After-school program inspires youth in Austin

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A 10-week journalism program that educates Austin’s youth while allowing them to express their creativity will culminate later this month with the publication of new issues of Urban Teen and Urban Girl.

Venita Williams, executive director of Elijah’s House, said the two magazines get youth involved in their West Side community and gives them the chance to work in a newsroom.

Since 2003, the Austin YMCA, 501 N. Central Ave., has housed the program run in partnership with Elijah’s House, an organization that provides job training and skill development for underprivileged, inner-city youth.

Students gather every Monday and Wednesday with photography instructor Eboney Spearman and journalism instructor Tanisha Jones.

The youth choose from a number of jobs, including reporter, photographer, graphic designer and model. They decide what to write about, and have covered topics ranging from dating violence and female castration in the United States to fashion “do’s and don’ts.”

“The main goal of the program is to give them a voice that ordinarily wouldn’t be heard,” Williams said.

“To have other adults say you have to be quiet and that you’re better seen not heard — these kids have an opportunity to voice their opinion. This is a youth-driven, youth-inspired program that allows the students to grow.”

One of those inspired students is Saferia Manuel, 17, of Providence St. Mel High School. Manuel said she learned about the program when she realized she didn’t have the credentials for a job she wanted at Garfield Park Conservatory.

“I came in for the job and I fit the qualifications and was hired,” Manuel said. “And I’ve been writing ever since.”

Manuel said what she enjoys most about the program is expressing her creative vision that she hopes will bring change to her Austin community. She has written a number of stories focusing on women’s empowerment.

Manuel wrote “Why Did I Kill My Baby?”, an article on the morality of abortion; “I Am Not a Sex Toy”, which focused on women who are victims of sex trafficking in the United States; and an article on birth control. Manuel also penned two stories about African-American actress Judy Peterson and Linda Yu Of Chicago’s ABC7 News after attending a forum at Columbia College Chicago.

Manuel said she’s disappointed by the lack of “feminine positivity” in her community but is optimistic she can change that through her writing.

“I want to see women flourish,” Manuel said. “In my community, it doesn’t seem a lot of women are doing positive things. I want to encourage females to do positive things and inform them about things they aren’t aware of.”

Each of the students works at their own desk space at the Austin YMCA surrounded by images of celebrities and leaders such as Oprah Winfrey, hip hop artist T.I. and President Barack Obama.

Ciera Moore, 16, likes that the program brings youth together. The Wells Community Academy freshman said although she loves to write news, she wants to be a poet.

“I think it’s a great place for the kids to get together and write about whatever is affecting their lives,” Moore said. “It’s a great place to meet people and get your voice out there.”

The magazine costs $5 and can be purchased at Elijah’s House, the Austin YMCA, McDonald’s and Walgreens.

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