Giving Youth a Platform to Tell Their Stories

Embarking on a transformative journey

Giving Youth a Platform to Tell Their Stories

Language, Literacy, & Culture doctoral candidate Carlos McBride directs the NEPR Media Lab, turning high school students into radio professionals and articulate cultural commentators.

Carlos McBride - Values Story

Carlos McBride is the director of New England Public Radio’s Media Lab, a program that gives high school students from Springfield and Holyoke a platform to tell their stories. For McBride, the work is more of a calling than a job, and it’s the ideal culmination of his years of education, work, and activism.

McBride, who is a Language, Literacy, & Culture doctoral student and has a masters degree in Social Justice Education, had a rough start to his own education. “I got into a lot of trouble,” he recalls. “I just wanted get a job and make good money, but I had no desire to be in school. I didn’t think I was schoolworthy, if you will.”

In his mid-20s, McBride’s father Nicholas McBride, a UMass journalism professor, urged his son to finish his education, and he earned a B.A. in film and video at Hampshire College. After graduating, McBride moved to New York City. His goal had been to direct documentaries and tell his stories—“stories based off of what I’ve been through growing up, having quit school, and all this stuff, there were just a million stories that I had, that I felt like people needed to hear.” But instead, McBride mostly he found himself doing “grunt work” in the industry, as a production assistant on commercials, shooting behind the scenes material for Ecko Clothing, and working on a few independent films.

Carlos McBride - Values Story

McBride got into teaching by accident. A friend was looking for someone to teach video at a school in midtown Manhattan, and McBride took the job. It wasn’t an easy way to start. “I didn't know what the Hell I was doing,” he says. “I had yet to let my ego go and I was more frightened than anything, to be in a space with 30, 35 students and not have something productive for them to do.”

However, as he eased into teaching and began to see himself as a teacher he also began to see the role model he could be for these kids. One of his students said to him, “I’ve never seen a teacher like you.” “That was kind of a turning point—not ‘I’d never met,’ but ‘I’ve never seen.’ I was like, well, what does the teacher look like? Because I never considered myself one.”

This experience led McBride to return to school for his masters, to get the the facilitation skills he needed, an he entered the UMass Amherst social justice education program.

The social justice program really gave me the toolbox to do everything that I’m doing.

Carlos McBride

Entering the masters program proved to be a major life transformation for McBride, he found the program intense, but he was part of a tight cohort of students with great support and great camaraderie. “Everything was constant participation and dialogue.” He also loved the faculty. “I consider them like a legendary team: Ximena Zúñiga, Barbara Love, Bailey Jackson, Maurianne Adams.”

In the master program, McBride was able to build the teaching skills he needed: “The social justice program really gave me the toolbox to do everything that I’m doing,” he affirms.

He recalls a specific experience in a course with Barbara Love that has influenced his classroom style ever since. “We were in a class and there was a student that started crying about something, and then the next student kind of rubbed the back of that student—we were sitting in a circle—and Barbara was like, ‘uh, uh, mm mm’ [saying no]. It was like our breath was taken away, because we’re all socialized to do that, to give someone a hug and comfort.” Instead, they sat quietly and allowed the student to feel their feelings. “And then afterwards Barbara just beautifully explained the importance of giving people the space to be in without resolving it. To just be present for this person.

McBride thinks of Love’s approach in his daily interactions with students. “It’s the way in which I’m able to be present and mindful for them, where I can be right in front of a young person in a class with 25 other people and give that young person adequate attention while not making anybody feel like I’m not giving them attention.”

In the masters program, McBride focused on hip hop culture, how it can be a conduit to connect with students, on young black men and how to break the cycles of violence and aggression, and interrogating constructs of masculinity.

I always argued that the theory of everything I do is really about the process of healing and the evolution of these students learning who they are.

Although he found an ideal scholarly community in the social justice program, McBride still felt a little like an imposter, given his youthful struggles with education, and he looked forward to finishing his degree and returning to New York. “Even when I was in the master's program, I was terrified,” he admits. “Somebody’s gonna come and pull me out of this class and say you don’t belong here.”

No one ever kicked him out; instead, now retired professor Sonia Nieto recruited him into the language, literacy, & cultural doctoral program, telling him that the program needed what he could contribute.“I always say she’s like a guardian angel. She believed in me in a way that I didn’t, she saw something in me that I still, at that time, as at that age, couldn’t.”

