Speaking Up in the City of Champions

“Let’s get the TV and the radio to play our tune again. It’s about time we got some airplay of our version of events.” —Emeli Sandé, “Read All About It Part III”

I played this song for the audio/visual students at my former high school today, and the resounding response was they related very much to its message. Read All About It can easily be interpreted as encouragement for listeners to not hide their light and to speak their truth. One student said, it calls for “integrity and authenticity.” Another commented that adults don’t really take the time to listen to teenagers and their thoughts or perspectives.

This prompted me to ask, “Tell me your version of events.” I had no idea what to expect, but the conversation was more than I could ever imagine. There was initial hesitation as we went around the room; each student began sharing their life story—some more in-depth than others. Once they became more comfortable, there was an outpouring of experiences that will shock many listeners. Not only this, but some students also found they shared common ground.  

To respect the safe space that was established, I will not divulge the specific contents of the conversation here. What I will say is young people face traumas, heartaches, misunderstandings, dangerous environments etc. and often believe they have to face it alone.

When was the last time you asked a teen, or anyone for that matter, to share their version of events? We all have unique life experiences that deserve to be told and heard—perhaps during conversations with a close friend, partner, therapist, or spiritual counselor. Or maybe even with an acquaintance you just met. We have the capability to activate our voices through spoken word, music, writing, dance or other forms of expression. 

The class and I discussed how sometimes media outlets don’t get the story right. For example, an issue with parachute journalism is the reporter likely arrives with a surface understanding of events, therefore, nuances and other contributing factors are overlooked. The story is then shared with the respective audience, and further perpetuates a false, incomplete, or inauthentic narrative. 

Creating space and opportunity for individuals to share their version of events can help eradicate misunderstandings regarding a group and work to bring them closer.

For these students at East St. Louis Senior High School, perseverance and resilience makes up their collective narrative. Their hometown is known as the City of Champions. That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.

Jamie Crockett is an Active Voice fellow. She is second year M.A. student at the University of Missouri, Columbia pursuing degrees in strategic communications and nonprofit and public management.