The idea for the class came from a hunch that in a neighborhood often at the center of the news media’s addiction coverage, the news and information needs of the community weren’t being met.
We also suspected that because of how the news media had portrayed Kensington for so many years, trust in the news media was low. Even worse, we believed that the rehashing of the same dystopian drug war narrative further traumatized communities already traumatized by many years of systemic oppression.
Early program and project development
Over several months, through hundreds of conversations with residents and other community members on street corners, in parks, and at public libraries, it became clear that we were onto something. Then, our suspicions were confirmed within a few months when the New York Times Magazine published a 6,000-word article that referred to Kensington as the “Walmart of Heroin.”
The day the story went live, Impact’s public health projects manager was supposed to provide the class with trauma-informed care training. Our session quickly evolved into a discussion about the story in which the New York Times quoted her. She was upset about how she was quoted and how the article was framed in general. It was an odd juxtaposition to be talking about minimizing harm while reading a piece that felt so harmful. Although we had been working with various community members and organizations in Kensington since August to build a neighborhood newsroom, that experience crystallized our mission.
Since then, our work has evolved substantially. In 2019, we published our first series of news articles, which focused on turning empty homes into low-barrier housing. By the fall of 2019, we received our first grant from the Independence Public Media Foundation (IPMF), which we used to hire some recent journalism graduates to grow the project.
We also received funding for a physical newsroom space. We were supposed to move into our new space in March 2020, but the day we scheduled to pick up our keys, the governor declared a state of emergency. We weren't able to move in. Plus, the other spaces where we ran weekly storytelling programs, like the original Kensington Storefront (at 2774 Kensington Ave.) closed down.
Immediately after Philly reported its first COVID cases, we pivoted. After hearing from community members that the health updates and news weren’t accessible, we turned our newsroom into a Spanish translation desk. We offered our services to our partner, Resolve Philly, a collaboration of 25+ news outlets across the city. They got us the permission we needed to translate news stories.
Within a few months, we translated over 200 COVID-related news stories, attracting thousands of new visitors to our website. We also compiled a resource guide for navigating COVID-19, which we updated daily in English and Spanish and printed for our community partners to distribute to those without internet access.
Then, thanks to community focus group feedback, we also realized it was time for us to launch print newspapers across the neighborhoods we serve. So later that year, we partnered with Resolve for funding and Mural Arts to hire artists to repaint some old newspaper boxes that one of Philly's legacy news outlets had retired.
We got enough funding for eight boxes. So, we hired eight North Philly artists to paint one box each, partnered with eight local organizations, and distributed our first batch of newspapers in 2021. Now, as of June 2023, we distribute to 27 locations in the 19134, 19133, 19125, 19123, and 19122 ZIP codes.
In July 2021, we moved from Temple University to a fiscal sponsorship with the Federation of Neighborhood Centers (FNC Philly). We also moved into our first physical newsroom space to renovate it to move some of our pop-up storytelling events (which we held for several years at the Kensington Storefront, in parks, and at libraries) to a permanent location.
Public newsroom on Amber Street
Throughout 2021 and 2022, we renovated and furnished our 1,800-square-foot studio space at 3237 Amber Street, off of Allegheny Avenue.
In the fall of 2022, we began hosting events, such as our Halloween costume drive (which connected 150 kids with costumes) and a public brunch for the soft launch of Miss Awilda’s Media Learning Lab. This multimedia lab connects residents to computers, iPads, multimedia software, the internet, and printing.
Now, we’re growing our Youth Voices after-school and summer programs, giving youth access to a safe space to express themselves and build community. We are also attempting to refine and grow our news reporting efforts.