I am addicted to The Voice, and, yes, I cry nearly every single episode. I can’t help it. Watching dreams collide with hard work is too much for me to take. It’s okay, you can make fun of me. My kids certainly do, every time.
Even though I didn’t name VOiCE after The Voice, I see them as similar. They both resonate down deep in a place where your perspective and your take on things actually matter. Check that. Your perspective, your take on things are actually sought out. It’s the moment in time when you realize your voice matters.
In 2009, a group of students told me that, essentially, all the things we were doing to build them up were being ruined by the media. “The only people we see in the news who look like us are in mug shots,” one girl said. Now, that’s not a new complaint but what was new to me was the fact that it was undoing what we were trying to do. Really, could it be that the front page and the opening minutes of the six o’clock news has the power to diminish the encouragement we pour into people?
The answer is regrettably but quite simply, yes. In fact, the disproportionate amount of minority mugshots in the media not only impacts individuals but also perceptions of others. It seems that we think less of each other if we don’t look alike, begging the question, do we think less of each other even when we look alike? Our students showed me that, yes, people simply can’t fight the suspicions of strangers especially when coupled with the media seemingly perpetuating those doubts.
Well that struck me in a way I can’t describe. My organization, The Florida Endowment Foundation for Florida’s Graduates was already maxed out with the three programs we offered at the time. There was our marquee program, Jobs for Florida’s Graduates, which is the state affiliate for Jobs for America’s Graduates. We were also just incubating Students United with Parents and Educators to Resolve Bullying (SUPERB) and Girls Get I.T. We didn’t have the capacity to take on one more thing.
But VOiCE, as it would later be known, spoke to me. How could I let our core belief that “your past doesn’t have to dictate your future” be undone by the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality?
Currently minorities make up 37.02 percent of the U.S. population; that number will increase to 42.39 percent by 2025, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Yet, the American Society of News Editors reports that newsrooms “continue to be about two-thirds male … and …12.37 percent of minority.
While we didn’t build VOiCE to encourage students to go into journalism, we did create it as a place where art and technology collide in a way that students may feel the power of their stories, their culture, their voice without regard to what the media was choosing as its lead story. What we discovered was that when art collides with technology, some of the most powerful stories of resilience and courage emerge.
And when you have those stories, leading with mugshots is just … well … just meaningless.