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Truestar Magazine's success with black teen leads to radio venture
(September 23, 2009) Arthur Jones loved his summer job. The 15-year-old
sophomore wrote for a nonprofit's magazine and is now part of its new
"We are going to turn the magazine articles that we wrote into
discussion topics. I'm excited to be a part of this," said Jones, who
attends Lindblom Math and Science Academy.
Jones is one of about 100 students who helped produce the magazine as
part of the True Star Foundation's journalism program. The students and
organizers recently attended a gala marking the magazine's fifth year
and its 16th issue. More than 200 teenagers danced to songs by New Boyz,
Gucci Mane and Drake on a late summer evening at the Parkway Ballroom in
Bronzeville, but it was the 30-something hosts, DeAnna McLeary and
Na-Tae' Thompson, who had the greatest reason to celebrate.
What began as a program with 17 students producing a four-page
newsletter has evolved into
True Star Magazine, a glossy, 52-page publication written, edited
and marketed by teens. The event also served as the official launch of
True Star Radio, a partnership with Crawford Broadcasting's WPWX-FM
"We bootstrapped this whole thing," McLeary said of the free, quarterly
publication and its humble beginning. "We've never had an investor and
never took out a loan. So, the fact that we've gotten this far to end up
here is really gratifying."
Both women left the corporate worlds of finance and marketing to
dedicate themselves to working with teens. McLeary was an account
executive until 2005 for Essence Communications Partners' now-defunct
Suede Magazine. Before that she worked for management consulting firm
Accenture as a senior consultant analyst. Thompson was formerly a
program specialist with the Chicago Park District and before that worked
about three years as an account executive for Chancellor Marketing
Group. The women feel that the path they are on now is their life's
mission and far more fulfilling.
"It's really exciting to see our growth and to see how excited the young
people are about True Star," said Thompson. "That's what it's really all
Through True Star's after-school and summer programs, high school
students are partnered with industry experts and mentored in the fields
of journalism, graphic design, photography, event planning, sales and
marketing to produce the magazine.
Thompson, who worked with teens when she was a program specialist for
the Chicago Park District, said she noticed that they were lacking in
basic written communication skills.
"How were they expected to get into college when they can't even
formulate full paragraphs and use proper punctuation? The whole idea was
to start a journalism program, not a magazine."
The students get a small stipend as a way to reiterate the importance of
hard work and responsibility, and the instructors -- professionals in
the fields of journalism, graphic design, sales and marketing, event
planning and photography -- are paid $23 to 25 an hour.
The foundation gets some private donations but relies mainly on state-
and corporate-funded grants.
This summer marked the first time True Star and Chicago Public Schools
worked together, creating 200-plus student staffers throughout the city.
"We were looking for activities to personalize the student learning
experience, and True Star offered that opportunity," said Edward Spikes,
Chicago Public Schools project manager for Smaller Learning Communities.
Some True Star alumni even come back to teach.
Shannon Smith, who is in her sophomore year at the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said she will always make herself
available for McLeary and Thompson.
"I had never thought about journalism until I started working with True
Star," said Smith, 19, now a broadcast journalism major. "Working with
them made me realize this is what I want to do."
Thompson said many of the teens' parents also are appreciative.
"We get a lot of accolades from parents who call and say, 'I'm so happy
my child participated in True Star,' and that's really rewarding," she