one another, let alone engage in a project or task together.
Youth Media is an important platform to challenge these overt divisions. But the platform is not the solution—the solution is designing youth media programs with an intentional social justice framework and community-building approach. This framework is critical in a society that still stereotypes, underestimates, and discriminates young people, people of color, populations from lower socio-economic status, and youth that live alternative lifestyles.
With intentional project design that is based on a social justice framework, youth media can sow the seeds of equity and facilitate long-term change in our communities.
KUNM Community Radio
New Mexico has one of the highest poverty levels in the country and one of the worst dropout rates along with high rates of teen pregnancy, teen violence and suicide. In addition, bleak statistics indicate inequity and a sense of “powerlessness” among youth. It is in this setting that KUNM launched its Youth Radio Project in 2004. Our social justice principles are rooted in the divisions we continue to see in our communities.
As a youth radio project, we train teens to approach journalism and broadcasting from a social justice framework. This is how it works:
• Teen participants go out into the community and participate in organizing/civic engagement activities—highlighting grassroots community organizing, youth activists, and peace makers.
• They are challenged to expand their understanding of social justice, democracy, inclusion, and equity.
• Then, they create radio segments, using media to give voice to local activism, which often extends nationally and internationally.
The radio station provides a venue for over a million listeners in central and northern New Mexico, raising awareness, dispelling stereotypes, and developing a sense of pride in the capability of New Mexican youth.
Afterwards, the productions are evaluated based on two key questions: “How was community served?” And “What did the youth producers learn about an issue or about the community?”
We attempt to bring young people across difference together, because we realize that they have been impacted by eight years of public educational policies, perpetuating the status quo and limited critical thinking in the classroom. And, they have been subjected to the values of pop-culture (reality TV) and corporate-owned mainstream media, which use fear tactics and survival of the fittest theory to distract from the real issues in our communities, promoting deception and manipulation. A sixteen-year-old in this country has had about half of their life influenced by these two factors, drastically affecting their identities and relationships with their peers.
In addition, the broader society still does not see young people as change agents, despite the many strides that the positive youth development field has made. Youth who are organizing against policies and structures, based in institutional racism and social classism, have very few venues to inform and educate the broader community of their organizing efforts, victories, and lessons learned.
Young people have a good handle on their reality—they are hungry for change and want to be part of creating change. They relish the opportunity to create socially conscious stories, and making an impact through the media.
Adult mentors in youth media programs are role models and allies that make a long-term investment in the efforts of the project and the young people they serve. For many young people, this dynamic is new and breaks the walls of adult vs. teen. This supportive dynamic, along with the opportunity to work with peers in an authentically diverse environment committed to social justice principles, helps teens see their commonalities and stick through the challenge of trusting one another.
In project evaluation and reflection, the youth participants express how they have changed as a result of being in this project. Jonquilyn Hill , an 18-year-old participant explains:
“I never really cared about social causes or issues before this project, I used to think more about going to the mall, hanging out with my friends, but now I see how I can make a real difference in my community and because of KUNM Youth Radio I have decided to pursue a degree in Journalism.”
Social Justice and Power Analyses
So what is social justice and how do you design a youth media project using social justice principles?
Conceptions of social justice can be broad, but in the youth media context at KUNM; we define social justice as living in a just world where every member of society has the basic human rights and equal access to all of the benefits of society.
Youth media organizations seeking to incorporate a strong social justice element into their programs first must commit to giving voice to the voiceless amongst youth themselves and be intentional in recruiting youth that would normally not be included in media projects. Beyond ethnic and cultural diversity, youth from various socio-economic classes, geography and life experiences should be included.
Second, youth media organizations must examine the power analysis of their local community.
Ask questions such as:
• Who holds the financial power in my community?
• What are the statistics, who is fairing well and who is not?
• Who controls the media and the messaging in our community?
• Who represents our community?
Organizations should not stop there. Turn the lens on your own NGO or media arena. Ask questions such as:
• Who holds the power in the organization?
