After a successful launch, Rapid Growth continues Voices of Youth program

Rapid Growth’s Voices of Youth program continued uplifting youth voices this past fall, with two students reporting on topics close to their lived experiences. 

The second cohort launched its first workshop at Kent ISD on Oct. 31. During our afterschool workshops, the students learned journalism basics from seasoned local journalists, discussed current events with an objective view and analyzed various news sources to improve media literacy. 

“So many issues in the news today — from gun violence to mental health to climate change — have a direct impact on youth,” Voices of Youth Program Coordinator Emily Trenholm says. “Yet hearing about those effects in their own voices is rare. Voices of Youth gives them a platform to tell their stories through news articles, art, and social media. The results have been powerful and illuminating.”

In addition to Rapid Growth’s program, Michigan has three other Voices of Youth programs, in Detroit, Ypsilanti, and Battle Creek. Students' topics have ranged from student understanding to gun violence to homeless animals.

The fall 2023 cohort brought back project lead Lindsay Patton and mentor Shanika Carter, who are also local journalists, as well as Rapid Growth publisher Tommy Allen. Patton provided instruction on journalism basics for three workshops, while Allen taught students the intersection of art, photography, and journalism for one workshop. 

Looking back on our fall cohort, we would like to spotlight two students, Luke Fann and Mazonnah Holiday, who examined topics close to their hearts, which is at the core of why Voices of Youth is so successful.

Building on journalism basics

Luke Fann is a freshman at City High in Grand Rapids and has spent the past year seeking out journalism opportunities. He attended one of Michigan State University’s youth journalism workshops during summer break and currently contributes to his school’s newspaper, The City Voice

Luke’s article on the Grand Rapids Public Library was inspired by his volunteer time at the library. His ambition has impressed Philip Beckwith, who is Luke’s Chinese teacher, as well as the sponsor for The City Voice

“Luke absolutely wants to learn and be good at things, and he will do what it takes to do so,” Beckwith says. “He never looks for ways to avoid work or responsibility, and, in fact, he is one of those who embraces both. He takes advantage of opportunities, and everything that he is being taught, he focuses on learning it to the best of his abilities.”

For his Voices of Youth article, Luke researched how the Grand Rapids Public Library has evolved to serve its community over its 150-plus years. Benefitting from the smaller cohort, Luke says he appreciated the opportunity to strengthen his journalism skills and in-workshop discussions.

“VOY was a much more personalized and hands-on experience where the instructors tailored your experience to what works best for you,” Luke says. “I enjoyed how the workshop was serious and let you get your work done, with many conversations and brainstorming sessions, but there was also a time to talk about the news, about the world, and about a shared love of journalism.”

He particularly enjoyed the challenge of interviewing community members. Before Voices of Youth, Luke had conducted one interview as a journalist. His story on GRPL gave him an opportunity to grow his interviewing experience.

“While the research was fascinating in its own right, being able to sit down with someone knowledgeable helps add a literal human aspect to the article that I really value,” he says. “Meeting many different people from across many different backgrounds and experiences who were united by doing something they love is incredibly important to my writing process. Picking out the perfect quote to sum up a segment of your writing is so enjoyable because you know you're representing someone who wants to share their story, which might've never been voiced otherwise.”

Giving homeschooled students and families a voice

Voices of Youth student Mazonnah Holiday understands the importance of self-directed learning. A poet and playwright interested in expanding her writing skills, Mazonnah switched to at-home, virtual schooling because the environment better supported her learning style. 

For her Voices of Youth article, Mazonnah chose to write about a topic close to her: the rise of secular homeschooling across the United States, with a close look at Grand Rapids families. For the article, she set up a Zoom interview with Laura Naughton, who transitioned her son from Grand Rapids Public Schools into self-directed learning. Speaking with Naughton was Mazonnah’s first interview as a journalist.

“She’s learned so much from the program,” says her mother, Channelle Holiday. “I enjoyed watching her be involved in interviewing. It was different from what she’s used to but I’m glad she was consistent in learning a new style.”

The experience even brought new conversations home. 

“There were lots of moments she would discuss the challenges she had with thinking about the different layers to investigate further,” Holiday says.”Voices of Youth has contributed a well-rounded learning experience by helping her think more critically. Mazonnah mostly writes plays. This class challenged her from what she’s familiar with. It really took her out of her comfort zone.”

Mazonnah’s Voices of Youth article is not her first time being published, however. Her poetry was featured in a compilation, which she brought into class to show her mentors. It was a testament to the inclusive and safe environment the mentors prioritized. 

"As I reflect on our inaugural year, Voices of Youth has not only provided our students with the opportunity to publish their works but has also cultivated a safe and collaborative environment for the presentation of their preexisting artistic creations and fostering instances where students authentically express their boldness of being with our instructors and their classmates," Allen says.

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.