In fall of 2013, local news media reported on a disturbing trend called the “knockout game,” which consisted of Philadelphia youths sucker-punching unsuspecting victims at random.
As a response to negative media coverage of youth, one group took action. In an effort to encourage local high school students to produce positive messages in news, Temple sponsored Presenting on Perspective on Philly Youth News. The youth-centered broadcast program attempts to minimize and counteract the stigmas surrounding the youth culture in Philadelphia through multimedia storytelling. POPPYN produces four 30-minute episodes every year, and each episode focuses on a topic that affects youth within the city.
“Our mission is twofold,” Nuala Cabral, the coordinator of POPPYN, said. “First, we highlight the positive things that youth are doing in the city, and then we try and present the youth perspective on a range of different issues – and we’re not saying that every kid in Philly is perfect, but they’re not all violent, lazy or dangerous. Young people in our city are leaders and they’re doers, and they’re trying to improve themselves. This is the side we are trying to show.”
POPPYN was initially conceived by Temple as a youth engagement program during the wave of flash mobs that happened in Philadelphia in 2011. These flash mobs seemed to be covered by news organizations on a daily basis, POPPYN leaders said, and the media coverage diverted people’s attention from the value of local youth.
Marvin DeVose, a leader at POPPYN, said he believes the mainstream media tends to demonize youth culture. He recognized the tendency to focus on the unfavorable side of youth culture is enabled by violent outbreaks, like those associated with the “knockout game,” but urged consideration of positive youth contributions.
“Things are not that black and white,” DeVose said. “We’re here to provide people with an alternative. You don’t have to turn on the TV and endure the negativity you see every day.”
One goal of POPPYN is to offer the youth perspective not only by covering issues that impact them, but by giving high school students responsibilities during each of the show’s production processes. The students learn reporting and video editing skills. DeVose said their positivity is reflected in each episode.
Nasir Garland-Harding is one student involved in the TV show who said he appreciates POPPYN’s mission.
“I can bring the respect and the love I receive here back to my neighborhood – [it’s] something positive that will spread,” Garland-Harding said. “And if I can change my neighborhood, then I can do that any place, at any time.”
The organization also serves as a support network for the students, providing encouragement and leadership to supplement school curriculums and familial support. For high school students like Garland-Harding, Tiffani Hall and Darren Wyse-Nuenez, POPPYN has helped them get out of their comfort zones and improve their critical thinking skills.
“Since I joined POPPYN I’ve become more confident, which has helped me become a better reader and public speaker,” Hall said.
“I enjoy just being a part of something positive,” Wyse-Nuenez said. “Every day I seem to learn something new.”
One of the challenges the program faces is that it can be hard to keep episodes timely, since one airs every two or three months.
To resolve the issue, Cabral and the core leaders decided if there are any important current events throughout the year that impact youth, POPPYN produces a short segment about it and publishes the video on YouTube. This allows the students to center the 30-minute episodes around more general themes.
The most recent episode aired in fall. It examined the criminal justice system and the school-to-prison pipeline by illustrating certain laws that discriminate against youth. Past episodes have also looked at media literacy, sex education and employment opportunities.
POPPYN is one of six programs involved in the University Community Collaborative, an organization started by Temple political science professor Barbara Ferman. The other five programs in the UCC try to develop internships for high school students and teach leadership development.
POPPYN’s 30-minute episodes air on Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. on the public access channel Philadelphia Community Access Media. The shorter current events segments can be found on YouTube under “whatsPOPPYN.”
David Ziegler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.