• Who controls the funding?
• How would you rate your level of racial/ethnic diversity, gender equity representation of the community you serve?
Doing a power analysis of your own environment is particularly important for youth radio projects that are operated out of public radio stations, whose regular audience and contributors are often educated, middle-class, dominant culture, privileged members of our society.
After conducting this power analysis look at your weaknesses and what areas need to be strengthened for long-term community change as your NGO/Media outlet is a vehicle for long-term change. Choose four or five social justice principles as areas that programmatically you can make a commitment to and create intentional program design around.
It is also helpful to engage the principles of multi-culturalism and inclusion when designing an equitable, inclusive environment for youth media production.
Suggestions to the Field
Educators interested in designing an intentional youth media project committed to social justice and long-term change has to look at the areas that have not quite “made it” from a social justice framework. Some of these areas to consider are:
Gender Equity: How do you create a gender balance in skill development for the participants? Make sure that your program participants have a gender balance and mix up tasks and roles. For example, the first cohort of Youth Radio Participants included young females of color who were more then willing to be engineers, producers and script writers but did not want to be on air . We created a practice that there had to be gender balance in all areas of our programming. So there is always a female host and a male host for each of our productions.
Race/Ethnicity: Are you representing your community? Is their a mulit-cultural balance in giving voice to under-represented groups in the field? Answer the questions and make sure that your recruitment process is based on multi-culturalism and inclusion. Look at your pool of applicants and fill based on what racial/ethnic gaps exist. For example, if several Latino or Caucasian youth have applied, target recruitment efforts to Native American, African American and Asian youth.
Social Class and Geographic location: In addition to race/ethnicity, consider reviewing and analyzing youth participants based on geographic representation, school demographics and socio-economic class–all key to a social justice recruitment approach. For example, in New Mexico, there is an important correlation between class and geographic location. As you serve your program participants, ensure that the “voice” of communities across social classes are considered.
Inter-generational Connections: Youth and adults who form equal partnerships are better able to bridge social justice issues—together, they can partner for long term investments in change. For any youth programming the issue of Adultism and priviledge has to be on the table. The KUNM project structure provides three tiers of inter-generational connections: the teens and mid-school youth participants, young adults (19-25) with radio experience who work in a mentorship capacity, and professional adults in the broadcasting and/or youth development field. Mentorship is designed in the project so that every participant is involved in the learning process.
Sexual Orientation, Life-style and life experiences: The project is diligent in how the air time is shared and utilized in order to get many different voices and stories out to the audience. Youth who represent all areas of our community are included not only as producers but also on the air.
Civic Engagement/Youth as change agents: How can youth media break the stereotype of young people as unengaged, apathetic and self-centered? Mainstream media has been extremely effective at portraying teens in a negative lens that encourages fear. One way to combat these archetypes is to have youth media producers focus on amplifying their peers that are community activists and organizers, illustrating youth perspective on community issues. This is an excellent strategy to combat these stereotypes and model peer leadership and shared empowerment.
Next Steps
Youth do not generally see themselves as capable of creating social change. We know that if people cannot experience power at a young age, there is more of a chance that they face a lifetime of feeling powerless. But if young people can experience an environment that is just and equitable, encouraging them to be storytellers of social justice, new realities and possibilities will emerge. Youth media programs have an incredible opportunity to re-direct patterns of powerless and power, for young people now, and for future generations to come.
Roberta M. Rael, a 10th generation New Mexican is the Project Manger for the KUNM Youth Radio Project and the President of Inspired Leadership Inc. She has over 20 years experience in Community Building work and is the proud mother to her teen-age daughter, Lucia Martinez.

letter from the editor

Letter from the Editor
Welcome to September 2007 (Volume 1: Issue 8) of Youth Media Reporter (YMR).
This issue is focused on youth radio and its importance to the youth media field. Many thanks to this month’s contributors from Generation PRX, and Youth Radio (CA), Radio Arte, and interviewees from KBOO Youth Collective, Blunt Radio, Voices of Youth, Radio Rookies, and Radiobus.
