It is young writers who say they can’t write that drives Youth Outlook. Young people come into our office and tell us some extraordinary tale from their daily lives. They then walk away when we ask them to write their story down, shooing us away with a wave of their hand. But when, as editors, we sit down with these potential writers, talk them through their stories, and even type them out while they narrate, if we have to, they begin to realize that they can write.
Youth Outlook (YO!) is an award-winning monthly publication, Web site, and weekly column in the San Francisco Examiner, written by and for young people in the San Francisco Bay Area. We feature in-depth reporting pieces, first-person essays, comic strips, and poetry written by youth from the ages of 13 to 25.
In past issues, we’ve featured stories such as “The Death of the Inner City,” a chronicle of the gentrification of one of San Francisco’s last ghettoes, Hunters Point, as told through the eyes of a native son. Another young writer did an exposé about horrific work environments many young temporary workers find on the assembly lines in Silicon Valley. A young homeless woman, living on the streets of San Francisco, put together a how-to-train-hop guide. And a young Salvadoran man, who likes to frequent quinceañeras—a 15th birthday/ debutante ball for young Latinas—wrote a primer on salsas, bandas and merengues.
Included in a recent issue we published on identity were pieces by a Colombian American, a Salvadoran American, an Afghan American, a Nicaraguan American, an African American/ Brit, a Korean Jew, and a fifth-generation Mexican American from Silicon Valley. Some of our work within local communities grew so extensively that we dedicated separate publications to their voices. One of these publications, Quietly Torn, focused on young women of Iu Miena, a southeast Asia hill tribe. Another, Izote Vos, featured writing and art from young Salvadoran Californians. Road Dawgz is the name of the group of young homeless writers and also the name of their Web site. Road Dawgz produced a guide for young homeless youth in San Francisco called The Freedom Manual.
Our writers and artists come from all over the San Francisco Bay Area. We recruit some of them through outreach efforts at high schools and some walk into our office looking for an assignment or a job. Some are from the inner city and some live in the suburbs. Some are college-track kids and some are high-school dropouts. Some live at home. Others are squatters, and some sleep on the streets. There are kids who have never smoked pot, kids who have kicked a crack habit, and kids who are still fighting heroin. There are those who “spit flows” [slang for rhyming or rapping or performing the spoken word], and then there are those who pen their prose. Some are fresh out of high school, while others are just leaving juvenile hall.
We dedicate a page each month to The Beat Within, a weekly newsletter from youngsters who are incarcerated at juvenile hall. We share an office with The Beat, a hook-up to some of our most talented writers and artists, under the umbrella of our parent organization, Pacific News Service.
YO! has a national distribution of 40,000. It is available in every high school in the Bay Area and in many libraries and community-based organizations. This year, with the launching of our revamped Web site, www.youthoutlook.org, we hope to reach more youth and facilitate communication between them. Our goal is to encourage—and be a bridge for—youth expression.
Katherine Cowy Kim is editor of Youth Outlook. Before joining Pacific News Service, she was a reporter at Yonhap News Agency and The Far Eastern Economic Review in Seoul, Korea and an editor at The Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.