Solutions We LoveA radio station that gives girls a voice, riffing on the Little Free Library model, and morescroll down arrow

Members of GRLZradio, from left to right, top to bottom: Selena Rodriquez, Jomelly Munoz, Vanessa McKenzie, Taja Boone, La’Porsha Hickson, Yaritza Villar, Fatima Doumbia, Olivia Williams, Victoria Omoregie, Nellcie BoddenYES! PHOTO BY LENA MIRISOLA

GRLZ Take Over the AirwavesBoston’s GRLZradio helps teens find their voice and gives them a chance to be heard

YES! PHOTO BY LENA MIRISOLA

La’Porsha Hickson, Olivia Williams, and Selena Rodriquez spend their summer training with GRLZradio to become DJs, audio engineers, producers, and writers.YES! PHOTO BY LENA MIRISOLA

Fed up with the way women and girls were portrayed in music on the radio, a group of teenage girls on a Boston soccer team brought an idea to their coach. They wanted to start their own radio station that portrayed women positively and respectfully, they said. Through the help of their coach, in 2003 the girls presented their idea to then-Mayor Thomas Menino, who supported it. Later that year, GRLZradio went on the air.

Melissa Hellmann

Melissa Hellmann is a Surdna reporting fellow at YES! Follow her on Twitter @M_Hellmann.


This article was sponsored in part by a grant from the Surdna Foundation.

Today, GRLZradio produces a girls-run radio show with programming that includes music and discussions. The Boston-based program is one of eight run by St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children. Annually, over 100 girls — primarily girls of color — between ages 12 and 19 complete the nonprofit’s multi-month training in radio hosting, engineering, producing, and blogging. It’s more than just a job-training program, though. By giving them control over the airwaves — and supporting them when they’re off the air — GRLZradio is helping to uplift teen girls.

“It’s important to show them that they have a voice and that they can say what’s on their mind,” said GRLZradio broadcast manager Danielle Johnson. She added that the girls who participate in the program are “submerged in a culture” that sexually objectifies them in music and television.

A 2007 American Psychological Association report shows that low self-esteem and depressive symptoms are linked to the sexualization of women and girls in the media. At the same time, men “dominate media across all platforms — television, newspapers, online, and wires — with change coming only incrementally,” according to the Women’s Media Center report “The Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2017.” The report reveals that women of color have the greatest lack of representation. But GRLZradio is helping shift this narrative by giving teen girls the tools to broadcast their own voices.

Girls like Taja Boone. When Boone became a DJ at GRLZradio in 2013, her life was spinning out of control.

YES! PHOTO BY LENA MIRISOLA

The Boston-based group invites inner-city girls of color to produce their own live radio programming using professional tools and resources. Graduates of the program, like Taja Boone, above, often return to mentor new cohorts.YES! PHOTO BY LENA MIRISOLA

According to Boone, a volatile situation at home crept into every corner of her life. When she was 16 years old, her habit of staying out late to hang out with friends led her to repeat the 10th grade. Eventually, she decided to drop out of school.

GRLZradio provided support in the midst of instability.

Boone’s experience is shared by many girls in the program. Teens at GRLZradio often don’t have a consistent parental figure in their life, said program and communications coordinator Tekeisha Meade. A 2015 Boston Public Health Commission report shows that in the predominantly African American neighborhood of North Dorchester, where Boone is from, disproportionately more children live in single-parent families than anywhere else in the city. And in 2011, the highest rates of violent crime and homicide in the city occurred in Dorchester, Roxbury, and Mattapan — neighborhoods where GRLZradio participants live.

“A lot of these girls come from very broken homes,” Johnson said. “They’re looking for an outlet to be safe, come hang out, and let their voices be heard on the radio,” she added.

At the studio, Boone had meals provided and she connected with other girls and staff. Suddenly, she wasn’t alone. Off the air, she and her peers would sit around in a group to talk about problems they faced, like homelessness or witnessing violence in their neighborhoods. In these circles they would cry and laugh together.

Girls report a higher level of confidence and self-worth after they complete the program and are about 30 percent more likely to graduate high school than other students in the city.

