We all know the media can be overwhelmingly toxic, but no one is more negatively impacted than teen girls. Luckily, Teen Voices is here to help.
As their mission statement says, Teen Voices supports and educates teen girls to amplify their voices and create social change through media. They do this through an after-school journalism, mentoring and leadership program for teen girls. The program produces a print magazine twice a year with content written by teens, targeted towards teens, as well as a website with content that is updated daily, and receives over 320,000 page views annually from around the world.
85 teen girls from around Boston, approximately 80% of which are from low-income families, participate in the program each year. They are guided by the Teen Voices staff, and by about 60 local college students who serve as mentors to the girls.
This past Tuesday night, Teen Voices held their annual benefit, Amplify! The event took place at the Hotel Marlowe in Cambridge. There, I was able to speak to many of the people involved in Teen Voices, and see first-hand the amazing work they are doing.
Bria Gadsden, a senior at Boston Latin Academy who is planning to attend the University of Connecticut next year to study biomedical engineering, is currently a Peer Leader. She says she got involved with Teen Voices as a sophomore, and just kept coming back. Through researching and writing articles on diverse, heavy subjects such as Facebook depression and sex trafficking, she says she has “learned a lot” and “been exposed to issues around the world.”
The keynote speaker at Amplify! was Maria Hinojosa, anchor and managing editor of NPR’s Latino USA. She also recently completed an in-depth report for Frontlineabout immigrant detention. Hinojosa spoke about the need for female and minority voices in the news, and about how important it is, as either a reporter or a strong woman in any situation, to “eat your fear.” As the first Latina hired by NPR, she shared stories of challenges she had to overcome, and the questions and discrimination she still faces today. Still, her message was one of empowerment: “If you own your power and speak from the heart and with respect, people willlisten.”
Hinojosa’sspeech was followed by a group spoken-word poetry performance by the teen Peer Leaders. Their passion and enthusiasm filled the room as they spoke about the damaging affects of the media’s portrayal of women. The performance ended with many in the audience moved to tears.
Stephanie Carvajal, a Teen Voices alumna, spoke next, calling the program “a second family; a sisterhood” for her. She summed up the important message Teen Voices is sending to girls, saying, “You don’t have to be what you see in the media--girls come in all shapes, sizes and colors.” This message is invaluable to girls who are constantly bombarded with images of women who are anorexically thin, or size-four and being derided as fat.
Teen Voices is looking for more college girls to mentor their participants. Powerful bonds form between teens and their mentors; Bria says that she’s still in close contact with her former mentor. Saun Green, the Director of Transformational Leadership, says that becoming a mentor means “investing in the future hopes and goals” of these teen girls and providing a positive, attainable vision of what they can achieve. Many of these girls will be the first in their families to attend college, so it is important for them to be able to have someone who can offer advice and encouragement.
The passion and energy coming from the Teen Voices participants and staff members were palpable in the room the other night. This organization is doing exactly what our culture needs it to: giving teen girls a positive vision of themselves in the media, and empowering them to bethe truth-tellers and leaders of tomorrow.
If you or anyone you know is interested in becoming a mentor, contact Saun Green at email@example.com, call (617) 426-5505 or visit www.teenvoices.com
Photo credits: Janine Callen Photography