Creating a Sports and Fitness Beat at Youth Radio's Health Desk

From 2008 to 2009, staff at Youth Radio, an Oakland, Calif., youth development and media organization, developed a sports and fitness teaching curriculum for low-income men (primarily those of color) and used it to:

  • Help them address health-related issues including relationships, body image and sexuality
  • Promote media literacy and communications skills
  • Train them to produce media content on sports and fitness issues

"The goal was for students to think about health and social issues such as hypermasculinity, street violence and gender violence in ways they may not have previously," said Youth Radio Education Manager Patrick Johnson.

"Sports was a starting point to have conversations with which they would not have (otherwise) been comfortable [on] homophobia, domestic violence, substance abuse, healthy lifestyles," Johnson said. A lesson plan from the curriculum is available online.

Youth Radio, founded in 1990, defines its mission to include promoting the intellectual, creative and professional growth of underserved youth through greater media literacy and communications skills.

Youth Radio programs and commentaries reach a potential audience of 33 million weekly listeners through National Public Radio and 41 million monthly readers through The Huffington Post.

Activities: Staff conducted the program at three sites: Camp Wilmont Sweeney, Alameda County's juvenile detention facility in San Leandro (30 youths); the Booker T. Washington Community Center in San Francisco (eight youths); and Youth Radio headquarters in Oakland (18 youths).

  • At Camp Sweeney, participants discussed a 1977 incident in which pro basketball player Kermit Washington of the Los Angeles Lakers punched and seriously injured a rival player and Washington's eventual redemption through charitable works.
  • At the community center, staff used the curriculum to encourage openly gay males to engage in discussions centered on masculinity.
  • At Youth Radio headquarters, Oakland youth produced articles and commentaries and learned media production.

Youth Radio made presentations on the curriculum in August 2009 at the National Association of Media Literacy Education conference in Detroit and in September 2009 to educators and youth service providers at Temple University in Philadelphia. A blog entry on the Philadelphia presentation is available online.

Key Results:

  • Youth Radio trained 56 young men, Bay Area residents ages 14 to 21, in media literacy, communications skills and media production, using the sports and fitness curriculum designed by project staff.
  • Project participants produced more than 25 articles, commentaries and roundtable discussions for Youth Radio's Health Desk on subjects including hypermasculinity, homophobia, domestic violence, substance abuse and healthy lifestyles. These included:
    • A 30-minute episode on athletes and guns, available online.
    • A commentary on Michael Vick, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback who returned to pro football after serving a jail term for dog fighting and mistreating the dogs involved in it. Available online.
    • A commentary by a male Camp Sweeney resident about his plans to study to become a nurse upon his release "even though it kind of sounds funny."

Lessons Learned:

  • Despite seemingly low literacy levels, youths can think and write critically if sufficiently engaged in subject matter they see as relevant. "In programs like these, it's important to make a safe space, physically and emotionally, and set boundaries. If you set boundaries, the group holds itself accountable," said Youth Radio's Johnson.
  • Engage media professionals and academics in the planning process as early as possible. Academics were particularly interested in the concept of using sports to teach media literacy and were eager to be involved. (Project Director/Tuere Anderson)

Funding: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) supported this project from December 2008 to November 2009 with a grant of $250,000. Other support came from the City of Oakland's Measure Y Fund ($65,000), the Stuart Foundation ($90,000) and The San Francisco Foundation ($30,000).

Afterward: Youth Radio posted articles by project participants and the lesson plan from the sports and fitness curriculum on a dedicated page of its website. Project staff launched programs for women using the sports and fitness curriculum and held workshops that brought both male and female groups together for some classroom sessions. Youth Radio also considered using the curriculum with gay males at the LGBTQ community center in Oakland.

Staff worked with Howard L. Pinderhughes, Ph.D., chairman of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California at San Francisco, to measure behavior changes in the Camp Sweeney cohort. At the end of 2009, Camp Sweeney staff provided Youth Radio with a behavioral statistical report for each of its Sports and Fitness Beat participants. The report tracked "negative behavior" and school behavioral issues along with the number of reported incidents youth were involved in during their participation in Youth Radio programming.

It is difficult to determine if Youth Radio's intervention had an effect on these behavioral statistics, as each of the fields is highly dependent on the opinion of camp staff, and the details surrounding each incident were not reported. Further, data were not provided for the additional services residents were receiving (outside of counseling) during the time of participation.

However, involvement in incidents seemed low for the majority of Youth Radio participants, and those who worked with Youth Radio for multiple sessions saw decreases in negative behaviors and incidents. Youth Radio staff hopes to collect similar data from Camp Sweeney during 2010 to better identify project impact.