Lauretta Dawolo believes girls should be seen- and heard. The KFAI radio news director put that belief into action with the station’s Youth News Initiative, bringing 10 girls of color into the studio to produce their own stories. The girls worked as paid interns at the station and participated in all aspects of radio news.
KFAI News Director Lauretta Dawolo helped girls find their on-air voices. Photo by Courtney Conk.
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Dawolo called the Initiative “a legacy,” but like many worthy nonprofit programs, it faced some funding challenges. Dawolo and Executive Director Janis Lane Ewert found the money to pay the interns and a program manager in KFAI’s tight budget. Dawolo made the smart decision to bring on her predecessor, Ann Alquist, as program director.
Dawolo intentionally mixed it up when she selected the interns. “They were all very different, but they started on a level playing field,” she said. There were academic stars and “girls who were labeled as students who just couldn’t make it.” A case in point was the girl who had a GPA of just 1.7. “She’s smarter than that,” insisted the girl’s high school guidance counselor. “She just needs something to catch her attention.”
That something was producing a news story. “They learn, ‘I can do this. I can produce a news story, I can write a script.’ It’s not something everyone can do. You can almost see, from the first week up to the last, the progression of confidence building,” Dawolo said. “And for some of the girls, this was their first paycheck. There’s something to be said for that.”
There was also something to be said for the role model Dawolo provided the girls. “Lauretta is a really strong, intelligent woman.” said Pomi Tefera, a 17-year-old junior at Lakeville High School who, as part of the Initiative, produced a story on HIV/AIDS in the Ethiopian community. “You don’t have a lot of those role models. She shows that you can be a woman of color, a leader, and a really strong woman.”
Other Initiative stories included alcoholism in the Somali community, hip hop, what it’s like to live in an urban area and attend a suburban school, the high rate of divorce among African Americans, and more. “To have your personal passion packaged in a news story, that’s really huge when you’re 14 years old and just coming out of middle school,” Dawolo said.
And as Pomi said, it’s also huge to have a young woman of color as a role model. At 25, Dawolo, is less than 10 years older than some of the girls. Her passion for youth dates back to when she was an eighth-grader, teaching drama to younger children through a church program. Dawolo has volunteered to work with youth ever since, some community-based, some as informal as the tutoring she has done in her apartment. But Dawolo is more than someone who cares about kids, as important as that is. “Lauretta leads by example. Watching her, you see that it is possible to achieve something important,” Pomi said.