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Twin Cities teen journalists take on protests, racism, and living through history

ThreeSixty Journalism asked diverse Twin Cities teens to create digital stories about racism as a public health crisis.

ThreeSixty Journalism asked diverse Twin Cities teens to create digital stories about racism as a public health crisis. Aaliyah Demry

Aaliyah Demry lives in Minneapolis, just graduated from Irondale High School, and already knows she is witnessing history.

Demry, 18, spent her summer before college taking video, getting tear gassed, and narrowly avoiding getting shot by foam bullets at the protests following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Her footage appears in her summer project with Threesixty Journalism: a short video about the uprising and its implications.

Threesixty’s goal is to make newsrooms better by making them more diverse. The media world is still overwhelmingly white, and historically bad at recruiting and retaining nonwhite staff. (A recent open letter from journalists of color working at the Star Tribune says something to much the same effect.) 

That matters, not only in the sense that justice and fairness matter, but because coverage suffers. News about the state's diverse communities is less nuanced and less comprehensive than it could be, adviser Sasha Houston Brown explains.

“Stories about racism and inequality are told by people who, largely, have never had to experience them,” she says.

So, Threesixty offers classes and camps designed to train young people of color in journalism and storytelling. Normally, this time of year, that would mean an in-person camp focused on broadcast journalism. With a pandemic on, organizers opted instead for an online course in digital media, which is already the lens through which today’s youth consume their content of choice.

The year’s theme was examining racism as a public health crisis, but Demry says it would have been “impossible” not to talk about George Floyd. She interspersed her protest footage with clips of her interview with Abdul Omari, a fellow Minneapolitan who founded and runs an institute for leadership and bias training.

“It’s a conversation nobody wants to have,” she says. But if it’s the one we’re having, she’s eager to be a part of it.

Other topics students took on included prejudice against Asian Americans in the era of COVID-19, the struggle to get fresh, healthy meals to COVID-vulnerable elders in the Twin Cities Native community, and teaching gardening classes to immigrants in Northfield.

Houston Brown, who is a Dakota woman, has helped run these programs in the past, and she noticed the particular interest the students brought to the theme this year. In some ways, that’s not surprising. The intersection between race and health has been at the forefront of their lives this year, as they protest with their friends against police brutality, masked-up and armed with the unsettling knowledge that people of color are bearing the disproportionate brunt of the pandemic.

They are coming of age in a time of momentum, change, and upheaval, and they know it.

“We’ve been learning in school about Rosa Parks,” Demry says. “I feel like I’m going to be in my kids’ textbooks.”

Still, Demry’s view of the future is optimistic. She wants to become a storyteller – maybe video, maybe radio – and she’s already gotten started. She feels confident she and her peers are going to change some things around here.

“I feel like a lot of people view this generation as a rebel generation,” she says. “I don’t feel like that’s a bad thing.”