For the past six weeks, 11 teens from across Chicago have used their cell phones for something other than Snapchat and TikTok.
Instead, they recorded interviews and audio diaries as part of a teen radio program run by After School Matters, which connects high school students with hands-on experiences in fields including theatre, video editing and culinary.
The stories range in topics, following the lead of program leaders who encouraged the teens to find their voice through audio storytelling. They covered surviving their mother’s abusive ex-boyfriend, the toll of transferring schools three times, police brutality and remote learning.
Teens learned interviewing techniques, audio recording, writing and editing — all of it done remotely because of the pandemic. Last week, the students presented their final pieces with family and friends via video. Below are excerpts from their stories.
Shades of Beauty, by Lael Saphir
In her piece, Lael, 15, talks about what it feels like to be a dancer of color in a dance world that’s mostly white.
“During one of my last Nutcracker seasons, I went through about two pairs of pointe shoes in three months. Meaning I constantly had to dye a new pair and make sure they will perfectly match my skin tone. One time, during one of our run-throughs before opening night, the costume director pulled me aside telling me how I needed to get better at dying my pointe shoes and how they look nothing like my skin color. I was so enraged because there are no tights that match my skin color, nor is there foundation that is perfect to me either.”
Listen Change and Evolve, by Metzli Gonzalez
In her story, Metzli, 15, talks about the importance of listening during the ongoing national reckoning on racial injustice and broken relations with police.
“The reason why I am having a ‘journey of discovery,’ and why I struggle so much with talking about police brutality and the justice system, is because people that I am super close with are police. But then I also have other people that are close to me being against police. I see where the police struggle, as well as I see the injustices taking place in our country. The both suck, obviously. But sometimes, they aren’t talked about, leading to a lack of sympathy, which is important to have when having any kind of discussion.
“Imagine a world where the sky is blue and all you hear are birds talking to each other. You don’t hear gunshots or the news saying people are dying every other day. Where people come together to deal with climate change and not gun violence, where the community comes together to solve problems. That’s my dream world. How can we achieve this? Maybe we can try repairing the harm done to the victims by negotiations, mediation, victim empowerment and reparation instead of focusing solely on the punishment for the offender.”
Impact of Change, by Anette Aguilar
In this piece, Anette,15, talks about the emotional toll of transferring between three elementary schools.
“When I was nine years old, I transferred schools. I am a very clingy person, and I get attached very easily. So the move from St. Turibius Catholic School to my new school St. Richard for fourth grade was kind of difficult. … This new school was pretty much a mini-high school. Everyone was in their own groups and the minds of these children were super advanced. Of course, my innocent self had to adapt to that environment. I made friends with the popular people and because of it, I got extremely cocky. In the middle of fifth grade, I transferred to a charter school called UNO Sandra Cisneros. I’ll never forgive myself for putting my 10-year-old self under so much stress. I remember that during my math class, I couldn’t get my grade up from a B to an A and I will constantly beat myself up for it. The school itself was really strict. I was my teacher’s favorite student and, for some reason, I always had the urge to make my parents proud, so I was constantly putting pressure on myself.”