WWhen you walk into the offices of True Star Foundation, you might think you’re walking into another afterschool program for teens. As you get closer, you hear the children laughing, talking among themselves, which you might assume is par for the course after school. But True Star is no ordinary after-school program for Chicago youth, nor is it a nonprofit.
In its nearly two decades of operation, it has become the media blueprint for Chicago’s youth voices and culture. From blogs and print articles to photography, True Star’s contributions as a multimedia organization provide opportunities for Chicago youth to experience media first-hand.
Despite the respect they’ve earned as a medium, True Star, as in their early days, struggles to remain sustainable. Most recently, the organization had to find a new home after their office building was sold. In two weeks, they will be moving to 4655 S. King Dr. in Bronzeville.
Greeted by founders DeAnna McLeary-Sherman and Na-Tae’ Thompson, I took a turn around. Fourteen years ago, I walked through the doors of the True Star offices as an aspiring writer and broadcaster. I have next to no mentoring, networking or networking skills. All I had was a dream, and they not only fostered that dream, they helped make it come true for me and so many others.
As they prepare for their “19 Years of Connecting Young Creators” fundraiser in May, they took some time to sit down with Southern Weekly and reflect on what they have achieved.
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smallThe True Star Foundation is changing the lives of teens across the city, providing teens with a platform that not only develops their essential skills as journalists, but also gives them a safe space to express their wants, needs and opinions as young adults.
True Star was born in 2004, shortly after Thompson quit her advertising job at Chancellor Marketing Group. “I’m in the John Hancock building, I have a salary, parking, benefits, et cetera, and I’m not happy,” Thompson said.
She is not married and has no children, so decided it was time to follow her passion. “I’m back in the park area, I’m doing double-flying, I’m playing basketball. I’m really passionate about working with young people. It’s easy for me. It doesn’t feel like work, and that’s what I’m fighting for goals, I don’t want to feel like I’m working when I’m working,” Thompson said.
While working as a program specialist for the Chicago Park District, Thompson noticed that many teens lacked basic writing skills, which inspired her to create an after-school program for teens. Not long after Thompson and McLeary-Sherman met, the idea became a reality.
The pair met backstage at the Teen Summit, where McCleary-Sherman was in attendance to support a performance by her childhood friend, the rapper Kanye West. “Na-Tae” was doing a teen summit with Common and Kanye, and she was running everything, and I was like, ‘Who is this? She is so cool! ’” says McLeary-Sherman
“When I met her, it was the same, cool, easy to talk to, but also hard working… As things progressed, I thought, ‘Yeah, this could be something’ because [here] It’s two people who get things done. “
With Thomson’s experience working in marketing, atmosphere magazine and Chancellor Marketing Group and McLeary-Sherman’s Master of Commerce degree and work experience Essence Magazine, the women applied for the grant through After School Affairs. They came up with a ten-week program focused on improving teens’ writing skills while having fun.
“There were juniors and seniors who couldn’t write a single paragraph, and we said, ‘How are you going to go to college and grow up if you can’t do these simple things?’,” said Thompson. “It’s really an idea to put the pills in the dog food so they can learn – and not feel like they’re in school.”
Together with their 17 students, the ladies curated a four-page newsletter using their connections in the music industry. The first newsletter features broadcast reporter Tamron Hall and Chicago rapper Common, with whom students have the opportunity to conduct phone interviews.
The experience will allow the duo to build trust with the students, motivating them to return for another year. As the number of projects increases, so does the newsletter.
With the experience they gained, the students went on to create a magazine whose first cover featured Chicago’s very own rapper, Twista. year 2006, true star magazine Born as a print publication, becoming one of the first teen-produced media entities in Chicago.
“We gave young people the actual experience of sitting down with Twista or Common or whatever, but nobody was really doing that at the time,” Thompson said.
In 2006, the Foundation officially became a 501(c)(3) organization. With students asking to know the ins and outs of curating a magazine, McLeary-Sherman and Thompson brainstormed a plan to take True Star to the next level. With the money invested, they found a home at 1130 S. Wabash, a central location for teen commuters.
