My Voice. My World. – by Veralyn Williams
I have been trying to recall the exact moment I wanted my voice to matter in the world, and I guess I always have- but the thing is “my world” kept growing.
When I first started voicing my thoughts- it was only on paper- in a diary- and “my world” was the 4 corners of my bedroom. I was 14-years-old and I took writing in my diary very seriously. I did it everyday- today I would compare it to my need to post a status on Facebook at least twice a day. An obsession!
Then “my world” expanded from my bedroom to High School. I would never forget- I was in an 8th grade English honors class, we were covering essay writing- and my teacher gave us an assignment to write a personal essay. Being a procrastinator even then, I waited until the night before and copied one of my many boy-drama stories out of my diary. I not only got a 100% on that assignment, but my teacher was impressed and he encouraged me to keep writing. After that when anyone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up- I’d tell them I was already a writer.
“My world” grew again when I joined a youth theater program called Manhattan Class Company (MCC)
and it was ALL about theater in those days. I was a poet and a playwright, and my teachers at MCC encouraged me to write and live life
“UNCENSORED”. To say I was vocally empowered would be an understatement.
So where does an uncensored writer/poet/playwright end up?
Journalism of course… And I think that’s when “my world” began growing to what it is today… But my journey here didn’t start until I found Radio Rookies. Up until this point I’d been living life as an open book. Devaluing my most personal thoughts and releasing them into a poem or a play– (Hmmmm another thing I use Facebook for today.)– But at Radio Rookies I was given a microphone (aka: a license) to find out other people’s personal thoughts– and I had to find out facts and get to the truth! I immediately fell in love with the entire process.
Radio Rookies asked me to report on something I had a unique perspective on and access to, so in my first story I reported on my legal status. At the time I was not a permanent resident here in the United States, even though I’ve lived here since I was a baby. And I never thought to really question my parents on why that was. Well, maybe I thought about it, but never had the courage to ask until I had a microphone. Till this day I am surprised by how having a mic gives me the power to ask questions I would never otherwise ask.
The whole time I was in Radio Rookies “my world” was still limited to people that would be supportive of me- no matter what. And even though I knew my story would be aired on WNYC Radio- I never considered anyone else would be listening. My family obviously figured this out before I did, because they were not very happy with the topic I was reporting on. They eventually came around, but they initially worried I would shine an unnecessary spotlight on my immigration case. However, by this point the outspoken journalist in me had already been born. (PS: Everything worked out- I finally got my green card in 2006.)
Today I am officially no longer a rookie, as I am currently teaching new rookies to tell their first radio stories. It feels really good to give our students a journalistic voice in the media– and not just the random voice they’re growing up with on Facebook and Twitter. By teaching them to interview, edit, and write a script on a story they’re really passionate about, they’re learning to differentiate facts from opinions- and hopefully they’re finding their true voices.
Sometimes it feels weird to be on the Producer-side of the youth program that started my journalism journey, but being able to teach the power of a mic to someone else- makes it worth it!
Veralyn Williams is a freelance Multi-Media Journalist currently Producing for WNYC’s Radio Rookies. Veralyn produces her indedpendent work on her website, VeralynMedia.com and she video blogs for SexReally.com.