On the air, Boone has hosted her own radio program on the topics that matter to her — everything from phobias to community news.

With the help of two staff members, girls run their own live shows, which air on the GRLZradio website and their TuneIn radio app 5–7 p.m., Monday–Thursday. Recent graduates from the program can go on as youth supervisors to mentor the teens and host their own shows independently. By running their own radio programs, girls learn marketable skills and find a safe space to talk about racism, violence, misogyny, social justice, or the latest summer trends.

Aside from learning broadcast skills, participants take girl empowerment workshops on topics including career development and reproductive health care from staff members and experts in the community. Meade said girls report a higher level of confidence and self-worth after they complete the program and are about 30 percent more likely to graduate high school than other students in the city.

“There’s a whole girl behind that microphone with issues that need to be addressed,” said Saun Green, the director of programs at GRLZradio. “And sometimes we’re the only source of help with those issues.”

The girls have hosted shows ranging from discussions about Black Lives Matter to the best ways to treat dry hair. For the Black Lives Matter episode, Boone interviewed a Black activist and student from Boston University. The two talked about the disparity in arrests of African Americans compared to Whites and the times when they believed the police had unfairly targeted them because of their race.

“[It’s] a place where girls are heard and respected,” Boone, now 21 years old, said, repeating the program’s motto.

YES! PHOTO BY LENA MIRISOLA

YES! PHOTO BY LENA MIRISOLA

La’Porsha Hickson, 18, was also having difficulty performing well in school and articulating her feelings before she joined GRLZradio. Because of her mom’s demanding work schedule, Hickson had to attend her siblings’ parent-teacher conferences and cook dinner. The extra responsibilities took away from study time, and the C’s and D’s on her report card in her junior year of high school reflected it.

She also lacked confidence, she said, because classmates ridiculed her about her dark skin color when she was younger. During an off-air discussion in which she revealed her insecurity, her GRLZradio peers assured her that her entire being was lovable. “I started to love my skin color at GRLZradio,” Hickson said, adding that her improved self-esteem allowed her to get A’s and B’s in her final year of high school.

Three years after starting out as an entry-level DJ, Boone now mentors other girls in the program as a youth supervisor and recently completed her high school equivalency examinations. She plans on entering community college in the fall to study communications.

This summer, Boone is also going to host her own radio show for GRLZradio on Tuesday mornings called “T on Tuesdays,” in which she’ll talk about pop culture, the media, and summer activities. More than anything, Boone says that GRLZradio has taught her the importance of “taking a moment and breathing. And just exhaling out the negativity.”

Melissa Hellmann

Melissa Hellmann is a Surdna reporting fellow at YES! Follow her on Twitter @M_Hellmann.

This article was sponsored in part by a grant from the Surdna Foundation.

5 Ways

Go Beyond Little Free Libraries

1. Seed Library
Photo by Seattle Urban Gardening Company

A seed library designed by the Seattle Urban Gardening Company, complete with a living roof and seed counting surface.Photo by Seattle Urban Gardening Company

Audrey Barbakoff and other members of her community wanted a place for people to share and donate vegetable, flower, and herb seeds. Barbakoff, who works as a librarian on Bainbridge Island, Washington, thought that the public library was the perfect place to house a seed library. In 2014, the group and the library staff teamed up to build a seed shed right behind the Bainbridge branch. Residents bring their seeds to the library and the staff organize, label, and store them in the shed where people are free to take what they need.

“The seed library is sustainable in all ways,” Barbakoff says. “It’s environmentally sustainable because it encourages people to grow locally and connect with what they eat. It’s socially sustainable because people are coming together to pool resources. And borrowing something is always economically sustainable.”

2. Clothes Swap

In March, Holly Dyck, a community development major at Red River College in Winnipeg, Manitoba, searched for ways to put the skills she learned in the classroom to practical use. With spring cleaning in mind, the 25-year-old senior decided to host a clothes swap on campus. Her idea caught on with more than 50 students who gathered in a student lounge to swap clothes that had rarely or never been worn.

Dyck has since graduated from Red River College and plans to host another event. She says neighbors in any community should consider swapping clothes not only to save money, but also to build community.

“I love interdependence. We can’t do everything alone,” Dyck says. “You never know who you’re helping.”

3. Little free food pantries
YES! Photo by Lori Panico

Darla Bradish keeps the little free food pantry on her property maintained with the help of community volunteers.YES! Photo by Lori Panico

Darla Bradish, a property manager in Bremerton, Washington, heard about the Little Free Library movement and imagined a similar concept, but with food.

“I see the need for little free food pantries in my community,” Bradish says. “It’s hard for some people, like senior citizens and people without cars, to get to the local food bank, so I thought why not place little food pantries in the neighborhoods.”

Bradish got her program, Kitsap Neighborhood Little Free Pantries, approved by her county’s public health district and set up the first two little pantries in December. She created a GoFundMe account and a Facebook page to solicit donations and volunteers. The success of her project led to the local corrections department offering to build her more pantry boxes.

“One guy got his paycheck, but couldn’t cash it until the next day,” she says. “So, he came to one of the pantries to find out what he was going to eat for dinner.”

4. The Buy Nothing Project

In 2013, Liesl Clark and Rebecca Rockefeller experimented with a local gift economy idea where neighbors could connect and give away products and services. That experiment turned into a global movement now known as the Buy Nothing Project and involves groups in 20 nations. The exchange is largely coordinated through Facebook where people can join a local Buy Nothing group based on their geographic location. Members simply join the group and then post what they’re seeking or what they’re giving away, from clothes, dishes, and pets to services such as medical assistance. One Seattle couple had a “Buy Nothing Wedding,” Clark says.

“People love to give,” she says. “So the giver benefits just as much as the receiver does. The Buy Nothing Project is the truest form of the sharing economy.”

5. Tool libraries
YES! photos by Lori Panico
YES! photos by Lori Panico

At the Capitol Hill Tool Library in Seattle, you can borrow a drill, a food dehydrator, a ladder, or a fishing rod, much like you would borrow a book. It’s also a place to get help fixing your broken toaster. YES! photos by Lori Panico

Liz Mathews loves taking on do-it-yourself home improvements. However, she doesn’t like buying tools in order to use them only once. In early 2016, she turned to her neighbors and figured that everyone could save a lot of time and money if they just shared their tools. She created a Facebook group where nearly 400 of her Seattle neighbors borrow and exchange tools such as drills, weed whackers, pressure washers, and more. Members also advise neighbors in their do-it-yourself initiatives. Mathews says the impact the group has had on her neighborhood is phenomenal and encourages every neighborhood to start something similar.

“Not only have I found every tool I’ve ever needed, but also I’ve been able to share with others and meet some new, lifelong friends,” she says. “It encourages safety and pride in our ’hood, and that’s what this is really all about.”

People We Love

Playwright Activism

Dominique Morisseau

Dominique Morisseau

Humanizing the struggles of the school-to-prison pipeline

Dominique Morisseau, an award-winning playwright from Detroit, describes herself as an artist-activist. She recently developed a three-play cycle called The Detroit Projects, in which she highlights issues that have affected the city for decades, such as racism, urban renewal, and economic inequality.

Morisseau’s newest project, Pipeline, tackles the mass incarceration of Black men with the story of a devoted inner-city public high school teacher who tries to save her teenage son from the school-to-prison pipeline.

New research shows that kids can start going down that path as early as preschool, where Black children are 3.6 times more likely than White children to be suspended.

Morisseau, the daughter of a teacher and a former teacher herself, developed a deep understanding of the pipeline from her time living in urban cities like Detroit, New York, and Chicago.

“This concerns me,” Morisseau says. “And playwrights have the power to humanize social issues by making people visualize human beings at the forefront of those issues. We can spark emotions and make people feel these issues in their guts rather than simply make them think about it in their brains.”

