Canarsie Radio Gives a Voice to Its Youth

CANARSIE — From school uniforms to her favorite musicians, 15-year-old Saheedah Majolagbe, has always been opinionated.

“I’m not afraid to speak my mind.” she said.

The problem was that she didn’t always know how or in what way to voice these opinions. That is, until she discovered podcasts. In the fall of 2018, Saheedah found her voice at KNRC Youth Radio.

“You’re listening to Canarsie Radio and this is my story…” is how each episode of KNRC Youth Radio begins. The podcast is a program based within the Canarsie branch of the Brooklyn Public Library where a dozen or so South Brooklyn teenagers create, write, record, and edit original podcast episodes. 

According to the Department of Education, only 39.7% of District 18 students in grades 3 to 8 are meeting or exceeding standards in English Language Arts—something the podcast aims to combat by giving students a platform to tell their own stories.

“Podcasts are such an amazing form of media because anyone can make one,” said the program’s founder and children’s librarian, Cassie Hickman.

Audio Equipment. Gregg Richards/Brooklyn Public Library.

In 2016, Hickman was looking for a new way to connect with the teenagers who came in and out of the library in Canarsie. Hickman said that the podcast is a way to make reading and writing, something teenagers might find boring, accessible and fun.

Hickman, who had little experience with podcasting or public radio prior to creating KNRC, said that the idea of a youth-run podcast came to her after attending city-sponsored workshops. Hickman applied for a grant through the Brooklyn Incubator and was selected for a $10,000 grant.

“I thought this might be an amazing way to get teen voices out there, let them share their stories, give them some agency,” said Hickman.

The program’s winners were required to use their grant funding in the first year of their selection. The funding allowed Hickman to purchase MacBook laptops and recording equipment as well as bring in professional audio instructors to teach the students about the art of radio.

While in the program, the students took a six-week crash course in audio storytelling, learning about interviewing, sound design, music, editing and more from podcasting professionals. 

KNRC Youth Radio Staff and participants. Gregg Richards/Brooklyn Public Library.

The episodes range from personal testimonials to personal reviews, debates to discussions. 

“Instead of learning, they are being sent to the streets by their teachers to beg for money…” shares Amy Mbodj in her emotional episode on child homelessness in her home country of Senegal. 

The episodes are debuted to family and friends at listening parties, but can be listened to on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and even iHeartRadio.

Saheedah has already completed one episode for Season 2 of the podcast and is working on a second for Season 3. Her first episode discussed the idea of uniforms in schools—something Saheedah has a strong opinion on. 

“I didn’t like the idea of uniforms limiting my self-expression,” said Saheedah, who is in her junior year at High School for Medical Professions in Canarsie. “Podcasts are definitely a way that people can share their voices. So, I thought this was a good way to share mine.” 

KNRC Youth Radio Staff and participants. Gregg Richards/Brooklyn Public Library.

Saheedah said that nowadays she sees more adults paying attention to what young people think than in the past, citing the recent youth climate strikes as examples. She plans to continue making podcasts in the future.

Per the grant’s requirements, the grant money has been spent, but Hickman said she has no plans to end the program. For Season 2 of KNRC, the library will reuse equipment purchased from the original grant funding. 

Hickman said the program will continue for as long as there are students with a voice to be heard and a story to be told.

“It pushes people out of their comfort zone,” said Saheedah. “It’s like, ‘Hey, I have something to say, so you better listen.’” 

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