‘Where the girls are heard...and respected'
That’s how the DJs at a Web radio station in Dorchester want to be known
It’s air time on a recent weekday, and the DJs don headphones and take to the mikes around the control board. “Hey, listeners, this is DJ Baby Soul from your favorite radio show on the planet! Stay tuned in. Today our focus will be on peace for our community.’’
For the next 2 1/2 hours, teenage girls from the inner-city hold forth on matters as small as ankle boots and as serious as domestic violence on GRLZradio.org, where the program is streamed live every weekday. Lately, they’ve been working on a “Peace Blowout’’ for today at Little House, 275 East Cottage St., in Dorchester, that will feature food, a fashion show, poetry slam, and performances. It’s been a long, hot summer in the city.
“A lot of kids don’t have much to do, and there’s a lot of violence in the summertime,’’ says Shayla Biggs-Ruff, 18, who has been with the radio show for four years and is heading soon to Newbury College. The girls at the radio controls nod; they don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods, either, they say. Francisca Theodule’s brother was shot in the leg as he rode his bicycle in Dorchester. Lenise Farrier’s family is moving because there have been shootings on their street. Teiyarh Cinelli’s friend was grazed by a bullet. Two other girls who have worked at GRLZ had brothers killed in street violence.
The place they feel safest, many of the girls say, is where they happen to be sitting at the moment: GRLZ, located at St. Mary’s Women and Children’s Center in Dorchester. The center started the station in 2003 to provide training and jobs to girls from Boston’s poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Each year, 100 girls learn radio technology and communications skills by literally running the show.
Most important, they learn about issues relevant to their lives. Whether they’re researching topics for the show, doing outreach for younger kids in the community, or having professional women speak with them, the girls at GRLZ are exposed to life far from the streets.
“These are girls living in a very high-risk community, living on the edge, and yet finding themselves in very amazing ways,’’ says Judy Beckler, St. Mary’s president. “These are kids who don’t imagine they can go to college, but they’re creating energy about that possibility in their lives instead of the violence they face everyday, and they start to move in a positive direction.’’ This year, all of the graduating seniors are going off to college.
Bernadette Reid is the program director and she has seen the girls blossom. Besides the technical skills, they also learn about conflict resolution, community service — and self respect, she says. “There is violence in every one of their communities, and we give them a place where they feel they matter, where their voice is heard.’’
While one group of girls is putting out a recent show, another group is in an adjacent room, teaching visiting Girl Scouts from the Orchard Gardens School in Roxbury about radio broadcasting. Their laughter drifts into the studio, as the younger girls attempt to write their own radio liners and public service announcements. GRLZ emphasizes peer leadership, where the veterans teach the newcomers. As part of their community outreach, the girls have also held workshops on body image, media messages, dating violence, and conflict resolution. A large poster hanging on the wall says: “You’re Strong, Smart, and Bold.’’
“Some girls come in and they’re completely shy; they’re not used to having a legitimate outlet for their concerns,’’ says Tracy Kelley, outreach coordinator. “We give them a place where they can come to feel safe and have a voice.’’
Shameyka McCalman, 17, joined GRLZ last November. She says she’s learned a lot about radio, and about herself. “I’m more confident and vocal,’’ she says.
Back on the air, the teens are talking about domestic violence. Shameyka gives the grim statistics and then DJ Baby Soul, also known as Daneva McWilliams, discusses emotional abuse. “The victims lose all self-confidence and the things their partner says start eating away at them, making them feel worthless,’’ says Daneva, 16 and a junior at the Jeremiah Burke High School. The DJs give out the number for a dating violence hot line and tell listeners that no one deserves to be abused. Recently, they devoted an entire show to healthy relationships.
Each show is scripted by the girls, who occasionally stray from it. During one on-air discussion on gangs, Daneva reads: “Most of the kids that are in gangs today do it because they have no one to look out for them. No positive role model. So they’re taken under the wings of gang bangers and they consider themselves a family.’’
Francisca breaks in: “You don’t see suburban kids out there killing each other. They have manners.’’
Daneva: “We’re making ourselves look like animals and we’re not.’’
Shameyka takes issue, mentioning the Columbine High School shootings. “You can’t just say it’s in our neighborhoods. It can happen anywhere.’’
The girls sum it up by telling listeners to become positive, not negative, influences in their community. “How are you repping your neighborhood by killing everybody?’’ asks Daneva.
The girls consider themselves family, and there’s an easy banter among them, a palpable respect. “It’s a good atmosphere,’’ says Shameyka. “All the girls are close, no one’s catty. We all end up bonding.’’
At 22, Shalaya West is a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She now works as a youth supervisor at GRLZ, which she joined as a teenager in 2005. “I never really left GRLZ radio,’’ she says. “I always thought about it. It teaches you who you are and where you want to go. Here, they push us to do better.’’
On the air, April Smith, or DJ Love as she calls herself, is reading a poem called, “We Want Peace.’’ When she finishes, she tells listeners that she wrote it after her cousin Rayshawn was killed last year in gang violence. “Thank you for listening,’’ she says as the show heads into a break. “Keep it locked here on GRLZradio.org, where girls are heard and respected.’’
Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.