Catherine Filloux

Catherine Filloux

Writing from the margins of human rights issues

The incarceration rate for women in the United States is the second-highest in the world, and that bothers Catherine Filloux, a human rights advocate and playwright. She hopes to bring awareness to the issue in a new play called What Does Free Mean?

“That’s how it usually works for me,” Filloux says. “I pick an important issue that I want to bring awareness to and I write a play about it.”

Plays can help people empathize with an issue in a way that a book or an article can’t, she says.

Born to immigrant parents, Filloux says she often writes from the perspective of unheard and marginalized voices and explores human rights abuses around the world. She often travels abroad to understand injustice elsewhere and how it relates to the U.S.

Her play Eyes of the Heart chronicles a group of Cambodian women who suffered from psychosomatic blindness after witnessing the “killing fields” atrocities under the Khmer Rouge. Another of Filloux’s works is Lemkin’s House, inspired by the work of Raphael Lemkin, the Polish lawyer who coined the word genocide.

Milta Ortiz

Milta Ortiz

Creating healing roles for unheard voices

In 2010, Milta Ortiz and her husband traveled to Arizona. They were going to protest an unfair law that ordered immigrants to carry registration documents at all times while requiring police to question them whenever “reasonable suspicion” of their U.S. status arose. Ortiz, originally from El Salvador, also was influenced by Precious Knowledge, a documentary that spotlights Tucson High School students’ fight to keep the school’s controversial but successful Mexican American studies class alive. Dismissing the program as racist, Arizona legislators enacted a law that helped end the program.

In response, Ortiz moved from Chicago to Tucson, where she began working on Más, a drama that is based on dozens of interviews Ortiz conducted with students, teachers, and supporters of the program. Ortiz said the play served to heal those who were active in the struggle to save the program.

Ortiz now helps run the Borderlands Theater in Tucson, which produces plays that reflect the diverse voices of the U.S.-Mexico border region. She considers her plays to be “edutainment.”

“I’m noting history that wouldn’t otherwise be noted,” she says. “This is my contribution to society.”

Commentary

“Carpe Diem Politics”: Do More Than Just Resist

Here’s something that might surprise you: One of the most powerful weapons we can use against far-right authoritarians like Donald Trump has its roots in ancient philosophy. In particular, we can draw on the idea of carpe diem, or “seize the day,” a maxim penned by the Roman poet Horace. Let me explain.

Roman Krznaric

Roman Krznaric is a social philosopher (and former political scientist). His new book is Carpe Diem: Seizing the Day in a Distracted World. Follow him on Twitter @romankrznaric.

Today we are living in an age of global political dissent that we haven’t seen since the 1960s. From the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong in 2014 to the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and anti-Putin protests in Russia this year, people have been stepping onto the streets in unprecedented numbers in the past decade.

What unites so many of these social movements is that they embody what I call “carpe diem politics.” This is different from the conventional definition of the phrase, such as in the film Dead Poets Society, which is all about individuals making bold decisions in life. Rather, carpe diem politics involves grassroots movements taking the seize-the-day ideal from the individual up to the collective level to achieve radical change.

Using Horace’s phrase in a political context dates back at least to the Spanish Civil War, when it entered the popular lexicon among Republican forces seizing a revolutionary moment. That interpretation has been carried forward, and now is most associated with one of the best-known environmentalist, social justice bands in the United Kingdom, Seize the Day.

There are three aspects to the idea of carpe diem politics. First, it involves seizing opportunities on a mass scale that otherwise might be lost and disappear forever. Second, spontaneous mobilization cracks open the social order from below. A crucial third element is hedonistic revelry — a carnival spirit with dancing, music, costumes, and other forms of play.

Research I conducted for Carpe Diem: Seizing the Day in a Distracted World reveals that throughout history, effective movements (particularly, though not exclusively, those on the progressive democratic left) have tapped into all three elements. Think of the mass protests that helped bring down the Berlin Wall in 1989. They were seizing a political moment. It was full of spontaneous action and filled with hedonistic exuberance alongside very serious political intent. As historian Padraic Kenney put it, “What started as just a carnival became a revolution.”

