Grand Rapids students share perspectives through Voices of Youth

Young adults recognize the challenges happening within their communities, and they’re ready to be part of the solution through a local journalism cohort. 

Voices of Youth is a Rapid Growth program that connects high school students in the greater Grand Rapids area with paid journalism experience and opportunities. The cohort, which launched this month, consists of three in-person workshops where students learn journalism basics and how to go from story idea to published piece. 

Each workshop will be a mixture of instruction, activities and designated time to work on the final piece. The focus of the sessions will be how to use solutions-based journalism. Additionally, mentors and the workshop’s project lead will be on hand to answer questions and coach students based on their past journalism experience. 

Lindsay Patton is a journalist and digital communicator based in Grand Rapids.
During the two-month program, participants identify issues within their community and which avenues — writing, researching, photography, poetry, illustration, social media, etc. — to effectively communicate those issues.

"As we engage with our local students, I am reminded as we listen to them that this is such a unique and wonderful moment in the history of storytelling that was not a part of most youth-centered generations before the digital revolution," says Rapid Growth's Publisher Tommy Allen, who is serving as the art and photography mentor for the cohort. "Students today, through the democratization of digital tools, have shown us that youth are bypassing the gatekeepers as they lend their creative, well-anchored voices or perspectives from their lived experiences to the critically important topics society is coming to understand better today."
Rapid Growth's Publisher Tommy Allen is serving as the art and photography mentor for the cohort.

Studies show this generation is politically active and using their voices more. According to an EY report, 36% of Gen Z respondents participated in a protest or political rally in 2020, representing a 9% jump from the previous year. Voices of Youth offers a platform for this generation to spread their message and is currently seeking program participants for the February cohort.

Grand Rapids is just one of multiple cohorts establishing Voices of Youth programs in local communities. Through parent company Issue Media Group and generous community partners, Voices of Youth has successfully launched in Battle Creek and Detroit. Students are paid per workshop and also receive, as well as a separate payment for their published work. In some cases, students have gone on to publish additional, paid pieces for Issue Media Group. 

"And to those who might feel this need for a new generation to be heard from is something trendy or new, I want to point out that more than 50 years ago a young artist named David Bowie on Jan. 7, 1972 released a song that poetically still speaks quite clearly to us in 2023 on the need to listen to youth," says Allen, referring to the (still) widely popular 'Changes.' 

"When you hear Bowie sing the lyrics 'And these children that you spit on / as they try to change their worlds / Are immune to your consultations / They're quite aware of what they're going through,' it's hard to look away knowing that the act of welcoming Voices of Youth to rise in our society is a good practice in service to the future world they will inherit," Allen says. 

Voices of Youth is made possible through the support of these community partners: The Steelcase Foundation, Frey Foundation and Kent ISD

Lindsay Patton is a journalist and digital communicator based in Grand Rapids. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Grand Valley State University and spent the first half of her career as a full-time editor and reporter. Currently, she offers digital communications services to multiple local and national clients, including Twist Out Cancer, Rutgers Alternate Route and Rapid Growth Media.
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