Youth Radio makes waves in Oakland

Wendy Medina,
Copy Editor

As an avid wanderer of the city of Oakland, many times I have walked past a swanky-looking structure on Broadway that reminded me of the San Francisco offices on Market Street. The “Youth Radio” sign that hung over the entrance never proved enticing enough for me to inquire more because, like the SF-based offices I’ve come across, I figured you had to have substantial experience in the music business or at least some sort of degree suitable to operate radio material.

It wasn’t until Shyra Gums, one of my classmates who worked at Youth Radio provided our class with an opportunity to tour the facility, that my fascination solidified.

Upon entering into the first floor, I was instantly immersed in a relaxed workspace with a couple of high school students bumping music and working on Macs. Pimped out conference and interview rooms were set up with what looked like the latest sound equipment, and a mixing room embellished with thousands of vinyls. A chill atmosphere reverberated throughout the entire building, on the same wavelength as the on-air hip-hop broadcasting that could be heard on every floor, through the stairwell and the basement.

YR broadcasts online, through podcasts and other media outlets like NPR and KQED.

Throughout the tour, Gums told us about her involvement in YR, which began when she was a junior in high school, when she was introduced by a friend. She ascended to the title of communications project associate, which deals with marketing and managing social media, as well as a youth advisory board member. This creative platform has opened performance, networking, traveling and leadership opportunities, as well as other potential job positions from different companies and organizations for Gums. “[It also provided] the opportunity to help me get into college, and find [communications as] my major I wanted to study,” she said.

Youth Radio’s roots started in Berkeley in 1993 by award-winning journalist Ellin O’Leary and was created to facilitate the youth in finding their way to the proper education and career paths that correlate with their passions. It was “during a period of heightened youth violence and homicide [that] Youth Radio was established as an outlet for Bay Area youth to process their experiences and provide an alternative perspective to the prevailing media dialogue,” according to their website.

In 2007, YR relocated to the Broadway Street office where it now resides. Having flourished into Youth Media International, YR receives funding from many individual donors as well as major corporations such as The Kaiser Foundation, National Science Foundation, the Gap Foundation and many other sizable partners.

Prior to my visit, I had never been in a recording studio and standing there was surreal, especially knowing Lil B once graced Youth Radio with his presence, as well as others like Nick Cannon, IAMSU!, T.I., Dr. Cornell West, Brad Pitt and Josh Johnson. We even got a chance to chat with a legend — DJ Fuze, the DJ of  the rap group Digital Underground, which was responsible for launching Tupac Shakur’s career. A veteran in his own right, DJ Fuze continues to spin at clubs around Oakland and teaches DJ classes at Youth Radio.

Digital media and production, journalism, fine arts, peer teaching, performing arts promotion, program development, culinary arts — really anything that has to do with creative expression — are the fields of work available to the youth. Youth Radio works with teenagers to help them achieve their dreams by building their skills and experience through a safe haven of sorts. Something I noticed was the ambience of empowerment these kids get from the mentors and other industry professionals working behind the scenes; be it working side by side, displaying their awards, pictures and art on the walls, and the overall sense of community that couldn’t be mistaken.

“The heart of its pioneering efforts is to train young people from under-resourced public schools, community-based organizations, group homes and juvenile detention centers in broadcast journalism, media production and cutting-edge technology,” according to Public Radio Exchange.

Through this healthy and powerful medium of expression to voice their perspectives, Oakland teens essentially begin on their careers by acquiring the connections and know-how to delve into the world of music, video production, web design and the array of other fields that are branched to radio.

O’Leary’s previous experience and legacy within broadcasting agencies have also provided additional possibilities for the youth of the organization. YR recently became the official youth desk of NPR. Through the initial steps of reaching out and pitching stories to platforms like NPR, KQED, and PBS, lends the chance “to continue conversations with the staff at those media platforms and to continue those collaborative relationships,” said Gums.

After the tour, I couldn’t help but think the next G-Eazy was amongst the mix. Gums herself is a rapper with two mixtapes under rapper name Shy’an G, recorded at YR, and has even been featured on Thizzler on the Roof, a Bay Area hip-hop and rap media source. It was inspiring to see all these youth working on something with so much passion, because I know first hand how important and life-saving creative outlets are.

Youth Radio’s Remix Your Life, an artistic creation and performance program, puts together a showcase that participates in Oakland’s First Friday event, during general programming of the session. The next show will be on August’s First Friday, right next door to Youth Radio, at the Youth Radio Arts Venue.