Grad students produce public radio program

KQED, a radio station that broadcasts statewide, will run a series consisting of documentaries created by USC graduate students from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. The radio series, titled “20something,” follows the lives of a diverse group of young Californians, exposing personal triumphs and difficulties they face in their communities.

The seven students working on the project found each other in a public radio documentary class taught by Sandy Tolan, a professor in Annenberg. Tolan had already collaborated with a colleague and producer for KQED’s “The California Report” Victoria Mauleon.

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

One of the students involved in the project, Nicole Banner, who is working toward her master’s degree in broadcast journalism, profiled Brandon Blackshire, a young man from Inglewood. When she interviewed Blackshire, he was grieving the murder of his girlfriend, a kindergarten teacher, and his close friend M Bone. Despite the hardships Blackshire endured, Banner hopes that Blackshire’s story will inspire people in his community and others to be as grateful and optimistic as he is.

“I think my story reveals a lot about some of the bigger social issues in our community,” Banner said. “We are the future, and it is important for people to listen because these issues have a large impact on the world.”

James de Grazia, who is working toward his master’s degree in specialized journalism, profiled Claudia Gomez, a teacher at FREE LA High, a charter school that accepts students who have spent time in a correctional facility. Gomez, 20, who experienced her own personal set of struggles and missteps, started at the front desk but soon took charge of a documentary program looking at the effects of mass incarcerations on youth.

“Claudia was an incredibly open and generous subject,” de Grazia said. “She made a huge effort to teach me about her community and the challenges it faces.”

Listeners who tune into the show will also hear stories of a woman working at a high school for formerly incarcerated youth, a 23-year-old Honduran UCLA student who is gay and seeking political asylum, and a Chinese real-estate entrepreneur.

Banner said she hopes the program will show students the strength of individuals to overcome challenges.

“There are a lot of shocking and sad facts about our society, “Banner said. “But as the series reveals, we have the tools, the heart and the capability to overcome our troubles. I just hope that the sooner people realize that, it will inspire people to stop and make a change for the better. “

In addition to Banner and de Grazia, Annenberg graduate students Raquel Estupinan, Tara Kangarlou, Michele Malkasian, