Girl in Action: Gladys Gitau Highlights What’s Good in the Hood!
Gladys Gitau, a student at the public high school in Lawrence, Massachusetts started her own newsletter—What's Good in the Hood—while participating in a business social entrepreneurship program offered in her community. What's Good in the Hood highlights the positive things happening in Lawrence, particularly what kids are doing to give back to the community, such as cleaning up their city and planting trees through the Comcast Cares Earth Day event. With questions from two of our teen editors, Teen Voices' editorial interns had the chance to speak with Gladys about her active involvement in empowering students by encouraging them to voice their opinion through the written word. Ever thought of getting into journalism and publishing? Read Gladys's story and get inspired!
Teen Voices: Can you tell our readers why did you decided to create this newsletter for your community and how you went from having the idea to having the resources to develop it?
I was looking for a program to do my sophomore year and Howard Sticklor, from the Youth Development Organization, or YDO, suggested that I do the Youth CITIES program. YDO provides a bunch of programs for kids--usually for middle schoolers. I was in high school, but I needed a program, so my friend managed to get me in. I was really excited about doing it, although I wasn't quite sure what "it" was. When I got there, I learned that "it" was a business social entrepreneurship program. They taught us how to create businesses to help our community. They also gave us resources like mentors who could connect us to people we needed to know.
They split us into groups and told us to come up with a business idea. We were told that at the end, the group that had the best idea would get the money to create the business. I really like writing and journalism and it was suggested to me that I do some sort of newspaper. I thought about how Lawrence has this bad reputation. I'm not originally from here, and when I came here, I heard a lot of bad things about Lawrence. I wanted to show a different side of Lawrence, so that's how I came up with the idea. And then I won.
Teen Voices: So what is the YDO and were there specific people in the YDO that played an important role in helping you develop the newsletter and your organization?
We don't think of YDO as an organization. We think of it as Howard. Howard is the guy who got me into the Youth CITIES program. And then the Technology Underwriting Greater Good (TUGG) people gave me funding. I met their people when I got in the program and I got the grants. I believe they work with venture capitalists and they give money to projects helping the community. That's where I get my funding.
Lorena, Say What?! Teen Editor: Are there any other organizations that helped support your newsletter?
I have an advisor who used to work for The Boston Globe, and he got me connections at The Eagle Tribune, a local newspaper here in the Merrimack Valley. They have been very nice about helping out." If I need an editor or somebody to look over a piece, they'll do it. I met the publisher and the editor. They even published a story I wrote about a play done by my drama guild. The Greater Lawrence Young Professional's Network, a group of young professionals in the city who have finished college and are working in the city, have been helpful--they help us find events and connect to other people. " And I met with the editor and program director at Teen Voices magazine, as well as staff at several local organizations.
Teen Voices: What is involved in producing a newsletter? What is a normal production cycle like?
This first production cycle was very hectic. I had never done any production before. First, I got the concept for what I wanted to write about. I wanted to tell my story and write about what I do. I like writing, so I wrote something and then sent it to Jerry, a retired Boston Globe editor who's on our staff." He edited it. We went to see how a paper is printed and how much it would cost and learned how it circulates. We made Facebook and Twitter pages so we could spread the word. We sent a lot of emails back and forth editing and changing articles. It took us a while." We just finished our third issue, plus we have lots of stories and photos on our website.
Teen Voices: Where do you see your newsletter in a few months? In a year?
Right now, I'm just trying to spread the word and see who cares and who wants to support What's Good in the Hood. I want support from local businesses and teachers. I already have support from some teachers. I want to see more kids reading the newsletter and involved in writing it. I want it established enough that other kids can take over the paper when the time comes for me to go to college. Hopefully, I can get some other kids to help. I want the newsletter to be something that people are comfortable with, something that people know about.
Teen Voices: Why is this newsletter important to you?
The newsletter is important to me personally because it is an evolving project. I wasn't really sure what I was doing when I started it. It wasn't something that I woke up one morning and set out to do. For me, it was a process of discovering what I wanted to do and when I found it, getting the money to go through with the project. I could have backed out. But the more I do this project, the more I realize that it is something that is very necessary. The kids in Lawrence may not be doing bad things, but I think they are very discouraged about where they live. There's a lot of bad news coming out of Lawrence in the local newspaper, so then kids feel discouraged. So the more I go along with this newsletter, the more I feel that it is, in fact, necessary that I do this work and finish it. If I gave up halfway it would be like, "Oh, look. It's another Lawrence kid who doesn't want to finish what she started."
Teen Voices: Why are people so discouraged in Lawrence?
We have high crime rates and high teen pregnancy rates. Or at least that's the perception. I'm not sure if these things are true. We definitely don't have a lot of money. Some people will say, "Oh, I didn't do well on this test. Well, it's Lawrence, what do you expect?" It seems like an excuse a lot of people use. We lose at sports and say, "Oh, it's Lawrence." We don't have high test scores. "Oh, it's Lawrence." I just want to show people that we are all responsible for ourselves. Where you are or the situation you are in shouldn't stop you.
Teen Voices: What kind of feedback are you getting about your newsletter? What has been the impact of the newsletter on the school and greater community?
The feedback has been really good. " A lot of teachers that I talk to are really impressed that the skills we're learning in class, we are using outside class, in the community. We've talked to a lot of community leaders, such as the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCA, and the public library. " And they're all very impressed that a bunch of kids are putting this thing together.
We're kids, so half the time we're having fun. I think that's a big appeal for people. We get a lot of emails from people who run community events. We got invited to a park cleanup. We got invited to a march against domestic violence. There's one against racism that we went to. We were invited to a paint auction for a local non-profit recently. It's nice to have kids who are on the front lines of all these issues.
Teen Voices: You recently received an award for What's Good in the Hood. What was it like to be the recipient of an award for your very own newsletter?
We were recognized the president of the Greater Lawrence Young Professionals Network who was recently elected as a school committee member." He was really excited to see kids doing stuff for the community. Somebody had challenged him and said Lawrence kids don't doing anything. So he wanted to recognize" the kids in Lawrence in a positive way. At a Lawrence School Committee Meeting he gave us an award for being proactive and doing things for the city.
Elysabeth, Say What! Teen Editor: " Why do you think it's important that people in your community work toward changing the way others view your community?
This is our home and we have to work at being not just our own community, but being a part of the communities that surround us. " And one of the problems that we have here in Lawrence is that we're in the middle of a bunch of cities. Some of these cities are very wealthy, but the people who live there don't spend any of their money here because they have this negative perception of who we are and what we look like. If we can reach out to these people and say that we are doing something good, they will definitely come here, and they'll help support us, and we'll help support them. We'll be a bigger and happier community.
Lorena: What are you currently doing now other than developing What's Good in the Hood?
I'm involved in another project called EYP, or the Express Yourself Project. My friend Lucy, a fellow junior, wanted to do a fashion show to benefit the community. So she wrote up an executive summary and we got people to sponsor us, and we won a grant. We started this fall and we've been worked on it for almost a year. I helped with the budgets and writing, especially the press releases. " The fashion show was May 21, and it went really well! Other than that, my dad has his own organization and he has a retreat every summer, and we're running that. I have the usual homework and standardized tests like SATs and AP tests to study for, and other events for student council and National Honor Society.
Teen Voices: Where do you see yourself after high school?
College. I want to go college. As for What's Good in the Hood, I haven't exactly figured that out yet. But we have a lot of freshman and sophomores on our team; I'm hoping they can sustain it once I go away to college. We're trying to stabilize our process so that when I leave, there will be a nice plan for whomever is going to take over. " I'm a junior now, so we have another year to figure it out.
Teen Voices: Why do you think teen girls should pick a project and run with it?
We can't wait for people to make change for us. That's something I've learned. When I first got here, I guess I was kind of angry at all the things people said to me about Lawrence. I knew I couldn't let that affect my attitude. I realized that I couldn't just wait for things to change. This is something I'm passionate about, and I can't wait for older people to come change us. If I don't change what I see needs to be changed, then nobody is going to change it for me. As teens, we are the people who are going to make change. We'll be the people who will run the country in a couple of years. If we don't do it, no one will!
Teen Voices: What's one piece of advice that you would give to a teen girl who wants to start a big project?
You have to be committed to it. You have to make up your mind and decide whether or not you are actually going to do it. At first, I wasn't sure whether I would continue with the project after getting the money to launch it. But then I thought about how amazing it would be to have this thing published and to have people read my work and be interested and to have people actually make a difference because of something I started. That feeling makes up for all the work you go through. Another thing: you can't sit there and expect things to be done for you. You can't just rely on other people to do things for you. If you want something done, you have to do it yourself. You have to have the motivation. If you have the vision and you're not motivated, other people won't do it for you. You have to own the image and own the vision and own the work because you're the only one who can!
For more information about What's Good in the Hood? Visit: http://whatsgoodinthehood.tumblr.com/
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Tagged as: Ashley Morris, Girls in Action, Gladys Gitau, Lawrence, Michelle Golden, social change, social justice, teen activists, teen writers, teen writing, volunteering