Posted by StreetWise in Magazine Articles
Tammisha Cross, 18, has seen poverty, child abuse, and homelessness in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood where she lives. She attended the GlobalGirl Media World Summit in downtown Chicago to learn how to share her stories through digital media outlets and influence social change.Cross was one of nine teenage girls and young women from underserved communities in Chicago, Los Angeles, Morocco, and South Africa who met June 24 – 28 at the summit. They came to learn to write, produce and distribute stories under the direction of veteran female journalists.
“Journalistic skills, research, videoing, interviewing, editing, blogging, social media, writing, all types of writing, these are the skills that we want to teach them so that they feel empowered,” said Tobie Loomis, GlobalGirl Media’s (GGM) national programming director. “And then with these skills they can go into their community and their families and their own personal experiences and come up with stories that they want to tell,” she said.
This was the first time GGM had secured enough funding to bring together young women from different parts of the world. The group quickly discovered they shared similar concerns. Los Angeles resident Rocio Ortega said face-on-face interaction with peers from around the globe would prepare her to face international issues. Cross was intrigued by the participant’s diverse backgrounds. “You don’t know a person’s story until they’re in front of you,” she said. “It makes you think, what is their life like?”GGM, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit, hosted the event in partnership with the OpEd Project, which works to increase the number of women contributing to key commentary forums. “Women, especially young women, need to have their stories and voices heard because it’s a really crowded media landscape that is missing a lot of important stories and ideas,” said Michele Weldon, senior OpEd seminar leader and assistant professor of journalism at The Medill School of Northwestern University.
Summit participant Maroi Ech-Charkaouy from Morocco wants her voice to be heard. “The media we see in the Middle East and North Africa in general is only about men,” she said. “GGM gives me the chance to talk about women, because I am a girl, I know what is going on.”
The summit opened with a day-and-a-half Op-Ed training session led by Weldon and Deborah Siegel, OpEd Project senior facilitator, author and journalist. They had nine hours to teach nine young women how to brainstorm, write and pitch opinion pieces. The leaders conducted a virtual journalism boot camp. They kept the group on their toes with timed educational games, rapped motivational messages, and group yoga stretches. Flip chart pages covered the walls with inspirational messages such as “the more power you have, the more power you have to change the world.”
Siegel conducted a timed brainstorming exercise called the “Idea Slam.” She gave participants five minutes to come up with an Op-Ed idea and research plans.Ech-Charkaouy discussed her idea about writing an Op-Ed piece on child marriage. She said that millions of women married before they turned 18 have heath and psychological problems. “It not just concerns the woman but also the society,” Ech-Charkaouy said. “We are in 2013 and we still see people getting married in the early ages and that’s not fair at all.” When she finished her proposal, others offered advice. Ortega suggested looking up the recently passed U.S. bill to end global child marriage practices. Annah Tseko of South Africa wanted to know if ongoing child marriage practices were based on cultural traditions or greed. “At the end of the day you sell your own child,” she said.
Jari Taylor, a petite, soft-spoken 15-year-old from Chicago’s South Side, is concerned about the pressing problem of violence against young women. She chose to write an Op-Ed about teenagers who are pregnant as a result of rape or forced prostitution. “I think the story should be told,” Taylor said. “It’s about that time, and I’ll tell it.”
After the brainstorming exercise, the leaders taught participants how to pitch stories to online editors. Siegel told the young women not to fear rejection, as it is simply an opportunity to submit a new pitch. To hammer the point home, she humorously rapped, “No is a bump on the way to yes.” Weldon quickly joined in and pulled Taylor to her feet. The two danced the rap, shaking heads, bumping hips and swinging arms. Soon the entire group was rapping the path to publication. As the Op-Ed seminar progressed, the young women went from shy, to shouting, to laughter as they participated in the activities.
Weldon and Siegel ended their seminar with evangelical zeal as they pressed the group to write and pitch opinion pieces. Weldon looked the young women in the eyes. “Sing, shout, talk, speak, tell it,” Weldon said. “Tell the story. Tell the truth.” Then Siegel added, “Get your voices out there because your voice matters.”
Cross said the leaders trained her to use her voice. “I learned the things that I’m an expert in, she said. “I learned what Op-Ed was, and I learned how to pick my story to tell and to put it out there and tell it.”
Following the OpEd session, participants practiced videotaping each other and ending with the traditional GlobalGirls sign off, “this is our world, and my voice.” They also attended lectures conducted by several respected female journalists.
On the last day of the summit, the young women went out on the streets of Chicago to write, produce and edit a short video. They decided to report on the Blackhawks championship parade story, as that was taking place the same day.
Prior to the summit, the participants had completed an intensive GGM training program to learn video production and other digital media skills. They each belong to one of the organization’s “news bureaus” where 10 – 20 girls come together after school to write, produce, and distribute digital media.
Since its inception in 2010, GGM has trained 110 girls to become GlobalGirl reporters. GGM Executive Director Amie Williams decided to launch GGM when she became frustrated by the way the media that writes for young women was dumbing down the world. “Girls are interested in more than boys and lip gloss,” Williams said. “It’s not asking girls what they think about the war in Syria, it’s not asking girls what they think about depression or drug use, or growing up in a violent community, having a single parent,” she said.
GlobalGirl reporters distribute their stories through GGM’s website, YouTube channel and Facebook page. More than 100 partners, including the Associated Press, NPR, and Al Jazeera, also repost their stories and videos.
Girls interested in joining GGM can visit the GGM website. The organization announces its four-week training program near the end of each school year, and girls are required to fill out a one-page application to be considered for the program.
By Wendy Rosen
StreetWise Editorial Intern