Yollocalli Arts Reach, a Little Village-based media incubator, teaches teen journalists to ‘avoid conforming’

During the social unrest in May, Lumpen Radio’s “Wattz Up!” broached two polarizing subjects: Black Lives Matter and Black and Brown allyship.

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12th Ward aldermanic candidate Pete DeMay (left) is interviewed by Yollocalli Arts Reach students Melissa Regalado and Gerardo Salgado.

Yollocalli Arts Reach

The phrase “giving a voice to the voiceless” is often utilized by journalists when explaining their impetus for covering marginalized communities.

The young people of Yollocalli Arts Reach — a community center that houses a media incubator — have no use for the term.

Through Yollocalli’s “Wattz Up!,” a radio show normally based out of the Little Village Boys & Girls Club, they aim to amplify voices, instead.

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The topics discussed on the weekly Saturday show, which broadcasts on WLPN-LP’s Lumpen Radio (105.5 FM), are covered in the mainstream media, but the teens who curate the show’s content believe in discussing complex issues with context and empathy.

“Chicago is a very segregated city where we see a lot of inequalities, and having a program where you can actually speak your mind about what’s going in Chicago is very important,” said Melissa Regalado, one of the show’s recurring co-hosts. “I find the opportunity to speak my truth or whatever — it’s not very censored. It’s all youth-oriented and the opinions of how youth can develop.”

Through Yollocalli and the radio show, students like Regalado and Emmanuel Ramirez noticed a change in their news consumption.

“Me and Melissa — especially in this past year — have talked a lot on the radio about what is being shown on the news and mainstream media outlets,” said Ramirez, a senior at Morton West High School who joined Yollocalli in 2014. “What they [mainstream media outlets] choose to highlight and talk about and how that can affect us individually and as a group. We want to give importance and highlight the smaller things that are happening in our community because we want to avoid conforming.”


Yollocalli Arts Reach student Emmanuel Ramirez (left) interviews author George R.R. Martin at the Chicago Humanities Festival.

David T. Kindler/Chicago Humanities Festival

Regalado, a senior at Little Village High School, echoes Ramirez’s sentiments regarding how immigrant communities are covered.

“I do tend to think that ‘basic’ media paints Little Village in a really bad picture,” said Ramirez. “The news media uses a ‘fear factor’ lens on low-income communities. I think it’s very stereotypical and it’s very marginalizing and it can actually have very detrimental effects on our community, and it’s no longer seen as something positive in a sense because I’ve grown up in this community — I’ve seen both the bad and the good in it.”

Like other radio shows that have pivoted to broadcasting remotely, “Wattz Up!” is well-aware that the show must go on amid the COVID-19 pandemic and social unrest.

“When the shutdown happened, we had to do all of our programs virtually and all the adults were like: ‘Oh, is this gonna work?’ but the students just jumped right on it,” said Vanessa Sanchez, Yollocalli’s director. “We said, ‘Let’s keep making new shows,’ and when the protests were happening, we needed to talk about these issues.

“It was really beautiful every week. Hearing their shows uplifted me. I’m sure other listeners heard their energy for wanting to continue fighting against all the injustices.”


Vanessa Sanchez, 38, director of Yollocalli Arts Reach, poses in the studio where teens run the nonprofit’s radio show, inside the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago in Little Village.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

One of the shows Ramirez and Regalado are particularly proud of was an episode recorded in May amid the protests over the police shootings and brutality that led to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

They broached two subjects that some see as polarizing: the Black Lives Matter movement and Black and Brown allyship.

“In the span of the last like five, six years that ‘Wattz Up!’ has been on Lumpen Radio, youth have dived into so many different topics ranging from policing, immigration, LGBT rights, and community concerns — the list can go on and on,” said Ramirez. “On our end, we wanted to show how the Brown community can support that [Black Lives Matter movement] and uplift that, and what we can do with our platforms.”

And has Yollocalli given Ramirez and Regalado the tools to generate long-term interest in documenting what goes on in their communities?

Regalado, who has been with Yollocalli since 2018, created a podcast called “Cruel Public Schooling,” which focuses on how educational mishaps often fail Black and Brown students.

“Black and Brown students make up the most percentage of CPS, so I just wanted to collect information on that, and reflect on what’s happening,” said Regalado.

Even though the show often discusses serious topics, there’s also room for lighthearted segments such as the craze surrounding ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) YouTube videos.

“It’s really therapeutic. Tapping on things and whispering; it’s supposed to be really relaxing and calming,” said Ramirez. ‘I think we should really have a part two — I would love for us to do a part two.”

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