Category: WRAG Journalism Fellows

Journalism Fellows Project: Normalizing Safety and Unity, Not Violence

Last year WRAG launched the Journalism Fellows Project to share our platform with youth of color in this region who are often written about, but are rarely asked their perspectives on the issues facing their communities and families. We asked the youth to write about challenges they are experiencing, and if they have any solutions to offer.

In today’s edition, we hear from Jailen Fuller about the community’s role in stopping violence in Prince George’s County, MD.

Why do people have to worry so much about whether or not someone they love will make it home?

Violence is something that has become so normalized in our communities. Daily, we can see how many lives are taken from this earth as a result of it. From gang to domestic violence, people are being brutally murdered over petty reasons.

So many people experience trauma at a young age because of the violence that they see constantly happening around them. While I have not experienced the same trauma as my peers, it has happened to people that I love. I wish that they did not have to experience these things. Though it is simply a reality for many people.

Just two years ago, I lost my cousin to violence. He was murdered and the person who killed him has not been identified. My cousin was still young and had his whole life ahead of him. He had young kids who now will not be able to grow with their father guiding them through the world. Why to some does another person’s life mean nothing?  Every life is meant to be cherished. Circumstance should not determine one’s worthiness in life. I hope that one day people will not see violence as their only means of living.

This idea that violence is normal should not be passed on to our current growing generation and the generations after us. This will only influence their minds at a young age and the cycle will continue, and our communities will never move forward. Nobody wants to keep seeing another young girl go missing or another young male murdered. As a teenager and especially a young girl, I don’t want to fall victim to this or want to see any of my peers lose their lives either. We should be looking forward to a bright future and having that same idea for the next generation.

Growing up, I was pretty sheltered, meaning that I was not always able to play outside and make friends. Now I can understand why I was not able to do these things. So many girls go missing and are either never found or found dead. I would never want my parents to have to go through that. Imagine how many families have to bury their children every year.

We have not fulfilled our duties as a community. To me, a community does not just mean a bunch of houses in a neighborhood, but a sense of unity. We should be looking out for each other and not looking to cause harm over something stupid. Guns, fighting and other sorts of violence should not be the solution to our problems. Youth should be influenced to infuse good into the world because we are our future. It is up to us to decide what we want our future to be. Instead of violence, why not influence each other to be successful and educated?

About the Author:
Jailen Fuller is a 16-year-old African-American young woman in her junior year at Fairmont Heights High School in Prince George’s County, MD. One day she hopes to use her voice to help those who feel like they do not have one.

Read previous editions of the WRAG Journalism Fellows Project:

Overcoming Violence in My City” by Thomas Kent
Gentrification Anxiety” by Jacqueline Lassey
Coming to a New Home” by Looking Owl
Bringing Community into The Daily WRAG” by Kendra Allen

Journalism Fellows Project: Overcoming Violence in My City

Last year WRAG launched the Journalism Fellows Project to share our platform with youth of color in this region who are often written about, but are rarely asked their perspectives on the issues facing their communities and families. We asked the youth to write about challenges they are experiencing, and if they have any solutions to offer. In today’s edition, we hear from Thomas Kent, 2019 graduate of Richard Wright Public Charter School in DC, about the impact of violence in his neighborhood.

-Kendra Allen, Program Associate, Consumer Health Foundation

In DC, I was taught to keep my mouth shut and my eyes closed so I wouldn’t be exposed to things that were beyond my control. My grandma taught me that. I was 12 years old when I learned why. I was exposed to violence pretty early in life when one of my closest friends was shot and killed. It had a chilling effect on me. It was almost like I had experienced it myself, and felt it should’ve been me. I went through a lot around that time, and at one point, I felt like I lost the ability to feel. I was numb because we were so close.

Today people are dying all over the city, mostly over dumb neighborhood beefs that won’t mean anything some years from now. We lose so many youth in DC to gun violence when they shouldn’t even be in the hands of minors. I can almost count on each hand the number of friends I have lost to this type of violence from situations that could have been resolved by talking it out.

