Posted May 20, 2008

Future journalist finds her passion helping young people tell their stories

Bachelor of arts: political science

For the past two years, Renita Burns has moved beyond the classroom and into the neighborhood to help local youth produce podcasts and audio blogs.

As the leader of Open Borders’ Youth Radio Project, the College of Liberal Arts graduate worked roughly 15 hours per week, while maintaining full-time student status, to develop lesson plans, conduct hands-on class sessions, and arrange guest speakers and class trips to local radio stations. Through her efforts, the students in the program, who are recruited from area public schools, gain technical know-how and develop voices of their own.

Located near Sixth and Venango streets in North Philadelphia, Open Borders is a community-based nonprofit organization committed to empowering its predominantly Latino constituency of low-income families and individuals.

“Spending time with my students has really taught me to see things from their point of view, and how to break down a task to their level. I have also learned that it is important to let them be in charge. I am there to facilitate,” Burns explained.

With Burns at the helm, the students have produced a radio play, Drama Girls, and a radio show, called “Philly Talks,” about issues teens in Philadelphia face.

Although she is graduating in May with a degree in political science, Burns started

Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg/Temple University
Renita Burns’ experiences with the Open Borders’ Youth Radio Project took her out of the classroom and placed her into the community, where she worked with local youth. Burns graduates on May 22 with a bachelor of arts in political science.

out as journalism major, which is how she learned the ins and outs of radio production.

“I got into journalism because I wanted to reach people. I switched to political science because I want to write about issues of public policy and economics,” Burns said.

Burns came to Temple from Bridgeport, Conn., where she attended Central High School — a large, urban, academic magnet public high school. “I had some really great teachers at Central, and I learned a lot about getting along with people from diverse backgrounds.”

This summer, Burns has an internship lined up with Black Enterprise, a business magazine in New York City, something she hopes will turn into a full-time position. Once she settles in, though, she plans to seek out more opportunities for volunteering with youth.

“Helping the young people at Open Borders tell their stories taught me a lot about what young people need and why and how the school system doesn’t always deliver. The stories I helped the Open Borders kids tell are the kinds of stories I hope to bring to light for a broader audience,” she said.

Burns’ work at Open Borders has been funded by Temple’s New City Writing: Institute for the Study of Language, Literacy and Culture, which promotes literacy-related programming for school-age children in the communities surrounding Temple’s Main Campus.