Session 1: Identity-Based Storytelling

Today we launched our second season of Making Waves Youth Radio Initiative. This time last year the program was barely an idea, and I'm still a little bit in disbelief that it's actually happening. 

This semester, we have four participants. We've revamped our curriculum based on feedback from last year, and we're currently writing grants to try and secure more funding for the coming year. We're still only working with Rock Bridge High School, but are in talks to expand to the other three high schools in Columbia as well as first-year students at MU. 

Once again, we were blown away by our student participants. They were an absolute delight. It was incredible. I didn't think any students could be as phenomenal as our students from last semester until we met these new students. They are lightyears ahead of where I was as a developed human being when I was their age. 

To begin our first session, we asked: "Why are you here?" Personally, I still can't believe these students choose to drive across town to the MU campus on Friday nights to participate in an extracurricular activity with strangers that they're getting no academic credit for. I have no idea why they show up. But just like last year, their answers blew us away. They talked about the importance of media, and how media shapes our reality. They talked about holding identities that many other people don't understand, and wanting to explain the nuances of those identities. They talked about passions for activism and using storytelling as a tool for social change. We couldn't have scripted a better conversation. 

Then, after introductions and business, we talked about identity-based storytelling. The students discussed race, religion, gender and ability as salient and intersecting identities that they wanted to highlight in their stories. 

For our first listening session piece, we started with Glynn Washington's This Is Radio segment. I remembered I loved this video, but I had forgotten just how perfect it is for Making Waves. It sums up everything we love about radio, and it gets to the heart of why we dedicate our time to this program. At this point we turned on a recorder, so I was able to go back and transcribe some of our discussion. In response to Glynn, students said: 

"I really liked what he said when he was like, "Sometimes to get to the heart language you have to open your own heart, and that can be really scary." Because it definitely can be. And I think that that's true not only in telling stories but also in life. I thought that was a really profound thing to say." 
"For me it was the part where he talked about just letting people speak. And not translating it. Because for me journalism a lot of the time with The Rock we have have a story idea, and then we find sources that fit the story idea, and let me write the story so it fits my idea of what the story's gonna be. And so for this I think it's really important to learn the lesson of letting people tell their own stories instead of trying to fit their stories into your own narrative." 

For our second listening session, we listened to the Radio Rookies story Nine People, One Bedroom: A Teen's Take on Life in Poverty by Jairo Gomez. It's a heavy piece. I asked, "What do you think radio as a medium brought to the story?" The students said: 

"It brought a voice, a personal connection. Someone you could relate with. A human contact. If it was just paper, you know, it would be easy to overlook because it's not somebody who is, not necessarily tangible, but, you know, you still kind of have a physical, emotional connection with this person. The human voice is something that people can relate to and respond to."
"It removed a lot of the visual stereotypes people get from looking at a person and trying to gauge their background and their story from just their appearance. I know when I heard this I really had no idea what he looked like. I have no idea if he's skinny or tall or muscular. I didn't even know his race. For me, radio removes a lot of that background so you're really only listening to the very meat of the story. And other factors, like the way they look, aren't playing a part in how you feel about them and how you feel about their narrative." 
"When he was describing his bedroom, and he said to get out of there you had to walk heel to toe, I think that was way more powerful than just getting a video shot of the bedroom. If you saw it, you would be like, "Wow, that's really cramped." But with him describing it, you can picture it in your mind, and that makes it so much more powerful." 

We talked about the power of radio as a visual medium. We also talked about the intimacy of radio. Our students said radio was preferable to video because when a camera is rolling, you're not really focused on the conversation because you're worried about how you look and if you're sitting up straight and if your hair is messed up. But with radio, you forget the recorder is there, and you can actually have a genuine conversation with someone. Once again, we were floored by our students' discussion. 

This semester we're having the students read Out On The Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio by Jessica Abel. It's a graphic novel about radio storytelling. How cool is that? For homework this week they're reading the first chapter, which is about finding story ideas based on things you're really interested in or that amuse you. Then they're each brainstorming 10 potential story topics. We also have them listening to Why is Mason Reese Crying? from Reply All (Michaela's pick) and 21 Chump Street from This American Life (my pick). None of them are currently podcast listeners, so we're trying to change that.