A lot of these young people could have been persuaded to never pick up a gun. Older people from the neighborhood enable them by giving them weapons. If the young people had their parents in their lives, then they most likely wouldn’t have gone to the streets for that type of love. All it would take is a simple “how is your day?” to change a child’s path. There are multiple children that deal with this trauma and are angry because they weren’t loved like other children were. They deal with that anger by fighting the law and hurting other people the same way they were hurt.

It’s not easy being in the middle of it all while trying to continue to involve myself with my community and balance playing sports. I’ll be one of three people in my family to attend college and for me, that is a big deal. My parents always wanted what was best for me. This is why I look up to them, appreciate and love them, and look forward to becoming a parent someday in the future, after college.

The main reason I’m choosing to go to college and to play ball is because I need to get away from DC for my family. My family doesn’t want me to get tied up in the life that some of my peers are in. I owe it to them to get my degree and better myself to come back and make a change, either improving the lives of youth on the streets, or in classrooms. When I say make a change I mean bring positivity back to the community, stop the hate, and help people get jobs to provide for their families.

About the Author:
Thomas Kent is a graduate of Richard Wright PCS and will be attending Frostburg University in the fall as a freshman. He will study graphic design and still occasionally do photography. He is an athlete and will be trying out to become a Frostburg Bobcat.

Previous Articles from the Journalism Fellows Project:
Gentrification Anxiety” by Jacqueline Lassey
Coming to a New Home” by Looking Owl

Gentrification Anxiety

We’re excited to introduce the second writer from our new WRAG Journalism Fellows program!

Jacqueline Lassey is an African-American student at Richard Wright Public Charter School in Washington, DC. She is an aspiring writer and athlete. As a member of the Library of Congress Teen Book Club, she recently had the opportunity to be published in the Library of Congress Magazine, page 16.

By Jacqueline Lassey

jackieA couple of years ago, my aunt was arrested for standing at a corner no more than fifty feet away from our house. She is well known and respected by longtime residents in our neighborhood and there were no previous legal actions or disputes against her. My aunt was there simply minding her business, not disrupting anyone. My new neighbors called the police because my aunt was “causing them anxiety.” I was too naive to understand what was really going on, I thought that it wasn’t anything serious. However I soon understood that my aunt was being antagonized for no reason. I know now that my aunt was being targeted because of her race.

I have lived in the Trinidad neighborhood of Washington DC for seventeen years. I have watched my neighborhood grow and develop. For the past two years I have seen my neighbors’ houses torn down and rebuilt from the ground up, and I have lost many of my closest friends because their parents sold their homes. They were dealing with rough patches in their finances and were swindled into selling for what they thought was the highest possible and best price for their houses; only to discover that with a little fixing, they could have made double what they sold their houses for.

When I think of gentrification, I think of it as the process of reconstructing urban neighborhoods so that more “prosperous” tenants can occupy the neighborhood. Since Caucasian people have moved into my neighborhood, I have seen the racial divide it has caused. They aren’t used to our environment and that causes many problems that affect us. My aunt was in her 50s at the time she was arrested but she was in no way dangerous to anyone. I came to understand this when my brother began to talk to my family about it. My brother is very open minded and he is not afraid to speak about what he sees. He talked to my family about injustice and how society is taking a turn for the worse. He talked about the changes our community was experiencing. Most importantly, he talked about how society’s stereotypes lead to racial bias. I’ve seen the racial division that gentrification brings.

Since then, I have noticed that many houses on my block are being redeveloped. The most notable occurrence of this was almost exactly one year ago. One of my friends, Fred, told me he was moving to Maryland. His house was redeveloped and is now worth $914,000.00 according to the Redfin listing. I have never heard of a house in my African-American neighborhood costing that much. This house could not be purchased by long-time residents living in my community. No one in my neighborhood has access to the jobs, or financial resources to purchase this house. Weeks later, the house had a buyer and I had a new neighbor. This new neighbor was white and male–and he doesn’t speak to us.

