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Radio series delves into lives of young Californians

Claudia Gómez works at the front desk of a high school that accepts previously incarcerated students. (Photo/Jake de Grazia)

20something, a new weekly series about the lives of young people, debuted May 18 on The California Report, KQED’s statewide radio program. Produced by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, the episodes initially will air over the next seven weeks.

The series, which includes Web content produced with KQED and USC Annenberg’s Neon Tommy, examines the lives of young people who come from unique backgrounds that cut across religion, ethnicity, nationality, geography, legal status and education level. The stories aim to reveal the goals and dreams of young Californians in their own words.

Eight graduate students in USC professor Sandy Tolan’s advanced radio documentary class reported on the segments, which were edited by Tolan and Victoria Mauleón, associate senior producer of The California Report. Nicole Banner, Jake de Grazia, Raquel Estupinan, Tara Kangarlou, Michele Malkasian, Arezou Rezvani, Megan Sweas and Yasser Zhang were the reporters.

“These young journalists spent many hours over four months profiling young people as their lives unfolded over time,” Tolan said. “This documentary access made possible intimate portraits that you don’t hear every day.”

Among those profiled are a Nigerian-born global activist; a student veteran struggling to adjust to life as a civilian; a woman working at a high school for formerly incarcerated youth; a Chinese-American real estate entrepreneur; an Iranian American confronting the image of her community in the Beverly Hills diaspora; and a 23-year-old Honduran student at UCLA who is gay and seeking political asylum.

“We’re proud to be partnering with USC Annenberg on the 20something project,” Mauleón said. “The efforts of Sandy Tolan’s students allow The California Report to provide listeners around the state with a rare glimpse inside the lives of the 20-something generation. These are important stories about people who may shape the future of our state. It’s a series everyone should hear.”

The California Report plans to expand the series beyond its seven parts and broadcast pieces throughout the year.

“The series brings to light the experiences of young Californians whose stories seldom, if ever, reach beyond their own neighborhoods,” said Geneva Overholser, director of USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism. “Much of what we hear is harrowing, much is hopeful; all of it is deeply moving. I’m so proud of our students’ truly exceptional work and grateful to Sandy Tolan for his stewardship.”

For the students, the series gave them the invaluable opportunity to produce professional work for statewide public radio.

“They got the opportunity to really zero in on one person — and get to know not only the craft of radio but also how better to interview people and how to reflect their truth for a public audience,” Tolan said. “By doing that, they started to understand the individual threads and the fabric that make up our community.”

And students quickly discovered that the stories of their peers, though told from a young point of view, could appeal to a broader audience.

“[The series] really touches on all generations,” said Banner, who just earned her master’s degree in journalism. Her story profiles a 23-year-old Inglewood man and his mother, who are trying to cope with the trauma he has experienced resulting from the violence in his community.

“People will get a bit more insight into the psyche of the 20-something and realize we’re dealing with a lot of the problems older adults are going through,” Banner said. “We have struggles and are dealing with social issues like everyone else. And we do have real ideas and plans for the world.”

20something can be heard live online at 4:30 p.m. Fridays at Web content can be found at and The California Report airs on more than 30 public radio stations across the state. In Los Angeles, the half-hour broadcast airs at 10:30 p.m. Sundays on KPCC 89.3 FM; in the Bay Area, it airs at 4:30 p.m. Fridays on KQED 88.5 FM.

Radio series delves into lives of young Californians

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