Richard Wright Public Charter School’s 2014 Black Tie Gala.
Being a young, aspiring journalist in the nation’s capital can be truly rewarding. Perhaps, no other group of teenagers in the city knows this as much as students at the Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts.
After an impromptu meeting on Capitol Hill with civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a small group of Wright students created the short film, Bridging the Legacy – Congressman John Lewis: A Hero for Every Generation, which will be viewed June 13 at the Richard Wright Black Tie Gala Film Festival 2015 at the Warner Theatre.
Founded in 2011, Wright is the only non-selective high school in the city that affords students unique opportunities to explore media and hone their craft in print and broadcast journalism. Students participate in forums and conferences surrounding issues of civil rights, economic growth, environmental sustainability, technology development and global affairs. Their educational experiences venture from the White House to behind the scenes of local newsrooms. Their work is also published in local newspapers and online platforms.
Inside the walls of the southeast school, largely attended by youth who reside in D.C.’s Wards 7 and 8, is where the magic happens.
“I really appreciate the family atmosphere we have here. It’s very close knit,” says Stokely Lewis, who worked on the congressman’s documentary. “I can talk to the staff, I’m close with my peers, and it’s something that I have really gotten used to.”
Stokely is a member of the ambassador’s club, the school’s premier leadership organization, which cultivates peer-to-peer accountability and mentorship as well as leadership skills as students make decisions that affect the entire student body.
Student ambassador Kennard Jones and guest at 2014 gala.
“We believe in empowering our students to become solid thinkers and leaders for themselves because clearly we know that they’re not going to be with us for a very long time,” says Dr. Marco Clark, the school’s founder and CEO.
In an effort to address reading, writing, and speech deficiencies among urban youth, Clark envisioned the school invoking the spirit of an acclaimed 20th century writer.
“Richard Wright represents the majority of the population that we serve – some of our kids have some challenges just as Richard Wright,” says Clark. “Richard Wright was able to express himself in a written format as well as an orator standpoint and I think that really coupled what we needed to have in our school. Plus, we wanted our kids to understand that you can stand for things that are very important especially if they’re going to make a positive change.”
When Shaka Williams entered Wright as a freshman, he was unsure of all that mass media entails. Eventually, he took to camera production, then became a founding anchor of the school’s news desk. As a former athlete who took a break to focus on his studies during his senior year, Williams enjoys keeping up with sports through reporting.
“We may not have the best teams in the area, but I do promote them and I give them the absolute respect for what they do on the field and what they do in the classroom,” he says.
As a member of the school’s first graduating class of 60 students, Williams will attend the University of the District of Columbia for mass communications and English, with a stronger sense of what it takes to become a nationally recognized sports anchor.
“A lot of kids come with an in being a journalist, interviewer, or filmmaker and being here opens up their minds of what they want to do,” he says. “And they’re set afterwards.”