Realtors have been pursuing homeowners in my community and other urban communities all over the Washington, DC area. My mother receives weekly offers from real estate speculators (investors) to sell her house. Many of these solicitations offer immediate cash that can tempt the average homeowner to sell. As a result of these practices, many DC residents sell their homes for a much lower market value.

Gentrification causes a shortage of affordable housing in the District. As a result of these circumstances and tactics, I fear for my future as a DC resident. I am very concerned that one day I will not have the resources to live in the community that has raised me, or that my children will never experience the childhood that I experienced; a childhood that I love and cherish. This problem can be solved by an increased conversation in communities and the local government creating more affordable housing and better economic opportunities for all.

Coming to a New Home

We’re excited to introduce the first writer from our new WRAG Journalism Fellows program!

The writer is an author of Voces Sin Fronteras: Our Stories, Our Truth, a graphic memoir collection by teen immigrants of the Latin American Youth Center. Books were produced in partnership with Shout Mouse Press, a local nonprofit writing and publishing program. Proceeds from book sales support a scholarship fund for immigrant youth in Greater Washington. Learn more here:

By Looking Owl
WRAG Journalism Fellow

My name is Looking Owl. That is my whole name, and I am 16 years old.

I am from El Salvador, from a rural community with huge hills and steep mountains and deep rushing rivers. I lived there with my mom. She is adorable and eloquent. My grandmother and cousins lived there, too. The moments that I spent there, in my hometown with my family, I will always remember and cherish.

But it was also hard to grow up in my hometown. Young people like me did not have access to higher education. The only opportunity we had was to work in the fields, just as our parents did, and our grandparents. I wanted more. I was studying, doing well, and had dreams of going to university to become a doctor. But some days those dreams seemed impossible.

My town was infested with bad people who tried to force us to get into drugs and crime. We felt threatened. Every time I heard about young people being beaten, or assassinated, I felt the fear that I could be next.

One day, everything changed. My father decided to go to the U.S., and he wanted me to go with him. He told me that in the U.S. I could study and accomplish my goals. He said it would be good for me, to escape the challenging situations of our country.

I had never thought about leaving. But the circumstances gave me no other choice.

After that, suitcase in hand, we left behind our dusty rural town. We were on our journey, chasing the so-called American Dream.

From time to time along the way we called home to chat with my mom. She always sounded like she was crying, and that was understandable. Miles and miles separated us, and I am her only son. When I said goodbye, though, she did not cry. She knew how excited I was about opening this new door. She told me, “I will be crying of happiness when you, my son, accomplish your goals. I will be so proud.”

That was over 2 years ago. I have not seen her since. But every day I tell her good morning in my mind. The only thing I know is that I have to do my best to be a good man, to make my mother proud.

I am in school here in Washington, DC right now, on the path to my goals. I am really happy with the people I have met, and I am learning English. I would rather embarrass myself every time I speak than to face again the danger I left behind. My graduation year is in 2020. I will be full of joy on my graduation day, because I will know that all I have been through has been of benefit.

You may wonder: What is it like to be an immigrant here, now? From my experience, it is not easy. You feel the financial pressure, even when you have family who work three jobs. It is not easy when you are a student who does not speak English. You are running against a clock to enter university while also just trying to survive. You are always wondering, What’s next for me, tomorrow? It is not easy.

It is painful, too, when you feel discrimination by people. Sometime I wonder if perhaps those people did not receive love themselves, and so they have grown a rock in their hearts. In their minds, a cloud reigns. Our pain seems to be the product of not understanding.

I ask myself: How can we remove the impediments to understand each other? Can we talk about the reasons we had to migrate, and seek solutions so that people everywhere can be safe? Can we help the children of the world, like me, have opportunities to improve our quality of life? None of us want to be separated from our families. Our world is wounded. Can we talk about that?