Youth Radio Honored At White House: A Young Artist’s Reflection

by Brandon McFarland

Youth Radio is all about taking chances. Most young people find it hard to believe that our perspectives and creative expression have an audience, but that is exactly what Youth Radio provides to young people — a voice. When you come to Youth Radio, you see the creative process up close: young musicians making beats, poets recording in the studio, and young reporters pushing the boundaries of journalism by adding sound design to traditional radio reporting.

Each artist who has come through Youth Radio in its 20-year history is honored today by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. To receive a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama has special meaning to our young artists.

Artists like me. I came to Youth Radio because I was interested in studio production. I had no idea what I drifted into. I was one of the first students who started composing and producing music at the organization. We were making our own beats and remixes. From there, the opportunities kept coming — from producing half hour youth shows for commercial stations, to reporting for major outlets like NPR, and then launching an online music station All Day Play.fm for emerging young artists.

That work culminated this year when the Kennedy Center gave Youth Radio producers the original tracks recorded during Marvin Gaye’s studio session for the iconic album “What’s Going On.” We were given the awesome opportunity to remix and reimagine What’s Going On NOW for today’s generation. We told the story of the remix in a feature on NPR. Younger generations building on history and art to create new work represents everything we do at Youth Radio, and why we are at the forefront of storytelling and digital culture.

Youth Radio has a way of peaking interests…tapping into hidden talents that you would never discover on your own. I’m one of Youth Radio’s hundreds of success stories. Youth Radio helped me turn my passions into a career path. I came to Youth Radio at age 17, an aimless high school student really into music that grew into a strong writer and artist with confidence and clear career goals in creative multi-media production. And today, to come as a young producer to the White House makes the work that we do all the more powerful. That our voices, our work could reach the White House is inspiring to young artists across the country. This award will help Youth Radio continue to expand our creative work, using the arts to put more young people on paths to success.