Young people aged 14 to 24 can choose a cohort to be taught the specific aspect of the field they want: editorial, photography, marketing and street teams whose job it is to spread awareness of the programme. They are taught by industry professionals such as freelance writer and author Jake Silverstein and photographer Deshaun “Trigger” Adams.
As the nonprofit grows, teens get into radio broadcasting. After acquiring proxy slots on Power 92.3 FM, True Star Radio took over Chicago’s airwaves. With the help of radio broadcast vet Bionce Foxx, the teens hone their broadcast and production skills. From the production of the radio show to the music played, True Star students are in charge.
In 2012, True Star became the torch of the Chicago music blogging era by creating Lyrical Lab, a hip-hop site that focused on Chicago music and helped launch local rappers. With the help of Swank Publishing’s Brihana Gatlin and True Star employees such as Ms. Joi, a former True Star lecturer with a background in marketing and the music industry, True Star was able to reach celebrities.
It was McCleary-Sherman who connected an 18-year-old girl like me to her favorite author, Scoop Jackson.This connection brought me to New York City, where I intern Grand Slam Magazine, my childhood dream. When I felt like giving up and going home, Thompson encouraged me to keep going.
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Tonrue Star offers young people, including those at risk, access to worlds that most adults will never experience. At the workstation, teens are editing videos, writing blog posts, and planning their next creative showcase. Their stories, their voices in their own way.
They give young people the opportunity to work in the same space as college-educated media professionals before graduating high school. They gave interviews to legendary artists, while also paving the way for a new generation of Chicago artists like Tink and Chance The Rapper.
True Star appeals to two generations of media producers, Millennials and Gen Z. The publication went digital in April 2018 as they continue to adapt content that teens love. “Gen Z wants something very immediate; they don’t want to work on something for two months and then wait a month for it to come out. They want to work on it and see it the next day, but print can’t do that to this point,” McLeary-Sherman said.
“We don’t have the money to turn things around so quickly, so [the choice] almost [either] Go digital or lose touch with young people,” she added.
True Star alumni include educators, television and radio broadcasters, entrepreneurs, authors, publicists, photographers, musicians and more. Most excel in their fields.
Reporters like Shannon Smith, morning anchors cleveland 19 newsauthor and Southern Weekly Freelance writer Kia Smith, and writer, weekly Isiah Thoughtpoet Veney, photographer and creative director of Unsocial Aesthetics, and many more artists and creatives trace the beginnings of their careers to True Star.
The McLeary-Sherman and Thompson collaboration was a divine intervention for Chicago’s youth, creating a safe haven for kids across the inner city to come together to express themselves and build community. McLeary-Sherman and Thompson insist on a call that many of us would run away from: how do you take thousands of at-risk youth out of Chicago, keep them alive, teach them life lessons, provide jobs, achieve academic success, and graduate from college Do students connect with their family to their dream job, provide a sense of family, and love and strive for it?
For many of us, True Star is the beginning of the rest of our lives. When I sat in the office with ThoughtPoet, McLeary-Sherman, and Thompson, I was able to take their laurels to my mentors.
As the pair took time to reflect on what they’ve accomplished over the past 19 years, one of the things they’re most proud of is that of their students.
“With Na-Tae, I had the courage to do what we did, we gave other people our age, our youth, and we gave them that courage: ‘I believe in something, I want to do something, Guess what? I’ll do it, we see [True Star alum] Subria Whitaker started her organization, or we see you and what you’ve done in your career,” McLeary-Sherman said. “Funders will never believe in us, but young people leave True Star believing in themselves. “
Alumni find it a must-see for all True Star readers and contributors, as well as the City of Chicago, for the organization that paved the way for Chicago’s many wave makers, young influencers, and musical talents.
To donate go to truestarmedia.org
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Jasmine Morales is a Southside native, author, and graduate of the Illinois Media Institute. She is a contributing editor for hip-hop media platforms such as What’s The Word.This is her first work weekly.
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