AT&T Launching Literacy Program to Amplify Youth Voices During Pandemic and Social Unrest

“Youth Voices Collective” part of $1 million contribution to literacy groups, providing platforms for student journalism and mentoring from CNN

AT&T* and CNN are collaborating to launch Youth Voices Collective, a program to support student expression and teach writing and journalism skills at a moment when young people are looking for ways to speak out.

Youth Voices Collective will provide instruction and publishing opportunities to thousands of students across the U.S., especially those in underserved communities, in collaboration with 826 National, the largest youth writing network in the country, and VOX ATL, a longtime CNN collaborator that amplifies the voices of Atlanta youth.

The program also is supporting the nationwide expansion of Six Feet of Separation, an online newspaper established in San Francisco for students to chronicle their experiences during COVID-19.

“Young people are experiencing a unique and challenging time,” said Charlene Lake, SVP, Corporate Social Responsibility and Chief Sustainability Officer, AT&T. “It’s critical we give them tools to share thoughts, feelings, questions and concerns.”

Students participating in Youth Voices Collective will get opportunities to learn from journalists at CNN, such as Carl Azuz, anchor and writer of CNN 10. The digital news program is producing student-focused segments on balanced news reporting, script writing and on-air delivery.

"Storytelling is powerful, and that's especially true for young people right now," Azuz said. "Their lives have been disrupted by a pandemic; they've heard a lot about social unrest in the media. My hope is that Youth Voices Collective will give them a sense of community and provide insight into how journalists objectively cover world events."

Young people already are providing unique vantage points on current events.  And in unique ways. 826 National's New Orleans chapter, for example, encouraged students to post their writing on windows, front doors, and fences for the city to read.

"826 students in our chapters across the country write urgent stories about the issues in their cities and communities,” said Laura Brief, 826 National CEO. “With the support of AT&T and CNN, we're excited to be expanding that work, cultivating the next generation of journalists and ensuring that our country benefits from their voices and perspectives, especially in this critical moment.”

In addition to its own platforms, 826 National will introduce students from its nine chapters across the U.S. to publishing opportunities with Six Feet of Separation. Journalist and Six-Feet founder Chris Colin started the online paper to give children in his Bay Area neighborhood a way to explore what was happening on their blocks, in their homes and in their heads.

“Quickly it became clear it was scratching a larger itch — providing some agency at an out-of-control time, and encouraging young people to look at their worlds curiously and critically, with a journalist’s eye,” he said.

As protests over social justice swept the U.S. in recent weeks, Youth Voices collaborators have seen young people’s need to express themselves grow. The world needs to hear from young people now more than ever, said Susan Landrum, executive director of VOX ATL.

"We often say "your voice is your power," and we are excited for the way this collective will help share the voices of more teens,” Landrum said.

Financial support for Youth Voices Collective is part of a larger $1 million contribution AT&T is making to literacy groups through the Distance Learning & Family Connections fund.

Additional organizations that will receive support include:

  • CommonSense Media ($250K): In response to the COVID-19 school closures, CommonSense Media created Wide Open School, a free and open collection of online learning experiences, activities and community services for kids and families PreK-12, many of which focus on building reading and literacy skills. Our support helped CommonSense Media scale resources to reach even more students.
  • Springboard Collaborative ($250K): Springboard Collaborative has created Springboard Connect, a web app that uses text reminders and daily tips to facilitate reading growth and habit formation. As students and teachers made the transition to online learning, our support has allowed Springboard Collaborative to grow its reach and impact.
  • Quill ($100K): Understanding that poor writing skills are a formidable barrier to college and career success, Quill helps students become strong writers and critical thinkers. With our support, Quill was able to scale their platform to reach even more young people.
  • Young Storytellers ($100K): Young Storytellers sparks creative self-discovery through storytelling. Following COVID-19, with our support, Young Storytellers was able to reach a broader audience with their online materials.
  • BookNook ($100K): BookNook, and AT&T Accelerator alumni company, is a cloud-based multilingual application that was developed to make anyone a great reading teacher. Through our support, BookNook was able to reach even more low-income and bilingual families with the mission of closing the literacy gap.

This contribution will help these organizations expand their reach and continue helping students across the country. The fund was created in response to COVID-19 to give parents, students and teachers tools for at-home learning.

Learn more about the fund and other student literacy groups AT&T is supporting here.