BWME’s Amanda Carr caught up with Jaala, a young woman making waves at GRLZradio.org.
Here’s their conversation…
Hi Jaala! I met you at the BWME kick-off networking event in Harvard Square last year and was delightfully surprised to hear about GRLZradio.org and the role you have played as training coordinator. How did the idea of creating a radio station for girls come about?
GRLZradio.org is a unique program founded in 2003 by a group of teenage girls who were outraged by how women are portrayed in the media. They approached Mayor Thomas Menino with an idea and lots of ambition to create a positive image of women in media. They later came up with the brilliant idea of starting a radio station that played positive music and had positive messages to share worldwide so that their voices could be heard and respected.
My role in the organization is to manage and teach the teens radio programming including: how to write and produce scripts for their radio shows, how to use the equipment, how to interview a guest and how to develop a memorable on-air personality. Once I teach the teens these skills they teach each other so its peer- to-peer training.
How does music play a role in your life and in the curriculum at GRLZradio.org?
Music plays a huge role in our curriculum. That’s how we attract the teens that want to work here because this generation is all about music and technology. At GRLZradio we only broadcast positive music and talk about positive messages on our station, which is hard to come by these days. My co-Worker Shalaya has a lot of fun training the teens at the Media Literacy workshop where she pulls different songs currently played on commercial radio and has them dissect the lyrics. This simple exercise makes the teens think about some of the music they listen to and the message behind it. The teens at our station come away from this workshop saying things like: “Wow, I didn’t know that song said that!” or “I am go-ing listen more closely to the music and have my friends do it too!”
What is your personal role in this organization and what are some of the achievements you’re most proud of?
I have an incredible opportunity to mentor each teen who comes to the program. I love listening to them as much as I love teaching them, because they teach me, too. I’m very passionate about helping young women develop life skills and professional skills. My colleagues and I endeavor to do this work as a team on a daily basis. We say this all the time “This is more than just a job!”
One Achievement that I am most proud of is GRLZradio.org receiving the Root Cause 2013 Social Innovators Award for Women and Girls: Promoting Educa-tion, Economic Opportunity, and Self-sufficiency.
Another achievement is seeing each teen come through the program with stronger written skills, public speaking skills and social skills. I love seeing the teens develop and grow into young ladies.
Who else was involved in getting this organization started and who are your primary partners in this venture?
There has been and continue to be a committed group of professionals and women who have helped to establish GRLZradio.org. But there is one person who has played the most influential role: Mayor Thomas Menino. He is the father of GRLZradio! When the young ladies approached him it started out as an initial conversation in his office. The teens expressed how tired they were with the negative images and the language used in media and the Mayor understood how they felt. He knew he had to do something about this issue. And with the help of people like Carol Brennan (Co-Founder) and others GRLZradio.org was born.
Mayor Menino says: “GRLZradio.org gives growth to the young women who work and learn there. It has an affect on a lot of young people’s lives. These young women learn how to produce a show, how to direct it, and how to conduct themselves in a business situation.”
The primary people at GRLZradio are Bernadette Reid, Program Director and Shalaya West, Outreach Coordinator. Bernadette’s, role in the organization is to make sure the program is running smoothly whether its developing different ways to receive funding or other philanthropic support. We are more than a radio sta-tion…we are committed to outreach in the community. Shalaya’s role as the Out-reach Coordinator is to teach the teens workshops on media literacy, peer lead-ership, and violence prevention along with several other workshops. Once she teaches the teens they go out in the communities of Boston and teach it to their peers within the Boston Public schools and various after-school programs.
Being a college graduate, you obviously understand the importance of education. Is this a core message at GRLZradio? How has your past expe-riences in counseling helped you connect with the young women who sign up for the program?
Yes, education is very important at GRLZradio. To be a participant at GRLZradio you have to have a C average and the majority of our participants exceed that. I am pleased to report on behalf of our teens that 90% of them further their educa-tion after high school. So that’s a significant outcome and one that I am very proud of.
I’ve always been passionate about working with at-risk inner-city youth since the age of 15 when I was a Junior Counselor at a non-profit organization called R.I.S.E. (Reaching Into Self-Esteem). I had the opportunity to mentor young girls,to help them feel positive about themselves and support them in developing self-esteem skills. The skills I developed, I take with me wherever I go. They have helped me become a compassionate person, a better listener and someone who is committed to helping others.
You have an impressive list of interviewees at GRLZradio.org. Is there anyone on your wish list?
Oh my! Yes, there are so many great women and men our participants would love to interview at GRLZradio. The First Family, Queen Latifah, Mary J. Blige, Grace Kelly, Shonda Rhimes, Kerry Washington, Alicia Keys, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Ellen Degeneres, Robin Roberts, Ashton Kutcher, Jennifer Hudson, KeKe Palmer, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, Stevie Wonder, Boston Celtics, Boston Red Sox, Bill Cosby, Phylicia Rashad, Jada/Will Smith, Willow Smith, Jaden Smith, India Arie, Oprah, Beyonce, Lauren Hill, Adele, and many many more.
Can you tell us some of your success stories?
There are so many success stories at GRLZradio! One of our participants is Shayla Biggs-Ruff. She has been involved since the age of 14 and is currently a GRLZradio alumni in her third year at Newbury College, majoring in Hotel Ad-ministration with a concentration in Event Planning. Shayla is the first college student in her family. I have mentored Shayla for over 3 years and I must say she has blossomed into a young woman who is on a mission to accomplish anything she puts her mind to. She stops by the station to meet current GRLZradio teens and shares her experiences openly.
Shayla says, “I literally grew up at GRLZradio. I went from being a young girl to an adult. GRLZradio taught me a lot professionally and socially, which resulted in positive things for my life. So for me GRLZradio will always be my safe haven”
You obviously inspire many young women and motivate them in a number of ways. Who was your inspiration when you were younger?
I’ve been blessed to have several people who have inspired me. My late grand-mother who I called “Nana” was surely one of them. She was the kind of woman whose heart was so big you could see the love glowing out of her skin. One thing that she would always tell me was “treat people the way you want to be treated no matter what they say or do to you!” This is something I live by day by day.
My Parents have taught me to be compassionate, hard working, loving, caring and to never give up on the things I love….to push forward and If I fall, to get back up and do it better and stronger than before. My father is a producer so at a young age I was exposed to technology. He would teach me how to play simple songs on his keyboards, record songs and as I got older he would let me play around with the different editing software. This definitely made me want to have a career in production.
Do you plan to take your message and program model to other cities? Countries?
We would love to see GRLZradio expand worldwide. It’s an excellent program for young women because they learn so much about media, public speaking and professional development. We want to spread the message that women should always be viewed positively in media.
Have you ever featured the talents of any of the program participants?
Yes, we encourage our teens to express themselves on and off air. Over the course of GRLZradio’s existence, participants have featured their poetry on the air. In 2006, Shalaya West and Monique Symes were honored to perform their poems at Mayor Menino’s Inauguration.