The radio pieces in this issue cover:
• Teaching and understanding the value of diversity in Latin American youth radio classrooms;
• How providing leadership and career opportunities can engage youth to become peer-to-peer teachers and graduates-turned-employees at Youth Radio;
• The importance of radio partnerships; and
• The unique elements of youth radio that make it stand out across the field.
In addition to this month’s feature radio articles, check out our professional of the month Erin Lanke, the Youth Advocate at KBOO Community Radio in Portland, OR, who started radio at the age of fifteen and rocks out in a punk rock band.
YMR has two more issues left in the year 2007 and will be releasing a print version of the journal with 8-10 “special feature” articles that investigate trends, issues, and challenges current to the youth media field early 2008. If you would like a copy of the print journal, send a request to
The next issue (#9) of YMR will come out on October 15th with a focus on cross-continental youth media work. In October, YMR will co-sponsor a two part “Youth Media Forum” at NAMAC’s Frontier is Here conference with Global Action Project, Youth Media Learning Network, and Listen Up! on the 17th and 19th in Austin, TX. Reflections from these forums will be available as in-briefs in next month’s issue.
If you are interested in writing an in-brief or a feature article about a youth media event, program, or challenge your organization has experienced or solved, contact YMR. We are interested in learning about you and your viewpoints.
If you would like to be published in YMR please contact me at As always, we also encourage you to provide feedback or begin a conversation about any of the current articles, simply use the comment feature next to each article on the YMR website.
Ingrid Hu Dahl
Editor, YMR
Report from the field and make a difference!

My Trajectory through Youth Radio

Since I was about seven years old I dreamed of being a sports broadcaster. While I played sports in high school, I realized early on that I had a much better shot talking about the games professionally than playing them. I would mute the volume on the television and do play by play of the basketball and football games. I wrote complete news stories based on the events from my sports video and board games. Oftentimes I would argue with gentlemen three and four times my age about the merits of Southeastern Conference football and the intricacies of Temple’s match-up zone. Despite my desire to be on the radio, before I walked into Youth Radio my broadcasting experience was limited to ramblings recorded on cassettes using my mother’s boom box.
Youth Radio gave me a place to hone in on the aspects of media that interested me most. Based in Oakland, CA and founded in 1990, Youth radio is an after-school media education program and independent production company. Young people at Youth Radio file stories regularly for outlets ranging from National Public Radio, serving 26 million weekly listeners, and via social media sites like MySpace and YouTube, as well as our website, We have bureaus that serve youth in Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Los Angeles as well as production partnerships with correspondents and youth media organizations around the globe. Youth Radio has won major broadcast journalism honors, including the George Foster Peabody, Alfred I. DuPont, Edward R. Murrow, and most recently a United Nations Department of Public Information medal.
From my perspective, three important aspects of Youth Radio have led the organization to much success. First, we provide a visible line of leadership for youth; second, we lead with inquiry and use media literacy in teaching video, print, music and radio production; and third, we have a strong peer teaching model. This perspective comes from my ten year trajectory at Youth Radio—starting as a teen and ending as the Director of Communications.
My Own Trajectory
I entered Youth Radio as an 18-year-old high school senior. At the time, I was required to have an off campus internship to graduate and since I had spent the majority of my high school career writing for our campus newspaper, my career counselor suggested I give Youth Radio a shot.
At Youth Radio, I learned how to write radio commentaries, edit audio and produce a radio show—where I could share my opinions and musical tastes widely. Controlling the airwaves a few hours each week was a powerful experience; almost as powerful as hearing one’s voice on air for the first time. As a teenager, the idea of being able to express oneself (uninterrupted) is appealing since often there are so many adults bombarding you with information that you welcome any space where your thoughts come first.
