In 2011, I wrote for the neighborhoods beat at the Columbia Missourian. Each journalist on my beat chose prominent neighborhoods, but I intentionally chose the least popular — Douglass Park.
Most of the residents in the Douglass Park area are African Americans. In addition, the community is often noted for its housing projects, poverty and crime — stereotypes that often hover over communities of color.
Week after week someone in Douglass Park is shot, a fight breaks out in a nearby park and a child grapples with the ugly hand of educational inequality. And week after week, the youth in the community read about these stories in their local newspapers. During my four months on the beat, I made it my goal to shift these stereotypes. I believed that I had a purpose as an African American female journalist, to give the little light that existed in the obscure corners of the Douglass Park area enough courage to shine.
No, I haven’t lived in poverty. I haven’t experienced the detriments of crime or faced educational inequality. Nonetheless, I am a first generation college student whose parents believe in merit. I am the granddaughter of a woman from Little Rock who dropped out of high school during her sophomore year to work, and of a man who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. These are the facts of my life, but no one would know unless I told them. And when we don’t have enough courage to tell our own stories, someone else will tell them for us.
I found the light in Douglass Park by telling stories of barbershop owners and local politicians, of non-profit youth initiatives and art teachers. I acknowledged their efforts because I value when news celebrates the truth and those who shape it.
The Newspaper In Education program believes in the empowerment of communities and the youth within them. It puts local newspapers into classrooms and bridges the consumers of news and the creators of it. The initiative supports and promotes the development of youth as informed and active participants within their communities.
In providing news to young children such as those in Douglass Park, we give them an opportunity to know, engage and advocate for a better future for themselves. We’ve put leaders, computers and smart boards in the classroom. They’ve learned about World War I, algebra and cursive writing. Now, it’s time to put in the things that matter — those things that can’t be found in the textbooks and are happening outside of their classrooms. It’s time to put in the truth.
Rikki Byrd is a senior studying journalism at the University of Missouri. Since high school, she has built a portfolio of articles, photographs and her own magazine titled s c u l p t. She is an avid blogger, poet and lover. Each day she is tailoring her craft to prepare for a career as an editor-in-chief of major publication.