BPR announces StoryCraft partnership with Asheville Writers In The Schools and Community
BPR is pleased to announce StoryCraft, a youth engagement partnership with Asheville Writers In The Schools and Community (AWITSC). Together, we’re collaborating on storytelling workshops for local youth and making space for their voices on BPR’s airwaves and digital platforms. Listen to the on-air pieces here:
StoryCraft is featured in AWITSC’s annual El Arte de la Abundancia (The Art of Abundance) virtual showcase Saturday November 20th at 8:00 PM and in-person exhibit at the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center November 19-21. Reserve your free ticket here; COVID safety protocols are in place with limited viewings Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The story behind StoryCraft
During a summer 2020 community listening session convened by Blue Ridge Public Radio (BPR), participants called for more engagement with local youth. They asked BPR to use its platform to provide opportunities for young people to tell their own stories.
“If you want to remain vibrant and relevant, you really need to take your cue from the younger generation.”
“Let's invite youth to the table. Let them teach us something. They got a lot to teach. They really do.”
"Train new talent, create a pipeline of younger people who can participate in this process.”
This listening session was one step in BPR’s commitment to bring diversity, equity and inclusion to all aspects of the organization, including reaching audiences we don’t currently serve, asking communities what they need and partnering with organizations led by people of color.
BPR was drawn to the impressive work of Asheville Writers In The Schools And Community (AWITSC). Their innovative arts and culture initiatives are rooted in social justice and racial equity, providing Black and brown youth opportunities for creative self-expression that is amplified and celebrated, and creating living wage employment and consulting opportunities for Black and brown adults.
Conversations between the BPR and AWITSC began in March 2021. We started by getting to know each other and exploring what each of us could bring to a partnership. AWITSC has deep relationships with local youth, schools and community centers and a roster of talented artist mentors specializing in audio, photography and performance. BPR’s radio stations reach people across 14 counties in Western North Carolina, staff who are skilled in audio production and storytelling, and a commitment to make space for new voices on our platforms. We developed a plan for how we’d work together and brought together our teams to begin planning StoryCraft.
Artist mentors with AWITSC worked with BPR content producers to develop this inaugural cycle of StoryCraft, a series of six workshops for Asheville middle school youth held over the summer at the Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center. We built the workshops around an exercise that AWITSC has used for years in school and community settings, inspired by the poem "Where I'm From" by George Ella Lyon and the writing prompt “Who Am I?.”
Recognizing that creative personal expression can often be challenging for youth to approach, our intention was to invite participants to connect with their basic senses of sight, sound, touch, taste and smell as an accessible entry point for using words, sounds and images to craft unique personal stories honoring their sense of identity and place.
With our senses awakened, the next two sessions were devoted to writing. Colored notebooks and pens in hand, the youth eagerly dove into creative expression - some inspired by sights and smells, others by sounds and movement. Some filled page after page, others sketched out their reflections. And then, sitting in a circle on the auditorium stage, several bravely shared their pieces with the group. The poems were deep, resonant, creative and layered. Following claps and finger snaps in appreciation, the youth offered encouragement and candor: “It’s okay to be shy” “It’s hard talking in front of people.” “Look engaged, be respectful.”
The final two sessions were dedicated to capturing the participants’ ideas, experiences and sentiments and handing them the tools to record each other. We set up a recording booth in a hallway, passed out audio recorders and handed over a DSLR camera. The confidence building over the previous weeks, through one-on-one coaching, group discussions and peer-to-peer support, readied the group (adults and youth alike) for this moment. The building became animated in the power of storytelling and the magic that happens when adults make space for youth and encourage them to create.
All of our sessions were grounded in participatory education - a model that works to disrupt power dynamics and involve young people in the shaping of the programming. We began each session with an ice breaker or warm up exercise. After trying a guided meditation, the youth requested we repeat it the next time. At the end of each session, the youth shared what they liked and didn’t like, and what they wanted next time. The artist mentors used that feedback to strengthen future sessions.
During one of the final sessions, we gathered in a circle outside. “What was your experience like during these storytelling workshops?” asked one of the artist mentors.
Without hesitation, one of the participants responded “For the first time I felt free.”
StoryCraft’s 2021 talent includes: Liam, Age 13; Clement, Age 12; Anderson, Age 12; Lorelei, Age 13; Isaiah, Age 11; Davaughn, Age 13; Jaydin, Age 13; Azia, Age 14; Tamia, Age 14; Emily, Age 14; West, Age 13; Emillia, Age 14; Keiya, Age 13; Ahmaria, Age 12; Antonio, Age 15; Tori, Age 15; Zaryah, Age 13; Payton, Age 13
StoryCraft 2021’s artist mentors include CocoEva Soleil LuzGuerrero Alcazar, Elizabeth Garland, Micah Mackenzie, Cass Herrington and Catherine Komp. Project managers and producers include Sekou Coleman, Micah Mackenzie and Catherine Komp.
Thank you to Dr. Wesley Grant Sr. Southside Center Staff for welcoming StoryCraft during the summer 2021 program and assisting with the StoryCraft session: Jessica Johnston, Facility Manager; Alic Wynn, Facility Supervisor; Khadeesha Crumbly, Zuke Samon and Corden Floyd, Summer Program Staff.
StoryCraft is part of the America Amplified initiative, a national public media collaboration focused on community engagement reporting.
Funding for StoryCraft comes in part from: Asheville Writers in the Schools, BPR’s McGuire Fund for Journalism, America Amplified, Asheville Area Arts Council Grassroots Arts Program and the North Carolina Arts Council Arts Equity Project.