On Saturday, April 22, 2023, Grace Barlow ’23 received a WHYY Youth Media Award for her work documenting the UC Townhomes protest in 2022. Already an accomplished writer, producer and budding journalist at 18, Grace sits down with AFS to talk about her journey thus far and where she wants to go next.
Tell me a bit about your project that won a WHYY Youth Media Award.
GRACE: Last summer, I produced a story as part of WHYY’s Young Journalism program about the UC Townhomes protests. Dozens of families were being uprooted from their homes due to development in University City, so we went down to West Philadelphia and interviewed the people who lived in their homes, and how $800—the amount Philadelphia would give them for their homes—how that’s not even enough for a one bedroom apartment, and many of them were part of four-person families.
Out of 8,000 submissions to the WHYY Youth Media Award, we were selected as one of a hundred—and then incredibly we won.
What is it about journalism that appeals to you?
GRACE: In my sophomore year at Abington Friends School, we were all struggling with the pandemic, so I created a mental health panel to talk about the benefits of seeking mental health treatment. I also really wanted to highlight African American therapists and clinical psychologists on my panel, and we talked about mental health and COVID’s impact on young people.
Creating that panel, interviewing people, even sending scheduling emails—it felt incredible. And then gaining national news recognition from 6ABC—I mean, I got to speak with Tamala Edwards; she is out there pursuing stories every day!
I applied to and attended the Acel Moore Journalism Program in my junior year. He was one of the first black journalists at the Philadelphia Inquirer, and he made an enormous impact on people of color in journalism. To honor his impact, the Philadelphia Inquirer put together this workshop to help people of color begin their career in journalism with a network of people who want to help them succeed. African American journalists from WHYY and The New York Times would come to the office downtown and talk to us about their professional journeys. We were assigned a mentor who helped us to write our own story on whatever topic we wanted.
What was it like writing a piece with a mentor for the Inquirer?
GRACE: Something that I learned is to be a diligent writer. Like in order to write well, you have to write diligently and you cannot give up on your story. There were several times when I questioned whether the story was good enough. But it was, and the community loved it, the Inquirer loved it, and I could feel by working through the critiques I was given, I learned a lot about myself and my stamina and my confidence in pursuing a career in journalism.
I wanted to write about Kareem Rosser because he made such an impact on the Abington Friends community when he visited. We read his book in two classes—African American Literature and Echoes of Black Culture—and it really affected a lot of our students of color and students who feel insecure or experience oppression through, no matter what they are going through and how they identify.
Are you pursuing any other stories right now, either in the next few weeks or over the summer?
GRACE: I actually do. I just got an interview with Mayor Wilson Goode, and we plan to talk about the MOVE bombing, which is something that we’ve been talking a lot about in one of my classes. I will not only connect with him for a school project, but I also plan to write a story about what was running through his head as all of this was happening.
Also, I want to profile Derek Green, who just ended his 2023 Philadelphia mayoral candidacy. To me, he had this great platform highlighting gun laws, safety and gentrification in Philadelphia, and I want to know what it means to run for mayor, why he chose to suspend his campaign, and what are his next steps going forward.
What are you most excited about after graduating in June?
GRACE: My four years at AFS have shown me that the sky is not even the limit. AFS really welcomed me with open arms and gave me so many opportunities to lift my voice and express myself especially with organizing Black Excellence Night and clerking Black Student Union, and I hope that I can inspire other young black girls who are here at AFS that it is possible, and to never be discouraged no matter how you identify. Just keep going.