They have stories to tell, these youth, about their lives in Oakland, their lives before Oakland, about being young, about not knowing what’s ahead, about being absolutely sure what’s ahead, about what they see as news in the world around them.
A group of high school students at Oakland’s MetWest High School are working journalists now, having launched their own news site YoungOakland.com and are busily reporting, interviewing, writing, shooting video, taking photos and planning new stories. They’ve invited other youth in Oakland to contribute.
Some of us from Oakland Local have had the joy of advising them. We feel like we have front-row seats on the emergence of a new generation of journalists, of story-tellers, of truth tellers.
There’s Johnny, writing about what it’s like to live here after fleeing from Burma where education was out of reach and life itself was precarious. “As a young man from an undeveloped country, an education means more than anything to me,” he writes, and wonders why some kids in the U.S. take it for granted. Of his journey to this moment in his young life: “I was half asleep and half awake, virtually death when I am alive.”
There’s Vennessa, who writes about her dreams and ambitions and the constraints that gang life in Oakland put on some of those dreams. “It’s not easy to concentrate in school when you have problems outside of school,” she writes, “You have to be down with your family no matter what. That’s your blood, you have to put your family first,” she writes. Who would know to look at this innocent teenager that her life is so complicated?
There’s Nelzy and Ana and Chris and Jonathan, rolling up their shirt-sleeves, learning to dig for facts, becoming reporters.
Then there’s Guayo and Oscar, the indomitable founders and managing editors. They are mere seniors in high school but such good team leaders that upon listening to them you’re ready to vote them into office as mayor or U.S. Senator.
“To see it (YoungOakland.com) go live means a lot,” Guayo said of their news site, an idea he hatched with Oscar back in the fall. “It is rewarding to see all the work every single student put in.” Oscar remembers the day they thought this up as a senior project. “It’s really crazy to actually see it. We’ve been working on this since September.”
At 16 and 17 this group of YoungOakland.com reporters are taking on big issues: education budgets, deportation, drug abuse, the environment. They speak from the experience of students wanting more resources for their schools, of children fearing that their parents or their friends’ parents could be deported anytime, of young people making their way through the city when gangsters might be following them.
At MetWest, an Oakland Unified School District high school known for training kids in job experiences, they are getting a taste of the professional world. They are journalists now, dealing with deadlines and editors and the logistics of web content posting and photography and checking facts and attribution and balance and …is the grammar right?
We are so proud of them – more proud it seems than they are of themselves. “Did you show your mom?” I asked one student journalist. “No, she is working two jobs and doesn’t have time,” she said. “Did you show the site to your classmates?” I ask several. No not yet, maybe we will.
They don’t know how special what they do is. They don’t know how much the world wants to read their stories, hear their voices, understand youth.
Go find them. At YoungOakland.com. You’ll keep coming back.
Note: The California Endowment is a funder of this project by Oakland Local. The site and site content has been developed in partnership with OUSD’s KDOL, the Media Education Alliance (MEA), and Jake Schoneker’s Muse Video. OL is thrilled to have the support of the MetWest team to make this happen for such amazing kids.