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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

City’s youth tell the stories of their communities

POPPYN members display the program’s logo. PHOTOS COURTESY OF STORMY KELSEY

As a junior at Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice, Stormy Kelsey kept hearing about an organization working with kids her age in her community that focused on creating change for the city. 

But Kelsey’s friends had trouble describing the University Community Collaborative (UCC), a Temple University-based collaborative that embedded itself in Philadelphia’s youth and social justice movements through various programs.

So Kelsey’s friends decided to show her. One day after school, they took her to Temple to attend one of the two weekly meetings of VOICES, which seeks to build the individual and collective power of youth to make positive change in their communities. It was an entry point to a program that redirected Kelsey’s life.

Now, nearly seven years later, Kelsey is the media and communications coordinator for the UCC and program manager for Presenting Our Perspective on Philly Youth News (POPPYN), an award-winning youth news network. She graduated from Temple in May 2019, and works at the UCC while pursuing a graduate degree in communication for development and social change at Temple. 

At POPPYN, Kelsey still sees the power of illustration in the absence of description. As media continues to grow, so too do movements for change, and Kelsey said the two go hand in hand. 

“To be able to hear firsthand from people, what they’re experiencing, we’re actually on the ground, talking to people in their communities,” Kelsey said. “That’s another reason why I’m still very active in this role is because I feel like media is changing the world. Media is a very, very important tool that can be utilized to help propel social change.”

In 2020, Philadelphia saw its highest homicide rate in 60 years. There were 196 shooting victims under the age of 18. In Philadelphia, over 75,000 children suffer from real hunger. During the 2017-18 school year, there were 7,100 youth experiencing homelessness in the city. These are the issues Kelsey sees every day, and they are the ones she is working to change. 

After she became acquainted with the UCC, which Kelsey said taught and addressed concepts she felt others shied away from, like white supremacy, patriarchy and racism, Kelsey was immediately drawn to POPPYN.

“I loved the program so much because we were taking those concepts and understanding systems of oppression, but now we have the opportunity to apply them to media,” Kelsey said. 

POPPYN is one of three programs the UCC currently runs. It gives the microphone and camera to young people who are a part of the communities they are reporting on. The young journalists are mentored and trained by people like Kelsey, college and graduate students who study journalism and media. The group currently consists of eight students and four college facilitators. Their productions air on Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. on PhillyCAM, Philly’s Community TV & Radio Station, broadcasted on cable at Verizon channel 29 or Comcast channel 66. 

Kelsey said the way members of POPPYN go about their reporting “adds a layer” and can help people reexamine how we traditionally think of journalism. 

“They’re speaking from experience in a way that a parachute journalist is not,” Kelsey said.

Parachute journalism is when a journalist enters an area that they have little knowledge of to report a story. At POPPYN, the reporters live in the communities that they report on, and experience the issues they report on firsthand. 

“Our young people in this program, they have a deep, deep connection to the community,” Kelsey said. “They’re reporting with a deep compassion, a deep care. It flips the scope because I feel like in the field of journalism, they’re kind of encouraged not to be connected to the story. In our program, it’s hard not to because even if it’s not your neighborhood, it’s your city. It challenges those traditional norms in journalism.”

Mazzii Ingram, a senior at Franklin Learning Center, joined the UCC without a specific interest in media but said the ability to report on issues she experienced every day and “bring awareness to the screen” was empowering. 

“[POPPYN] deepens my connection to my community because it helps me see that I can be a part of the change,” Ingram said. “I am affected by these issues, but I can also affect these issues in a positive way. It really showed me that there are things that we can do to solve these problems, even if it’s just as small as creating these videos and sharing them with the community.”

On Feb. 11, POPPYN hosted an event with Racial Justice Philly called “Phreedom Dreaming” in which the panel, comprised of youth from both organizations, spoke about the school-to-prison pipeline in the city. Barbara Ferman, Ph.D., founder and director of the UCC, said the school-to-prison pipeline is an issue that is connected to so many other social justice issues. This interconnectedness plays an integral role in the teachings of the UCC.

“It’s political education and education issues that students are experiencing firsthand,” Ferman said. 

Because these young people are personally experiencing these issues, Ferman and Kelsey both said that young people should have a seat at the table, that their voices need to be heard. Instead, people who don’t have the experiences that they do, typically make decisions for Philadelphia’s youth. 

“They’re not the ones walking through the school building, having to put their bag in an X-ray machine, being patted down and being looked at as if they’re already a criminal in an environment that’s supposed to be safe for them,” Kelsey said. “Young people definitely are making their voices heard through collective organizing and collective struggle.”

Kelsey is currently a graduate student at Temple University.

Kelsey said although she went to a high school that was supposed to be centered on social justice initiatives, it wasn’t until she began working with the UCC that she really began to recognize the gravity of the concept and how it could be applied to improve her own community.

“I grew up in a low-income neighborhood, I witnessed homelessness and poverty and drug addiction, gun violence,” Kelsey said. “As somebody walking through the streets every day you know that something is wrong, but you just don’t really have the tools to articulate it. Being a person of color, being Black, being poor, having these identities propelled me.”

Kiana Moore, a graduate of Central High School and now a freshman at Howard University, said Kelsey helped her find her voice through POPPYN, but also advocated for her when she could not. Moore said she dealt with mental struggles following her mother’s death, keeping her out of school in 2019. Because of that absence record, Central prohibited her from participating in any senior activities. Moore said the UCC was a place of refuge, a “safe space,” during this time as well as a catalyst for her growth. She now serves as a college facilitator with POPPYN.

“Through POPPYN, I met people with different backgrounds than mine,” Moore said. “Being in close proximity with people of identities I hadn’t interacted with so closely before, I learned new things about their experiences, and they learned about mine.”   

Kelsey, who admitted she can be cynical at times, said the younger kids she works with keep her going. She is also learning just as much running the program as she did when she was participating in it. The teenagers who are in the same spot she was in just a few years ago are proving there is no age requirement to seek out justice. 

“It’s just amazing to witness,” Kelsey said. “They’re competent in calling out injustice and oppression. That in itself is really inspiring to me. I feel safe with my future in their hands.” 

In the past year, young people have been at the forefront of social justice movements across the U.S., acting as catalysts for change at local and national levels. Young Philadelphians have joined the fight against injustice as well. Over the course of the semester, The Hawk will feature profiles of Generation Z activists in and around Philadelphia who are working to create change in their communities.

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