Youth Writings A Reality Check For Our Community

As published in the Sept. 15, 2011 issue of The Merced County Times  


By Katie Thompson


Take a quick glance, just flip through the pages of Fresno’s youth magazine, the kNOw: Youth Voice of Central Valley, and it quickly becomes apparent that these youth writers are not holding anything back.  Reading over the following article titles gives an idea of what many of our youth today are dealing with:

LONG LOST SIBLING: My brother serving time in the pen.   People like my brother don’t realize the impact they have on their younger siblings when they get locked up. By Yee Leng Vang

OF MANY COLORS: Learning to be proud of my mixed heritage.  I felt as if because I was mixed and didn’t know how to speak Spanish, the other kids took advantage of me. By Amelia Garrido.

THE PAIN SHE CAUSES: Breaking away from my mother’s anger.  When my mother gets upset, she doesn’t cry.  She transforms it into anger and causes destruction. By “Vector”

The kNOw youth magazine has been gaining prominence in Fresno, where it is currently published, for the past five years.  And now, thanks to funding from The California Endowment, through the Building Healthy Communities project, it is coming to Merced.  Merced’s version of this magazine will have its own youth staff and its own name, but the end results will be the same:  to publish a magazine that shares the truth about being a young person today in Merced.

Andres Reyes, 25, was hired to make this happen.  A recent graduate of UC San Diego, he emigrated from Mexico to Merced when he was in fourth grade.  As a young Latino raised here, he has come face to face with many of the issues our youth deal with today.   He has now returned home and is the new Merced Youth Media Coordinator for The Know Youth Media.  He’s been training with the Fresno group for the past month and is now holding Info Sessions with local young people to get them to understand what the kNOw is and how they can become involved.

“There are various ways that a magazine like the kNOw can impact both the youth, as creators, and the community around them,” said Reyes. “It gives a lot of these youth a voice, or a sense of voice, that they didn’t have previously. It helps integrate a bit of self-confidence and strength into who they are as people. A lot of times youth feel very powerless, very voiceless, ignored, like their opinion doesn’t matter.  This is a way to not just tell them, ‘You matter,’ but to actually show them and give them a chance to put their stories and opinions and views out there.”

Mai Der Vang, Director of the kNOw Youth Media, in Fresno, agrees.  Her hope for the Merced version of the magazine is that the “youth media work and magazine will empower young people to raise their voices on issues affecting their community in order to produce change on a community-wide level. In communities such as Merced and Fresno, young people are hungry and eager to share their voices, and we hope this magazine can be a space for those voices to be heard.”

Do you know a young person who wants to get involved?  There will be a brief two-page application, but no previous writing or media experience is required.    “The [instruction] process is slow enough that it allows space to work with any youth who might have a little more challenges with writing than others,” said Reyes. ” I am pretty confident that any youth that comes in with the desire to contribute can create something personal and powerful. And part of the introduction to writing is getting them informed and knowledgeable on the power that writing can have.”

Youth writers will also receive a stipend for their work on the magazine.  The stipend is small, between $20-$30/week is anticipated, but the magazine is looking for youth writers where the stipend is not the main motivator for being a part of the project.  However, earning payment is important. “We want to honor their time, honor their efforts, and honor their work,” Reyes explained.  “That’s where the stipends come in.”  Writers will earn their weekly stipend for their participation and completion of designated weekly goals and tasks.

But, the question remains: a magazine?   Funded by a project promoting building health in our communities?  How does it fit?  How exactly does a youth magazine build a healthier community?

Reyes had a quick answer.

“People who have grown up in Merced have grown up hearing about poverty, immigration, gang problems.  But, growing up in Merced, if I didn’t know specific individuals who were involved in certain things, it was very abstract, very faceless. So I think a publication like this is able to humanize a lot of the situations going on that can hopefully open up channels for collaboration and work that otherwise wouldn’t be there.”

It’s not just about the community, though, it’s also specifically about the youth.  We “build a healthier community by allowing youth to have a voice and an impact on how they see a healthier community,” explained Reyes.  ” The youth voice is oftentimes passed over, and I think our program will do a pretty solid job of creating a flagship for youth voice where people in the community can at one point say,   ‘I wonder what young people think about such and such’ and come to us as a resource.” Building Healthy Communities is also dedicated to not just surface “fixes” but instead long-term sustainable systems and policy change.  This magazine will help youth make this real change as well. “A magazine can highlight a lot of the faults and flaws in the system by highlighting the ways [systems and policies] haven’t worked, the ways that, by design or by faulty execution, some policies have kept people in criminal environments, environments lacking job opportunities or environments of general disenfranchisement,” said Reyes.  “That would be the strongest way that a magazine like ours could speak to policy change.”

To get more information and/or to get an application to be a youth writer, please contact Andres Reyes, of the kNOw Youth Media, at 209-790-3155 or email him at [email protected].

Applications are due on Friday, Sept. 23. Check out the kNOw on-line at : Youth stories, poetry, videos, photography.   Katie Thompson is the Media Coordinator for Building Healthy Communities: Southwest Merced/East Merced County and writes a bi-weekly column.  Please contact her with comments at 209-580-6746 or email at [email protected].

The kNOw Youth Media
The kNOw works to support and equip young people with the journalism and advocacy skills they need to tell their stories and the stories of their communities.

In 2006, over 25 youth began participating in weekly after-school writing workshops where they congregated in the hallway of a two-story building in West Fresno and learned the essentials of creating media and telling their stories. The group evolved over the next five years and is now proudly recognized as The kNOw Youth Media.

Through our program, we create opportunities for our youth participants, who in turn create long-term positive change in their communities. Our approach weaves youth development and youth media innovation to produce our biannual youth publication, multimedia projects, and community forums.

The kNOw began as a project of New America Media, which was the country’s first and largest national collaboration and advocate of 2000 ethnic news organizations. In 2018 The kNOw became a project of Youth Leadership Institute.

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