Dear CBC radio,
This morning I woke up in my Rexdale home and, as usual, I tuned into your line-up of early morning programming. I was surprised to hear several stories that literally hit home. My area, which is considered an “at-risk” or “priority” neighbourhood, is often characterized in the media as a place of crime, poverty and inadequate opportunity. I have to admit that I was almost moved to tears when I heard three separate stories that featured youth from neighbourhoods and backgrounds like mine.
First, I heard about the success of the Remix project–a youth-run program that actually validates urban arts and culture–and how it effectively guides youth from “priority areas” to employment, education and mentorship. I took in descriptions of potential and creativity instead of delinquency and nuisance, and I was genuinely impressed when I learned that the project has even earned an award for “Excellence in Urban Safety and Crime Prevention” from the United Nations. It’s gratifying to see recognition that we can blossom if only given the chance. Unfortunately, the story ended on a sombre note: despite the initiative’s tremendous success, it’s funding is eroding due to the current economic climate. But, I’ll get back to this momentarily.
Next up was a story put together by a grade 9 student from my very own neighbourhood. Through a CBC-lead initiative, this student–whose name unfortunately escapes me–was able to experiment with meaning-making as a young journalist. She spoke of the mainstream perception of guns and drugs in Rexdale and how she, having grown up in this area, can testify to the vibrancy and friendliness that is all too often eclipsed by stories that bleed, and therefore lead.
Finally, I heard a short description of a Somali rapper K’naan who also lives in Rexdale. Unfortunately, I had to leave my house before the full-length story aired, but the point is that I’d already heard of K’naan–from the CBC! His songs send a musical message about war, oppression and hope. He’s black, he’s Muslim, he’s a refugee and he’s an absolute inspiration.
I don’t mean to romanticize youth with difficult backgrounds–to do so would be to cloak the authenticity and complexity of growing up in places like Rexdale–but something in me brightens up when we’re given the benefit of the doubt. My parents fled the civil war in El Salvador (where I was born) and they know what it’s like to be underestimated in a new place.
That being said, I want to return to the lack of funding for the Remix project, the temporality of the student journalist’s initiative, and the relative obscurity of incredible artists like K’naan.
There is so much potential around me and I know that we still need to shout to be heard over the gunshots that fly in both directions. But every time a story of hope is dropped in favour of yet another fear-inducing slogan; every time a young person is looked upon with tenuous suspicion; every time moral crusaders cheer when society gives up on a young offender. . . Rexdale endures another shot to its ever pulsating heart.
Thank you, CBC radio, for helping tell the world a different version of events.
Since writing this on 2009/03/11, K’naan has completely blown up as an international sensation. Kudos to him.