Healthy Journalism

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Coming soon: Savannah youth journalism


The best way to find out what people want is to ask.

And when Savannah economic development researchers asked middle- and high-school students what they wanted from a new community center, the answer was clear.

Teenagers in West Savannah and adjacent neighborhoods did not want a gym or a weight room. Instead, they yearned for better job skills, information about managing money, and evidence that their futures could be brighter than Outkast’s “West Savannah.”

Two years later, the Moses Jackson Advancement Center (MJAC) has a computer center and print shop, a culinary program that teaches accounting and financial management skills, a community garden, and a sandwich shop and retail store in the works. I visited for the first time in late May and was struck by the vibrancy and energy of the place.

Youth programs are housed alongside the Lady Bamford Early Childhood Center and a day program for seniors. When I was there, the seniors left the building laughing loudly, but teens working in the computer lab and the kitchen ignored the ruckus.

The West Savannah portrayed by Big Boi is a world with too many teen mothers, too few jobs, too much drug dealing and not enough hope. These problems have not disappeared since he moved to Atlanta some 20 years ago but things are looking up.

No one can miss dramatic improvements such as the $50 million makeover of the old Fellwood housing projects into a handsome, mixed-use development with 300 energy-efficient new residential units. This was mostly underwritten by HUD, the federal Housing and Urban Development agency.

Less obvious are educational and community engagement programs at MJAC, paid for by a special HUD/HBCU Project at Savannah State University led by Project Director Anne Roise. The principal investigator on this project, whose invitation brought me to West Savannah, is Dr. Ronald Bailey, Interim Chair of Political Science and Public Affairs at SSU.

Two years ago, some Grady colleagues and I collaborated with the Greene County Public Schools on an experiment in youth citizen journalism. You can read all about it here. We learned that middle-school students can research, report and produce a documentary portrait of health in their community, focusing not just on what happens when people are sick but on social and structural factors that influence the health of families and communities.

The lead teacher in Greene County was Marona Graham-Bailey, who was a UGA graduate student in 2009 and who is also Dr. Bailey’s daughter. The young reporters in Greene County learned to research and report video stories, set up and conduct interviews, and organize their material into narratives by working with UGA grad students and faculty.

Marona and I met with an interdisciplinary team of educators, youth development specialists, and college students who’ll teach the same skills to West Savannah teens this summer during Summer Camp at MJAC. Students who sign up for this intense, two-week health journalism camp will spend their mornings working with faculty and students at SSU and their afternoons reporting stories in their own neighborhoods.
The camp begins on July 5.

Move over, Big Boi: there are new stories to be told in West Savannah.

Photo, from left: Knight Chair Patricia Thomas (that's me), Marona Graham-Bailey, Anne Roise, Dr. Ronald Bailey. Photo by Arsenio Key.

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