A Message from Founder Jayne O’Donnell
Young people, especially those of color, deserve a voice. And people need to hear what they say about their communities. That pretty much sums up my motivation for co-founding the Urban Health Media Project (UHMP). The timing was right: Media job prospects have never been better for these diverse voices. I’ve been USA TODAY’s healthcare policy reporter since October 1, 2013 (the day the Affordable Care Act exchanges opened). Sure, health insurance is important. But of all the stories I’ve covered on this beat, the ones that resonated the most were at the intersection of health and broader social issues. That is, factors including food, transportation and education, that help determine a community’s health. And the mental illness and addiction that is often ignored as parents struggle to feed their children and stay in their homes.
Our Washington, D.C. and Baltimore high school students started off covering a wide range of topics, but the focus narrowed considerably when they could cover the health-related issues that most peaked their interest. This included teen suicide, domestic and dating violence, mental health stigma and what one of our college interns coined “post traumatic slave disorder.” There is a theme in their journalistic interests: Toxic stress. Some of the places they visited – a new apartment building for formerly homeless tenants, an urban farm, a Baltimore emergency room and a violence-ridden public housing development – and the stories they heard hit very close to home. It’s more than “write what you know,” however. These students are reporting, writing, shooting and recording the problems and the potential fixes. They are part of the solution. Nothing I’ve done in my professional life has ever been as rewarding - or challenging. And nothing to me is as important as giving a new generation of black, brown and disadvantaged reporters the tools to tell these stories.