By Ryan Cocca
July 20, 2012
CHAPEL HILL – When Alexander Stephens approached Carrboro High School student Jasmine Farmer last summer about a youth radio program he wanted to start in Chapel Hill, her first thought wasn’t a simple yes or no.
“I thought, ‘This guy is nosy’,” Farmer said.
“We were at (Carolina Brewery), and I was clearly talking to this female about how I do poetry with Sacrificial Poets,” said Farmer. “He heard me say ‘Sacrificial Poets,’ and he asked me if I wanted to do this audio thing over the summer. I thought, ‘That’s awkward.’”
Stephens co-directs The Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, based in St. Joseph CME Church on West Rosemary Street. It’s involved with just about every activity in the historically black Northside neighborhood, from gentrification and downtown development, to education, to the writing of wills.
Upon hearing Farmer’s recounting of events, Stephens laughed.
“We were at the same table!” he said.
Nosy or not, Stephens’ dinner proposal would ultimately become a major part of Farmer’s senior year. She is now one of five student-hosts of the Fusion Youth Radio program, a partnership between the Jackson Center, WXYC and the spoken-word group Sacrificial Poets. Named after North Carolina’s biracial fusion politics movement of the 1890s, the show airs at 5 p.m. every other Sunday on WXYC 89.3 FM.
“For young folks who don’t have a lot of outlets to get their artwork out there, FYR comes in and creates a place where they are the stars and they are the features,” says Sacrificial Poets executive director Will McInerney.
Conceived just last summer and on-air by October, FYR came together quickly, the result of passionate directors, a strong core of youth hosts and producers, and a degree of serendipity.
For Stephens, it began with finding a team.
After meeting Farmer at dinner, he found two students through a Youth Leadership Initiative summer field trip, two through St. Joseph’s, and two more from Farmer.
Seeing the opportunity to both give their poets a voice and further their educational work, Sacrificial Poets reached out to Stephens. At Digital Waves Youth Media Festival in New York, Stephens and Sacrificial Poets program director Jacob Jacoby networked and watched a live audio slam competition, and returned to Chapel Hill with a better idea of how to pursue youth media production.
Still, an on-air radio slot wasn’t a necessity. Until the students made it one.
“The live show came out of the initiative of the youth,” says Stephens. “They wanted to do it.”
Almost on cue, WXYC station manager Nicole Campbell contacted Stephens. A mutual friend had mentioned Stephens’ youth radio project, and Campbell was interested already.
“Something that we struggle with at WXYC is trying to prevent ourselves from being so insular, and we want to reach out to the community, and that makes us relevant,” said Campbell. “It also makes radio more political, like it should be, in my opinion.”
By the fall semester, she was able to fit FYR into a biweekly Sunday evening slot.