28 November 2023
A 17-year-old student in Washington, D.C. recently got the chance to interview retired American basketball star Magic Johnson. As a result, Magic offered to pay for the student's college education – all of it.
Jordan Williams studies at Bard High School Early College, a D.C. public school. The teenager is also in the city's Deanwood Radio Broadcast Youth Journalism Program, run by D.C.'s Parks and Recreation Department.
As a member of the Deanwood media program, Jordan attended a press conference at The Boy's and Girl's Club to interview Magic Johnson, a co-owner of the city's Washington Commanders football team.
Standing with professional reporters, Jordan asked the famous athlete why he wanted to visit a youth club in Washington, D.C. Magic answered that he "wanted to make a difference." And he meant it. He offered Jordan a full scholarship on the spot.
Jordan: "You never know who's in the room. You never know who's watching. You never know who's listening. The fact that I was able to ask that question, that people were able to hear it and Magic Johnson was so impressed by it ... he was able to give me a scholarship."
VOA Learning English recently spoke with Jordan as well as Salih Williams (no relation to Jordan), the director of the media program.
Why start a youth media program?
Williams established the Deanwood program to address what he describes as a "language barrier" between local media and teenagers in two areas of the city -- Ward 7 and Ward 8. Crime is higher in those wards than in others.
"I knew the value of developing young voices. ... So, in the beginning it was just to develop communication skills but also to engage them in news ... because I felt a lot of times, the only time that people in Ward 7 and Ward 8 engage with media people was when there was a tragedy or a death."
Students in the program learn researching, communication, and interviewing skills as well as how to engage with the news media. The students complete 30 to 40 interviews a year. Williams says these skills will help the students whether they decide to stay in journalism or go into a different field.
The program has also become a gateway to college. Since the program began in 2016, 38 of its students have gone to college -- 23 on full scholarships.
Network & community
Ayonlah Carter is a graduate of the program.
"I feel like, it kind of gives us the opportunity to kind of express ourselves or just voice our opinions. And in a bigger sense, this is a group with, you know, Black and Brown kids. That carries weight in itself. So, it's nice to be in a space where we're uplifted. But it also feels like we're making a difference. And I feel like in 10, 15 years from now we're going to see a lot more Black journalists or just people in media."
She says one of the best things about the program is the community of students. She says they look out for each other and have become "found family."
"I think we all just reach out and look out for each other. And I think that's what valued most. You know, some of us don't have the best backgrounds. But we still kind of pull each other up or help out where we can."
Ayonlah said her mother died when Ayonlah was only 10 years old. When she turned 17, she said her family situation changed so much that she had to leave. She wasn't sure what she was going to do. She said the media program and its founder Salih Williams gave her life direction.
"Coming upon, like, going to college, I really didn't know where I was going to go or what I was going to do. But (through) this program and (through) Salih ... I was able to go to college on a full scholarship and everything was taken care of."
A saying Salih Williams likes to use with the students is: "Your network is your net worth." Jordan agrees. He adds that connections are important in succeeding and growing.
"Just being treated like we matter. There (are) people there to listen to us, listen to our questions. Anything we need, they're there to help. I think that's what makes the program so special."
Jordan says he enjoys hearing success stories from people who share a similar background. Jordan hasn't even started college, but he already has his sights on being a role model some day, like those he has learned from.
Ayonlah Carter says she is also excited about her future ... wherever she ends up.
"I think, I'm just more excited to see where I end up at. Will I be on the news? Will I be writing my own books? Like, I genuinely don't know. And I think I'm in a space now where I trying my hand at everything."
The media program began as part of Washington, D.C.'s Summer Youth Employment Program. Now, it also includes a winter program which is administered by the Department of Employment Services' Office of Youth Programming.
U.S. Congressional connection
The Deanwood Radio Broadcast Youth Journalism Program partners with the Congressional Award Foundation.
Its website CongressionalAward.org explains that "students will gain direct access to members of the Board of Directors, who will serve as mentors and guide the students through the Congressional Award program."
If students finish the required number of hours within the Congressional Award program, they can earn Congressional Award Certificates and Medals.
From Washington, D.C., I'm Anna Matteo.
Anna Matteo wrote this story for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
interview – n. a meeting at which information is obtained (as by a reporter) from a person
press conference – n. an interview or announcement given by a public figure to the press by appointment
language barrier – n. a difficulty for people communicating because they speak in different ways or speak different languages
engage – v. to deal with especially at length
gateway – n. a passage into or out of a place or state
role model – n. a person whose behavior in a particular role is imitated by others
try your hand at (something) – idiom To attempt to do something new; to try something for the first time.
mentor – n. a trusted counselor or guide