by Justin Glanville
Not long ago, I got a call from George Costanzo, then at the LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. George was looking to tell some stories with youth in one of the Center’s youth programs, and wanted to brainstorm ideas for how that might happen.
I’m a radio storyteller for Ideastream Public Media, the local NPR and PBS outlet. One of my biggest passions is helping people and communities tell their own stories.
So my response to George was pretty instinctive.
“How about I offer a workshop where we teach youth to make their own radio stories?” I asked.
Within a couple weeks, I was teaching Ideastream’s inaugural youth voices workshop at the Center with five young people who had signed up to participate. While they all seemed smart and enthusiastic, I was nervous. Would I be able to make this process fun and safe enough that the kids would stay committed over the course of several months?
Some of my concerns were alleviated on day one.
My initial prompt was to come up with a “driving question” that had personal meaning to the students – but also be interesting to others.
I was floored by the creativity and adventurousness of their ideas.
Giana Formica, who’d just graduated from the Cleveland School of the Arts, wanted to know why she’d dated men for so long before finally coming out as lesbian.
Grace Davis, another local graduating senior, wanted to know why people seemed to label her “bossy” or “loud.” Did it have to do with gender stereotypes?
Clovis Westlund from Shaker Heights wondered why the schools in his town were deemed failing by the state of Ohio.
Halle Preneta, now at Kenyon College, wanted to examine the state of media depictions of queer people.
And George Costanzo – my initial contact – wondered why he saw so few feminine-identifying people at local gay bars.
My challenge to the participants was to explore these questions from a bunch of angles: by talking to friends and family. By interviewing experts. And, most important, by recording snippets of their own, real, everyday, unscripted lives.
Over the course of a few short months, they came back with some awesome “tape” (actually digital iPhone recordings) – vulnerable, funny, and human.
Giana talked to friends and an ex-boyfriend who helped her unpack the issues she had with the word “lesbian.” Grace had an emotional, full-of-awkward-pauses conversation with a straight guy she realized SHE was stereotyping, just as she’d thought he’d stereotype her.
And Halle? Halle got to sing. She gave us a virtual concert, direct from her bedroom, of highlights from her very favorite piece of queer storytelling: the musical “Falsettos.”
The results of all their hard work aired on WCPN 90.3 last month in a series we called “+Voices.” If you missed those broadcasts, no worries: You can stream the stories in perpetuity on our website.
The experience was wonderful enough that we also used it to launch a new initiative at Ideastream called the “Sound of Us,” where we’ll work with other communities to tell the stories THEY want to tell.
For me, there’s no quantifying the value of hearing directly from people themselves, in their own voices. We need that especially now, I think, when pandemic-induced claustrophobia has added to a culture of divisiveness.
The youth from “+Voices” are all now leading different lives now: They’re in college, they’re working new jobs. But for one summer, they were willing to become vulnerable on the radio. That was courageous, and I came away feeling that I’d not only PROVIDED a workshop – but participated in one myself.
Justin Glanville is a reporter and producer at Ideastream Public Media. He lives in the Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood with his husband and son. If you’d like to work with him to share your story, feel free to get in touch!