Immediately after finishing his masters, McBride entered the doctoral program. His primary mentors throughout the program have been Nieto, before she retired, Keisha Green, Florence Sullivan, Meg Gebhard, and Laura Valdiviezo, as well as faculty is Afro-American studies, english, sociology, anthropology, and journalism. His work focuses on using alternative approaches to engage students in writing, especially using their own narratives as an entry point. Although he may not need his doctorate for his current work, he plans to begin on his dissertation in 2019 and looks forward to finishing it, in order to be a role model for the kids with whom he works. “It’s really more for the young people, for me to be able to show them that I was able to do this.”

While he has worked on his doctorate, McBride has been actively building a portfolio in teaching and in media.

Imagine an outlet where it’s a flood gate of nonstop youth produced media, not just from one core, not just for one hour... I’m talking about from here to Maine, Vermont, all these rural areas, and you hear nothing but youth produced media.

Gary Campbell, an early participant of the Media Lab program, recently received a 2018 PRINDI Award for his podcast production "A Son Reckons With His Father's Hunger To Escape Poverty"

With Chris Tinson, who was a doctoral student in Afro-American studies, McBride co-founded TRGGR (Teach. Respect. Growth. Greatness. Responsibility.) Media Group. Their original plan was to create an alternative scholarly journal, but the platform evolved into a weekly radio show on WMUA, the UMass radio station. Active for ten years, the show explored hip hop culture, politics, art, education, prison reform, media justice, and music. Guests included activists, scholars, musicians, writers, health care providers, entrepreneurs, and they even had imprisoned journalist and activist Mumia Abu-Jamal calling into the show. They also established the Triggering Change Conference, which ran annually for several years.

McBride has worked throughout this time as adjunct faculty at several colleges, including UMass, Smith, Hampshire, and Holyoke Community College. He also returned to high school teaching, with the Community Journalism Program at Springfield’s Commerce High School. The program was actually created by McBride’s father, Nicholas, in conjunction with the UMass Journalism Department. Through the program, UMass undergraduates mentor high school students, helping them tell their stories through a variety of platforms, that, “illuminate their world and challenge our perceptions of ‘urban youth,’” according to the program.

His work at Commerce led McBride directly to his current position directing NEPR’s Media Lab, which has neatly brought together his work with students and his radio expertise. McBride started at Media Lab nearly three years ago, and he calls it “the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Media Lab is a twelve-week program that gives Holyoke and Springfield teenagers the tools to share the way they view the world. Its tag line is #whatstoryyoutellin? #gotellit. Students meet twice a week after school at New England Public Radio’s headquarters in downtown Springfield, and they learn to produce their own audio narratives, from writing and interview skills to audio production and editing.

The podcasts, which consist of commentaries, feature pieces, conversations, and interviews,are professional, well produced, and starkly honest. The subjects have included homelessness, mental illness and suicide, being transgender, immigration and deportation, but also a favorite open mic, a community basketball team, and a grandmother’s memories of growing up in the Jim Crow South.

In one commentary, a student expressed his surprise that something like Media Lab exists: “It kind of shocks me to see that people want to hear things like this, because they actually want to get to know me. Imagine a world where your voice doesn’t matter, and no one cares about your opinion. And at Media Lab, that’s the opposite. Media Lab wants to hear you, it wants to know your story, it wants to know what’s going on in the world from you standpoint.”

In addition to a public voice and real world skills, Media Lab gives students a safe space to talk about the challenges in their lives, to find support, and to heal. “I always argued that the theory of everything I do is really about the process of healing and the evolution of these students learning who they are,” McBride explains. In the end, they’ve built significant career skills but also a strong community. “When they come, they don't necessarily all know each other and by the time we’re finished, they’re one of the tightest bonds I can see.”

Carlos McBride - Values Story

Media lab partners with Community Journalism, among other community organizations, which has allowed McBride to stay involved in the project. They’ve also connected Media Lab with Renaissance High School, and McBride’s eventual goal is to be in all of the city’s high schools.

McBride is enthusiastic about the work ahead, and the possibilities of growth for Media Lab and for this type of platform. On the individual level, he’d like to see it become more of a pipeline to college for the kids, helping them prepare to apply, and developing scholarships.

He envisions a much broader impact as well. He’d like to see this platform expand to all of the schools in Western Mass and even throughout the East Coast. He’d like it be a media format as ubiquitous and influential as local news or NPR as a whole.

“Imagine an outlet where it’s a flood gate of nonstop youth produced media, not just from one core, not just for one hour,” he enthuses. “I’m talking about from here to Maine, Vermont, all these rural areas, and you hear nothing but youth produced media.”