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WUNC Youth Reporting Institute

Amplifying Voices: Checking In With WUNC's Youth Reporting Institute

WUNC Youth Reporter William Townsend records audio while being driven on a four-wheeler by his cousin in Mississippi.
William Townsend
WUNC Youth Reporter William Townsend records audio while being driven on a four-wheeler by his cousin in Mississippi.

That North Carolina summer has the heat cranked up to full blast. But the sidewalks aren't the only thing sizzling out there.

Each year, WUNC invites a group of talented young folks to step up behind the mic and document stories from their communities. And as students have adapted to the continued obstacles brought on by the pandemic, so has WUNC’s Youth Reporting Institute.

Last year, we had our very first virtual institute. This year, we took it to the next level, and the institute went hybrid. Youth reporters had access to recording equipment, audio editing software, virtual training, and dove into radio journalism through Zoom and on-the-ground reporting. We threw all of that into a mixing bowl, got a summer full of skill-building, and unlocked new ways to make connections with our communities.

Every summer is a new adventure into communities we've never heard from before. That's the whole point, right? To shake up the monotony of public radio, to put some diverse voices on the air and tell stories we rarely hear.

To reflect on those unique stories, we're sharing some conversations with four of our youth reporters.

Kamaya Truitt: Walk me through it, what did you decide to cover this year?

Ellie Stevens
Ellie Stevens' grandmother plays the card game Cinquillo with a group of ladies.

Ellie Stevens: So, I interviewed my grandmother. And essentially, the core of the story was about how she was able to find a community in a place that was once foreign to her. So, she immigrated from Spain to the United States when she was 21. And so there's a biographical element in that she talks about her life, you know, the immigration process, and her romance with my grandfather. But at the core, she talks about the Spanish card game she plays called Cinquillo, and how that game has given her community and a little piece of Spain in the United States… I know her really well. And so, you know, when she would maybe get emotional when talking about something, it was really hard for me to see that. And so, just trying to, you know, stay in the story and continue on with something that was definitely an interesting line: how far do you continue with a certain topic?

Kamaya Truitt: Walk me through one of those moments and how you got through it. What was the process of drawing that line, if you will, and what was the situation?

Ellie Stevens: So, in the interview, one of the questions I asked was, like, essentially, “Take me to the day you left Spain, and describe that.” And so that was obviously a very emotional day. And when she was talking about it, she started getting choked up talking about it… So, I just paused and just let her be in that emotion. Talk it out, instead of being like, “Oh, my gosh, it's okay.” Comforting her, just let her be in that. And then continued on once she was ready. So it was just letting her sit in the moment and think about it and what she wanted to say. But I felt like the pauses are really where you have to like – they often have things that they're still thinking about that they want to say. So, you've got to have those pauses to let them sit in that.

William Townsend: I decided to produce a story about my freedom and where it comes from and where it's at. And the story mainly took place in Mississippi where most of my relatives live – a lot of my relatives live – and just experiencing the true freedom down there. And the underlying theme of freedom was just to express that freedom and kind of find your freedom, your identity. It doesn't matter where it's at, it's what you think it is. And it's where you find it.

Kamaya Truitt: Was Mississippi a place you thought you would find that freedom?

 William Townsend and his cousin swim in Mississippi.
William Townsend
William Townsend and his cousin swim in Mississippi.

William Townsend: Not going to lie – not at all… Even when I first went down around four years ago, I was shocked. Even then, just the things they do out there – as you’ll hear in my story – like riding a four-wheeler, popping fireworks so freely, doing all these things you can’t really do up here in Raleigh… It was also being on this land that my family has owned and everything for such a long time. Four decades is a pretty long time to own a farm. Doesn't really matter what skin color you are at all. But even my aunt, being a Black woman, owning that land herself was just amazing to see. The things that I could do on it and just be free, was just amazing.

Kamaya Truitt: You did some crazy stuff that I would really like for you to say on-air. Can you talk to me about the wild adventures of capturing the audio that you got?

William Townsend: Especially my four-wheeler audio, which you're going to hear on the story, I was actually riding it as I was recording. My cousin was driving. It was pretty crazy. And I wish I did get some clips of him, teaching me how to ride again, because I forgot not being able to go down there for so many years. But just getting those sound bites, especially with the fireworks. I was popping fireworks as I was recording as well. So it was pretty dangerous. I can't lie. I'm pretty sure they probably didn't want me doing that. But to capture the sound, you got to just do it.

Kamaya Truitt: What story did you produce this year, and what made you want to tackle that?

The "SafeBae" mark signals safe people and advocates for survivors.
Nassibah Bedreddine
The "SafeBae" mark signals safe people and advocates for survivors.

Nassibah Bedreddine: My story was addressing the lack of sexual health education in North Carolina. And what drew me to that topic in particular, is I don't think it's a super addressed topic. It's a topic that isn't addressed by people who have the authority to address it. And it's important because there are so many students who – and just kids in general — who haven't had access to this information at home. And by addressing this information, and actually teaching it to students, they'll have probably, you know, better relationships, healthier relationships, and healthier attitudes surrounding sex.

Kamaya Truitt: I want to say, this was not something that I thought was going to be easy. I don't think it was easy, but you made it look like butter, to get all of the interviews, the information to formulate the questions. Can you take me through that process of collecting the tape? And who did you talk to and why?

Nassibah Bedreddine: The star interview for my story was with Chalina Morgan-Lopez. She's, I believe, a senior now at Sanderson High School. And she has a lot of background and actual comprehensive sexual health activism. Her main focus is around addressing the sexual harassment and sexual violence that is very commonplace, not just in school, but in everyday life that we never address. We know it happens, but we don't actually address it… And then I also interviewed Cal Baker, who is actually a youth advisor for Shift NC. And they brought a lot to the table about, you know, how sexual health tends to be incredibly heteronormative. It doesn't address a lot of topics relating to LGBTQ+ identity, or LGBTQ+ and sexual health and protection… They addressed a lot of different viewpoints. But the final message was the same that the sexual health curriculum needs fixing.

Kamaya Truitt: Surafele decided to dig into the artistic process and how artists feel about displaying their creativity on social media like Tik-Tok.

 WUNC Youth Reporter Surafele Sintayehu talks with the artist known as Maasho.
Surafele Sintayehu
WUNC Youth Reporter Surafele Sintayehu talks with the artist known as Maasho.

Surafele Sintayehu: I wanted to find out whether the artists that I listened to and I look at their drawings and paintings and stuff, I wanted to know how they felt about social media because it's a controversial app, and it could affect you, positively or negatively. And I wanted to know — the artists that are close to me that I know and have a relationship with — I wanted to know how they felt about the app. I ended up going to the Summer in the Carolinas music festival… One of the main interviews I did use was with Maasho. I interviewed him right before he did his 20-minute set, and I asked him about who was going to the concert, him or his character, Maasho? He's the person that performs at concerts, and you're going to see in the YouTube videos for his music and stuff like that. And then there's also Abel, who is the one making the music, making the beats, singing, playing the guitar, and he's also the one that's doing everyday stuff, like hanging out with his friends. And he told us that he's using social media to make this character for himself to sell himself… My story is catered towards music listeners and art appreciators. Try to think of the artists before you, as a listener, starts to critique them, I guess.

Be on the lookout for all the Youth Reporting Institute stories coming out in September on the air and online.

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