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WUNC's Youth Reporting Institute is a community and platform for young people to skill-build and share their passion for radio journalism and storytelling. The 2024 summer program welcomed 7 student journalists, to work with staff at the station on pitching, reporting, writing, and editing a story for radio broadcast. YRI aims to diversify Public Media storytelling staff by recruiting and training the next generation of storytellers to better position them to become the next leaders in the space.

Durham Book Club aims to open books, minds and access

Durham Book Club leadership team members at their end of the school year meeting with visiting WUNC youth reporters.
Kamaya Truitt
Durham Book Club leadership team members at their end of the school year meeting with visiting WUNC Youth Reporters.

The summer is heating up with the start of WUNC's Youth Reporting Institute.

The youth reporters' first in-field assignment was to cover the closing session of the Durham Book Club. DBC student leaders quickly filled the Durham Library conference room, and immediately jumped into interviews with the YRI cohort.

Current advisor Stephanie Mulligan spoke with YRI's Twumasi Duah-Mensah. She explained the purpose of the 2020 launch and how it helped students connect while stuck at home.

The program grew from Zoom meetings and fundraising for free book distribution to a group of middle schoolers leading an organization by themselves. Xay Salifou said he’s learned a lot from helping lead DBC.

Durham Book Club advisor, Stephaine Mulligan, talks with WUNC Youth Reporter Twumasi Duah-Mensah about the formation and success of the program.
Kamaya Truitt
Durham Book Club advisor, Stephaine Mulligan, talks with WUNC Youth Reporter Twumasi Duah-Mensah about the formation and success of the program.

“I was just getting books before," Salifou said. "But now, I'm like actively contributing to how those books are picked, how they're distributed, what activities we plan and creating ideas for new activities.”

Salifou says one of the most important parts of choosing books is that “each book has to be different.”

“We'd like to pick from authors that are unique–different races, sexualities–and make sure to pick books that are diverse,” he said.

Duah-Mensah said what stuck out to him was how intentional the group of middle schoolers was.

"The nuances they try and balance in regards to the genres they pick to try and keep people engaged... It was quite impressive," Duah-Mensah said. "That was certainly not the type of thought I was having, you know, about books, when I was that age."

Durham eighth-grader Jemma Lee said the Durham Book Club is more than just a discussion group.

“The community of Durham Book Club — I mean, it's huge,” Lee said. “There's like 150 people that have joined, and I think it's kind of crazy how much of an impact we can make on Durham's community.”

The book club now has over 300 students between fifth and ninth grade signed up to receive books. The students can choose from one of five libraries to participate in small group discussions, getting a chance to connect with other people their age outside of school.

Connections between students, however, aren’t the only opportunities DBC provides. Lee says one of the best experiences with DBC was the chance to interview author Kwame Alexander after reading his novel “Crossover” for Battle of the Books.

“It was the coolest thing because he was so nice," Lee said. "And I just got to interview him about these like, New York Times bestseller books that he's written."

Ninth-grader Mira Riffer even represents the organization in the Diverse Books for All Coalition. The group is made up of over 50 organizations around the country hoping to give more children access to diverse books.

Smith says that’s what the Durham Book Club’s free book program is all about.

“The hope with book club is that we get students who love reading but don't have access to reading more access,” Smith said. "We also hope that students who maybe haven't been as into reading have found books that they really enjoyed through the book club.”

Any students interested in joining the Book Club can learn more on their website, or email HELLO@DURHAMBOOKCLUB.ORG to learn more about their leadership team.

As far as first assignments go, youth reporter Parys Smith says the experience helped open her eyes to the possibilities of being a young leader.

"We've got to let these kids have the space to lead," she said. "They have the space to lead without pressure."

YRI's 2024 has already started off strong, so you'll want to keep up with everything else they uncover as their stories come together throughout the summer. Follow @wuncyouthvoices on Instagram and TikTok to stay up to date with YRI all summer, and make sure to listen for the hour-long special at the end of the summer.

Born in Queens, Chris Williams grew up in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. As a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Hussman School of Media and Journalism, Chris hopes to change the narratives surrounding Black culture in American media.
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