Molding Young Leaders with Strong Voices

There's nothing new about young people attending the national political conventions. The experience of 15 Boston teenagers at this year's national conventions, however, was anything but "conventional." These young people made up the press corps of Youth Voice Collaborative (YVC), a program designed to help Boston urban youth become critical consumers of the media and technology and make them effective voices in their communities.

Drawing on my own experience as a young reporter at the 1992 political convention, I served as the media coordinator for the YVC Campaign '96 Multimedia Project. Working with my former news director from Kid Company Radio and a project coordinator from Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, I was responsible for preparing members of the YVC press corps for work at this summer's Republican and Democratic National Conventions.

I helped develop a curriculum to teach the teenagers to be reporters who provided youth-oriented coverage. I taught them research methods and application and led field work to give them hands-on experiences. They began by researching issues important to them, including abortion, drug abuse, education, immigration, welfare and employment, and violence. They learned about newswriting and interviewing techniques, formulated their interview questions, and went to work.


The achievements of the team can best be illustrated by the extraordinary accomplishments of several individual participants.

Before leaving for the Republican National Convention in San Diego, aspiring filmmaker José Lugo, a 17-year-old student from Hyde Park, had a clear idea of what he wanted to accomplish. "I want to present myself to the best of my ability. I want to represent the Latinos out there, one of the lowest voting communities, especially the Mexican Americans and the Chicanos," he said. "I want to show people there's more than one side to a story. There are not just black and white, there are many shades of gray."

At the convention, José met candidate Patrick Buchanan, a person he considered to be one of the greatest contributors to the difficulties the Latino community faces. In an interaction that José said involved "swallowing his pride," he asked Buchanan what steps he, as a young person, could take to represent the voice of minorities effectively. José's efforts resulted in nothing more than a "photo-op," but he prepared news reports about the encounter for New England's "El Mundo" radio and National Public Radio. José's self-esteem skyrocketed because he had made a difference by representing himself and his community through his individual voice.

Similarly, Andrew Floyd's trip to the Democratic National Convention in Chicago provided more than just media literacy. Before the convention, Andrew, a 16-year-old student from Roxbury, said his goal was "to send a message to the nominees for president that an inner-city kid can come to something like this (the convention) and ask serious questions and be known as a serious person."

To achieve this goal, Andrew worked hard to become more articulate at expressing his feelings about the acts of violence he experiences daily as an inner-city youth. He left for Chicago still unsure about his ability to reach his goal, but soon had garnered interviews with several governors, senators, and celebrities. He had overcome his fear of expressing himself openly and returned home with a new sense of pride.

The media coverage and the placement of stories done by YVC press corps' members was extensive. Boston television stations reported on the YVC project at the conventions, and the Boston Herald devoted a full page to stories written by YVC reporters after each convention. Corps members were reporters for New England Cable News and provided commentary for NPR's "Morning Edition," C-SPAN, "Phatlip! Radio" of Little Rock, Arkansas, and "Radio Ahhs" of Washington, D.C., and they were the focus of an edition of CBS' "48 Hours." YVC members maintained a World Wide Web site to provide instant updates from press corpsÕ members at the conventions.

Youth Voice Collaborative does not just breed young spectators of a media-dominated society, it creates leaders who are making a difference. Whether at the convention, on television or radio, in newspapers, or on the Internet, the youths of YVC sent a clear message: young people are not just a part of the future, they are an active part of the present.

--David Heafitz '98

David Heafitz, a junior from Swampscott, Massachusetts, is majoring in East Asian studies, with a concentration in Japanese language. His position with Youth Voice Collaborative was funded partially with a $500 grant from the President's discretionary fund for student-initiated projects, with support from the Center for Service and Learning and the Office of Communications. YVC is a collaboration between the YWCA Boston, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston, the Patriot's Trail Girl Scout Council, and the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts, and is funded by the Riley Foundation, the Reebok Foundation, and the AT&T Foundation, among others.

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