The Occupy Movement was part of this tradition. In many cities it was not just the fire of social justice that galvanized protesters — it was also the carnival spirit of mass sing-alongs and dancing flash mobs that helped create and maintain such a strong sense of community.

I believe that protest movements today struggling against the likes of Trump — on issues ranging from climate change to women’s rights and immigration — will be more successful if they can draw on these three elements of carpe diem politics. But they face two key challenges.

First is the danger of mobilization without organization, creating what civil rights activist Angela Davis described in her book Abolition Democracy as “movements modeled after fast food delivery.” It’s not enough to use smart social media strategies to get people to pour spontaneously into the streets. Nothing beats the hard work of face-to-face community organizing (as the “barnstorming” of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign revealed).

Second, movements need to combine their seize-the-day strategies with clear and powerful policy aims. While Occupy had a huge impact inserting inequality into the political conversation, the absence of specific propositions (such as in the slogan “Occupy Everything, Demand Nothing”) was a mistake, in my opinion. Occupy should have learned from the 1970s feminist movement, which campaigned on targeted issues like equal pay and reproductive rights. The lesson for today is obvious: Don’t just oppose Trump; tell us what you’re for.

Despite such challenges, let’s remember there is power in movement. The New Deal, for instance, was not the gift of benign politicians — it was forced on them by a groundswell of public protests by unemployed workers and war veterans, and street marches by starving children, rebelling in the face of the destitution caused by the Depression.

If today’s activists want to make their mark on history, they should celebrate the carnivalesque and ultimately take Horace’s ideal a stage further: less the singular carpe diem and more the plural carpamus diem — let’s seize the day together.

Roman Krznaric

Roman Krznaric is a social philosopher (and former political scientist). His new book is Carpe Diem: Seizing the Day in a Distracted World. Follow him on Twitter @romankrznaric.

The Page That Counts

The Numbers That Define Our World

Average number of years the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans outlive the poorest 1 percent 10 to 15 1

Average amount, in additional benefits from Social Security and other social programs, that an affluent American receives from that life expectancy inequality $130,000

Percent of 2015 crowdfunding campaigns on GiveForward, Plumfund, FundRazr, and Red Basket that raised money for personal medical costs41 2

Percent of those campaigns that were fully funded 11

Average cost of platform and processing fees charged for each $100 donation on GiveForward and FundRazr$8.20 3

Total number of vacation days unused by American employees in 2016662 million 4

Percent of men who say vacation time is “extremely” important to them 49

Of women 58

Percent of men who used all their allotted vacation days 48

Of women44

Additional income women working full time would have earned in 2016 had they been paid the same hourly wages as their male counterparts$42 billion 5

Number of the five fastest-growing cities in the United States that are in Texas4 6

Increase in median cost of a single-family home in Texas between 2010 and 2017 $90,000 7

Change in Texas minimum wage between 2010 and 2017$08

Weekly hours a Texan working at the minimum wage would need to work to afford a two-bedroom rental1179

Number of states in which working 40 hours a week at minimum wage is enough to afford a two-bedroom rental0

Rank of Texas among states with most workers earning at or below minimum wage110

Tons of plastics humans have created since large-scale production of the synthetic materials began in the early 1950s 9.1 billion 11

Tons that have already become waste 6.9 billion

Percent of plastic waste that has been recycled 9

Tons of food scraps Californians throw away each year 6 million 12

Number of California landfills that have the potential to emit “significant” quantities of methane 370 13

Amount to date of California cap-and-trade revenue appropriated for greenhouse gas emission reduction programs$3.4 billion 15

Amount of that revenue allocated to a new food-waste prevention program$5 million

Complete citations at yesmagazine.org/ptc83

1. National Bureau of Economic Research 2. NerdWallet 3. GiveForward, Plumfund, FundRazr, and Red Basket websites 4. U.S. Travel Association 5. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives 6. U.S. Census Bureau 7. Zillow 8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 9. National Low Income Housing Coalition 10. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 11. Geyer 2017, Science Advances 12. CalRecycle 13. California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board 14. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency 15. California Climate Investments