Sounds From Inside The Teenage Mind It's rare to hear what teenagers really think, hope and fear. On this week's show, we'll hear candid essays from three high school students in Washington, D.C. Weekend Edition producer Charla Bear recently spent time at Ballou Senior High to teach students how radio can help them tell stories about their lives. They share their views on creative writing, justice and homelessness.
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Sounds From Inside The Teenage Mind

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Sounds From Inside The Teenage Mind

Sounds From Inside The Teenage Mind

Sounds From Inside The Teenage Mind

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It's rare to hear what teenagers really think, hope and fear. On this week's show, we'll hear candid essays from three high school students in Washington, D.C. Weekend Edition producer Charla Bear recently spent time at Ballou Senior High to teach students how radio can help them tell stories about their lives. They share their views on creative writing, justice and homelessness.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

The end of the old year and the beginning of a new one is often a good time to reflect on what's important in our lives. Today, we're going to hear some of the hopes and fears of teenagers.

WEEKEND EDITION producer Charla Bear recently spent time teaching the art of radio to students at Ballou Senior High School here in Washington, D.C. She now presents their stories.

CHARLA BEAR: Student at Ballou face enormous challenges: They have to walk through metal detectors and check in with guards before heading into their deteriorating school building. Precautions like those are critical in the beleaguered Southeast D.C. neighborhood. Several students have been shot, some fatally, in and around the school. The environment is one reason that most students at Ballou don't read or write at their grade levels.

Senior Ebony Devore(ph) thinks there's another. Students are glued to their cell phones or iPods, sending text messages and listening to music nonstop.

(Soundbite of song, "Say Aah")

Mr. TREY SONGZ (Musician): (Singing) Go girl. It's your birthday. Hold the wine. I know you're thirsty. Say ah. Say ah. We don't buy no drinks at the bar. We pop champagne 'cause we got that dough. Let me hear you say ah.

BEAR: Devore says there's a time and place for entertainment. Her commentary explains why her classmates should put down the gadgets and pick up a pencil.

Ms. EBONY DEVORE: Creative writing is dying. There's not enough students expressing themselves to the world now. It's all about iPods, computers and other electronics. Young people make time for video games and texting, but they don't even take the time to spell the words correctly. Too many students have earphones in their ears all the time. They listen to what musicians sing about instead of learning to say anything for themselves.

Most teenagers think it's cool to regurgitate the latest lyrics, but they don't think it's cool to learn how to articulate what's on their mind. With all this, no wonder we really can't express ourselves and who we are. We all have thoughts and sentence to let out. Creative writing is a way to do that. It can be a way to start conversation, raise questions or expand imaginations.

If you feel like you don't have anyone to talk to, it could be because you have earphones in your ears or a phone in your hand, which tells everyone to back off. I write so everybody can find out what's going on, like the time when my brother passed away right in front of my house. That was the most shocking moment of my life. I thought my life was over. He meant everything to me.

Half the time, I write about sad moments because that attracts my attention the most. But when pen and paper pass my way, I'm on top of it, whenever and whatever. Look, just grab anything you can write with and take charge of what you're thinking about.

(Soundbite of music)

BEAR: That was Ebony Devore. She's a 17-year-old senior at Ballou. I helped her and dozens of other students create radio projects as part of the Prime Movers Media Program. It sends journalists into public schools to give students insight into their profession.

Senior Diamond Mitchell dreams of discussing current events on her own radio show someday. Her topic for this project was injustice.

Ms. DIAMOND MITCHELL: When the justice system rears, no justice. Innocence lost in a frame. Every day people stand trial trusting the justice system with their livelihood and freedom. Defendants and prosecutors enter courtrooms expecting the full expression of their constitutional rights and justice. However, many innocent people are failed. A recent story on NPR explained a case that proved this very point.

STEVE INSKEEP: In today's case, Iowa prosecutors contend there is no freestanding constitutional right not to be framed. They are backed by the federal government and 28 states and every major prosecutor's organization of the country. On the other side of this case are two black men who served 25 years in prison before evidence long-hidden in police files led to their release.

Ms. MITCHELL: How crazy is this? Innocent men served 25 years in prison for a crime that they didn't commit. Is our justice system so broken that we can allow innocent people to lose 25 years of their lives in prison? Not only that, but one of these men had the potential to be someone great. He was the captain of his high school football team and was being recruited for an opportunity at scholarship to Yale.

I am homecoming queen and in honors classes at my high school. Should I have to live in fear that I could be the next innocent person framed?

This is not the first case of innocent people suffering unjustly. These won't be the last cases if we sit idly and let the justice system continue the status quo. Someone should be held accountable. On top of that accountability, we need to figure out a way to compensate innocent people who lose decades of their lives. What do you tell them, sorry?

We need protections against loopholes that can incriminate innocence. We should slap extreme penalties on lawyers and prosecutors who lie. There should be no reason why this should happen. Conviction rates should not come at the expense of justice. We should pay more attention to the flaws inside our court system, or else, justice loses all of its meaning and just becomes politics.

(Soundbite of music)

BEAR: That was 17-year-old Diamond Mitchell, a senior at Ballou.

Our next commentary comes from Charles Butler. He's a tall, hefty junior who is upset over a different type of injustice. One of his relatives lives on the streets, and he says people like her get treated unfairly.

Mr. CHARLES BUTLER: Homelessness affects everybody Even if we want to ignore it, we can't. We see them everywhere: In our communities, by our grocery stores, outside of liquor stores and even in business offices downtown.

For me, the issue is even more personal. I have a family member who is homeless. My family and I try to do all that we can to help her out, but sometimes we don't know where she is. And we don't know what she does when she's not around us. Most of the time she goes to different homeless shelters here and there, but to me that is not cutting it.

Homeless people like my aunt don't have access to the things that other people take for granted. Things like food, water, clothes, shoes, a good, warm place to sleep and even somewhere to take a shower. Sometimes shelters are full, and they can't sleep there. Food banks run out of food. Then what are they supposed to do?

Some people think the homeless are lazy or that they should ask their families for help. Sometimes their family members are dead or in jail. They probably did everything they could to stay off the streets. Most people don't want to be out on the streets.

When people see a homeless person, they don't treat them like they're human, but like they're less than nothing. They just walk past them like they don't even exist. Sometimes they even walk faster.

If people don't like to see homeless, they should do something about it. You could donate to homeless organizations or give to homeless people food or money. You could also volunteer at soup kitchens or anywhere that serves free meals to the homeless. You also can write a letter to Congress and ask your representative to create more programs for homeless people. A lot of them really want things like counseling and jobs.

Anything and everything helps, so the next time you see a homeless person, you should do what you can instead of just letting them suffer.

(Soundbite of music)

BEAR: Charles Butler and nearly all of his classmates have to cope with issues related to poverty, violence or crime. The students in this project were part of Dr. J.D. Dematteo's(ph) mass communications classes at Ballou Senior High School in Washington, D.C. Some of the students made honor roll last term. Many have college aspirations. Each one exceeded my expectations.

Charla Bear, NPR News.

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