Tell Your Story: Apply to the Duwamish Valley Youth Storytelling Project

by Mark Van Streefkerk 

In an effort to increase access to journalism for BIPOC youth in the Duwamish Valley, journalists and community storytellers Bunthay Cheam and Jenna Hanchard are launching the first-ever Duwamish Valley Youth Storytelling Project. The project is in collaboration with the Port Community Action Team and sponsored by the Port of Seattle. 

A series of four workshops, the project will help youth shape a story of community interest that will ultimately be featured in South Park Roots, on the Port of Seattle communications website, and on Hanchard and Cheam’s own storytelling platforms, Lola’s Ink and TnouT, respectively. 

High school-aged youth who live, work, worship, study, or play in Georgetown or South Park neighborhoods can apply. Up to six chosen participants will receive a $250 stipend, interpreters, and tech support — such as laptop access — if needed, as well as snacks and lunch. The deadline to apply is May 7. Applicants will be notified of acceptance by June 4.

Cheam contributes to several local news outlets, including the Emerald. Describing the Youth Storytelling Project, Cheam said, “[It] is really about how do we support, how do we nurture, how do we empower, Black, Indigenous, Youth of Color to really honor their stories — and especially to honor the stories of their ancestors and honor their stories of their mom and dad — in a way in which they’re not shoved aside in a sense because of white storytelling norms?” 

Hanchard’s award-winning career in journalism, including her work on the Emmy award-winning series Race & Sports, oftentimes required her to edit parts of her identity to fit a white-centric storytelling style. “I went to journalism school and spent a long time as a broadcast television journalist. Going through that system, I very much altered my style of storytelling to survive within that system,” she said. It was only when she was ready to leave the industry that she started asking, “Man, what if I was encouraged to really just nurture what was inside of me? What if young people are encouraged to nurture what’s already inside of them — what’s passed down to them?” 

Read more about Hanchard and her podcast Lola’s Ink here

Jenna Hanchard received an Emmy in 2019 for her series Race & Sports. (Photo: Bunthay Cheam)

In addition to voices being marginalized or silenced because they don’t fit white-centric norms, BIPOC also face barriers like imposter syndrome or believing their stories aren’t worthy of being told. For example, Cheam’s family is from Cambodia, and he said that even at a young age he was taught to prioritize the work of white academics over the stories told by his own family. “I was born in a refugee camp,” he said. “When I was reading books about Cambodia from a white author, I kind of felt that that was more credible — to prioritize somebody else who wrote the story that didn’t live through it, who only thought about it in an academic, intellectual setting.” 

Part of the workshops will be devoted to instilling confidence in young storytellers, ensuring them that their stories are worth documenting and that often unpacking a personal experience can lead to a greater story. Youth in the Duwamish Valley live in an area affected by pollution, poorer health outcomes than other parts of King County, displacement, and underinvestment. Young people hearing their parents talking about wanting to buy a house could be a doorway into a story about housing advocacy, Hanchard offered as one example. 

The four-hour workshops will be held on Saturdays in June and July, ideally in-person. Both Cheam and Hanchard are vaccinated, they note, but will make online accommodations for youth participants as needed. Much of the work will be conducted out in the field, “So folks will have an opportunity to be in community and access community storytellers and understand there are real people who are telling stories that are authentic to them,” Hanchard explained. Converge Media will be one of the community storytellers the youth will engage with. 

Hanchard said the teaching will be “really compact” and cover a lot of ground, but both she and Cheam will be available for one-on-one help. Though they will provide some ideas of stories youth participants can cover, Hanchard and Cheam hope the storytelling will ultimately be self-led. 

“We believe the youth know in their heart of hearts what’s important to them and what they would like to write about,” Cheam said. “We’re learning from them as much as hopefully they’re learning from us.” 

Interested in applying? Check out the application here

Mark Van Streefkerk is a South Seattle-based journalist, freelance writer, and the Emerald’s living in the Beacon Hill neighborhood. He often writes about specialty coffee, LGBTQ+ topics, and more. Visit his website and follow him on Instagram at @markthewriter

📸  Featured Image: Bunthay Cheam poses with youth from Juntos Podemos after a storytelling workshop he facilitated. (Photo: Juntos Podemos)

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