My experience at Youth Radio solidified my decision to major in broadcast journalism at Howard University in Washington, DC. During my time at Howard, I hosted and produced a music television show, wrote for various local newspapers and did on-air work for our campus radio station. The skills I acquired at Youth Radio helped me make a near seamless transition into my college media work.
While I was in college, I regularly received emails from then Deputy Director Beverly Mire checking in on how I was doing. Those emails made an incredible impression on me and made me feel that I was a part of a larger network. Even today, I often hear students at Youth Radio use the term “family” when referring to the organization; and in a lot of ways it is.
Once I returned to the bay area, Bev and I remained in contact even after she left the organization. She put me in touch with people at Youth Radio and I was eventually hired as an Executive Assistant to the Executive Director—a testament to Youth Radio’s focus on the educational, personal, and professional development of young people. As Youth Radio grew so did the need for publicity and strengthening internal organizational communications. In a response to this demand, the director of communications position was developed and I was hired for the position.
The opportunity to work at Youth Radio came at a crossroads in my life. At the same time I was interviewing with Youth Radio, I was also offered an opportunity to interview for a position at a large cable sports network. There I sat with what I thought was my dream job a flight away yet there was this draw to the position at Youth Radio. I saw Youth Radio as an opportunity to change the voices being heard in mainstream media. I was also drawn to the organization because it values the contributions of young people who have gone through the program.
A Visible Line to Leadership
I look around at my colleagues and notice the sheer number of former Youth Radio students who are now in key leadership positions at the organization. Some have grown up through the organization, while others like me, went to college and returned as graduates-turned-employees. Youth Radio’s managing director, news director and recruiting coordinators—just to name a few—are all former students. Seeing former students steering the organization reminds me that Youth Radio is a place that values young people—their ideas as well as their personal and professional development.
Youth develop their skill sets at Youth Radio because they understand from the moment they walk through our doors that what they have to say is valued. As fellow program graduate Pendarvis Harshaw explains, “Youth Radio teaches us the process of broadcasting, the mechanics of production, and the influence of media [from] young people who have also gone through the program. [At Youth Radio] young people are literate in the power of media and the power we have in producing media.” These graduates return based on the organization’s success in taking an active interest in young people’s thoughts and ideas throughout the program and actively placing them in leadership positions.
The leadership of these graduates-turned-employees provides innovative ideas to enhance Youth Radio’s programming. For example, Youth Radio’s music production department was the brainchild of a former student who went off to college, learned to make beats and wanted to bring his expertise back to the organization. As a result of his experience at Youth Radio, he shared his curriculum back to the organization confident that this skill would benefit youth producers and strengthen the program. Once you have contributed to the development of any entity, its success becomes of personal value to the creator.
Innovative ideas that improve the organization arise as a result of Youth Radio providing a supportive knowledge base to prepare students for work outside of Youth Radio’s walls. As an organization, Youth Radio purposefully offers access to college and career opportunities.
The Peer Teaching Model
The mechanics of Youth Radio’s peer teaching model are as follows: After completing introductory and advanced training cycles—about 22 weeks—students are eligible to apply for paid teaching internships or become peer teachers. Students receive specific professional development to help them make the transition from students to teachers, through mandatory workshops on topics ranging from how to facilitate on-air roundtable discussions, develop lesson plans, mediate conflict resolution, and work with current technology.
The peer teaching model is a vital part of how Youth Radio operates. Graduates—who are acutely experienced in how information is obtained and taught at the organization—are able to teach their peers in a way that may be challenging for instructors that have not been through the program. Peer teachers are a living example for the next generation of students to see how skills being taught can be mastered. The concept of co-creation in the peer teaching model is pervasive throughout the organization and is crucial to our survival.
Our peer teaching model would not work if there were mostly adults projecting what they feel young people want to learn. In many ways, that would be no different than the overall media landscape, where power brokers in suits armed with Ivy League educations are telling young people what they should be listening to, wearing and watching.
