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North High School journalism students tell their own stories

"North Minneapolis is always in the news, but rarely are those stories told by people from north Minneapolis or especially the youth," said teacher, Sam Wilbur.

MINNEAPOLIS — At 1:26 p.m., journalism students at North High School in north Minneapolis take their seats in a room surrounded by inspiration.

"How are we doing today?" asks longtime educator, Sam Wilbur. "Here's what we got today."

Wilbur is teaching his students the life lessons of being a student and a journalist.

"I've been teaching at North High School for eight years," said Wilbur. "I got my degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota and I wanted to bring that to our school because we didn't have a journalism class at the time."

It's a passion project for Wilbur.

"I wanted to get cameras in the hands of students so they could start doing that -- telling their own stories," he said.

They're sharing stories seen in the Twin Cities news cycle every day from their vantage point.

"North Minneapolis is always in the news, but rarely are those stories told by people from north Minneapolis or especially the youth," said Wilbur.

For sophomore Tay Henderson -- who balances being a part of the North High Polars on the field and the journalism team off -- the path to journalism wasn't always a straight shot.

"During football last year, I saw them taking pictures," said Henderson.

He thought, "It would be nice to take pictures at games if I'm never partaking in it."

Students here don't only report inside the walls of this classroom, their work is published in the local paper.

"When someone in this class has an opinion, you know, you can write a story about it and really make some change because all the stories we write gets published on North News," said freshman, Almaris Altoro.

"Seven years ago, Kenzie O'Keefe came from Pillsbury United and asked if anyone would be interested in partnering with North News to start a journalism class at North High, and so I jumped at the opportunity."

Standing in this classroom brings back memories for Azhae'la Hanson, a reporter at North News.

"I'm a North Polar alum," she said. "I graduated in 2018. I took Mr. Wilbur's class as an elective."

After finishing college at an HBCU in Louisiana, the 22-year-old decided to return to her hometown.

"I came home because, one, I have that passion," she said. "North Minneapolis isn't really portrayed in a positive way other than violence and the negative things in our community, and when I was young, I also internalized those same narratives."

Now, Hanson helps the students tackle tough topics, including the tragic murder of football standout and classmate, Deshaun Hill.

"That really had an impact on a lot of the students here," said Hanson. "It was a hard time, it was hard to process, it was like hard to accept," said Reynolds.
"Difficult, especially how everything went and turned out," said Henderson.

But even through a collective loss, there are lessons learned and taught.

"We try to bring humanity to the stories," said Hanson. "We ran just letters to D-Hill last year, not the standard journalistic style, but just the story, and I thought that was powerful," she said. "It's not just a student was shot -- someone's best friend, someone's friend is gone -- you have an entire school that was still grieving the loss and it’s not a story that can just be dipped into and walk away, because they themselves have to confront it every day."

These students stand on the frontlines of history.

"We want to get them to the next experience in the field that they can use to further their careers," said Wilbur.

They're proving that the "time is always now" to dream big.

"I want to be an international journalist or I want to be an international human rights lawyer," said Altoro.

"My goal is the NFL, but if that doesn’t work out, a journalist/activist," said Henderson.

“Journalism and software engineering, after that own a few businesses," said junior Diani Reynolds.

They all plan to do that with help from this class and the power of storytelling through their own lens.

"Nobody tells you what stories to write; it's about what you like from your heart," said Altoro. "I just hope that whatever story they choose to tell, it's something that they are proud of," said Hanson.

Wilbur says he hopes to take the students on a trip to New York to visit photography agencies, so they can get connected and ready for their next steps.

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