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The kids are all right
When high school students restored my faith in the future of journalism
Hello from St. Petersburg, Fla., where I’ve been since Wednesday teaching in the Power of Diverse Voices seminar at the Poynter Institute, a pioneering training school for journalists. This is my fourth year at the seminar, which is designed to help journalists of color find their voices and channel their skills into opinion pieces and personal essays.
I first joined the seminar in 2019, as a student, and have returned since 2021 as part of its outstanding faculty. Our team is led by the inimitable Tom Huang, assistant managing editor for journalism initiatives at The Dallas Morning News, and also includes the hugely talented Aisha Sultan, columnist at the St. Louis Post Dispatch, and Eric Deggans, TV critic at NPR.
Every year I learn something new from my fellow instructors and the participants, whose diversity of race, ethnicity, gender, religion and perspectives reminds me of how much we all lose when workplaces — communities in general, really — don’t reflect the rich demographics of the broader worlds around them. The conversations we have and the essays produced hit me like a jolt of electricity, powering me up to keep on writing, keep on teaching and keep on expanding networks of and for journalists who truly represent the new American mainstream.
This year, I’ll also be leaving the program with restored faith in the future of journalism, thanks to the Lakewood High School students who spent part of Friday with us. They’re passionate, full of ideas and opinions, focused on delivering stories that are factual and fair, and unafraid to push boundaries and question questionable rules. During our chat, I asked them, “What makes you want to be a journalist?” Here’s what some of them told me:
"You get to give people their own voice. Even if they don’t agree with my opinion, they’re able to formulate their own by reading my stuff.
“I like to go out, figure things out, find things out, interview. I like to understand things.”
“When I discovered photography, I realized this is something I love to do. My mom keeps telling me that photographers don’t make much. She doesn’t understand the connection I feel when I capture a moment, a memory.”
I feel like, if you don’t know what’s happening around you, that’s where ignorance starts. If we can just have educated conversations, it’s so much easier to go about finding solutions.”
I invite you to follow the kids’ approach and advice. Go out there with an open mind. Question. Dis/uncover. Learn. Inform yourself. Engage in productive conversations. And while you’re at it, remember: Your voice matters. Write as who you are. Live your truth.
With love and purpose, always.
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