Peer teachers specialize in particular areas of production. Some peer teachers will focus on teaching incoming students to produce Public Service Announcements, while others will train students to craft instrumentals, write commentaries, or learn to blog. While building on their particular journalistic and musical areas of expertise, all peer teachers—who are students that completed advanced courses eligible for paid positions—are expected to facilitate student learning, focus, and overall personal and skill development. This dual learning dynamic enhances the area of expertise for peer teachers to “try out” their skills sets and simultaneously, engages new students with skills and a visible line of leadership. In addition, this structure creates a true sense of ownership in the work we do and a vested interest in making sure that current and future students have a quality learning experience.
While we proudly claim our radio roots and peer teaching model, the alumni and students at Youth Radio are a tribute to the organizations’ success. Our unique approach to train students in a variety of different mediums allows for their innovative ideas in program development and has encouraged graduates to return to work for the organization. Giving young people choices and a variety of media to learn from in order to tell their stories is the foundation to Youth Radio’s success as a youth media organization. The strength of our organization lies in the students who have gone through the program and have helped push it in new directions.
Key elements to take away from Youth Radio’s model:
A visible line to leadership: From the minute a student walks in the door, they should see a clear pathway from student to teacher to leader within the organization.
Flexibility and fluidity: Give young people power and voice in creating innovative approaches to program development.
Lead with inquiry: teach media literacy and use posing questions to lead students to awareness, critical thinking, and observations. Encourage students to think critically about what is being presented to young people about young people, as this sets the stage for students to take control of images in the media, by creating their own.
Additional media “tracks”: if you have the capacity in your organization, add other media options (such as video, music production, print, and/or on-line journalism) to give young people exposure and alternative means of expression.
Co-creation: Peer teachers should be a part of the process in making media with students and collaborating with adult professionals.
At Youth Radio, young people truly drive the direction of the organization through developing new curriculum, serving as peer instructors and growing with the organization—often serving Youth Radio in senior level staff positions. The ability to create a meaningful learning experience for young people, as well as a chance to work with people in my own age group, made me choose the storefront non-profit over the flashing lights of the corporate machine. There has not been a day since that I regretted my decision—a testament to Youth Radio providing a visible line of leadership, valuing innovation and students’ professional development, and using a peer teaching model to lead to our success.
Patrick Johnson is the Youth Radio’s Director of Communications. He is a graduate of Youth Radio’s class of 1998. To learn more about Youth Radio please visit

Continue reading My Trajectory through Youth Radio

Youth Radio Producers Recreate Kanye West’s Single Live

Youth Radio Producers Recreate Kanye West’s Single Live
Live rework of Kanye West single caps second Youth Radio Music Producer Showcase
Oakland, CA – Youth Radio’s second Music Producer Showcase was held on Friday August 17, 2007 in the Youth Radio Mind Body Health Center in downtown Oakland. The show case featured Youth Radio peer teachers Quinn 2.0, BeatStreets, Su and Doc Sauce. They were joined by special guests Sam Trackz, 1 O.A.K and Soleil. The evening also showcased the work of Youth Radio poets, one of whom was Ayesha Walker, and emcees, Yung June and DaChao.
Producers played their original instrumentals, as well remixes of rapper TI’s “Big Thangs Poppin (Do It)” and their interpretations of the Bob James classic “Nautilus”. The evening concluded with the producers breaking into a live jam session where they reworked UGK’s “International Player’s Anthem” and Kanye West’s “Stronger” among other songs.
Check out the producers live re-creation of Kanye West’s “Stronger”:
About Youth Radio
Youth Radio is a multimedia youth organization based in Oakland, California. Youth Radio teaches young people between the ages of 14 and 24 radio broadcasting, audio production, graphic design and video production. The voices of Youth Radio reporters can be heard locally, nationally and internationally on radio, Internet, and through print media. Youth Radio reports and commentaries can be heard on outlets such as National Public Radio, Public Radio International and iTunes to name a few. In addition to Youth Radio’s Oakland headquarters, the organization has bureaus in Los Angeles, Atlanta and Washington, DC.
For more information about Youth Radio please visit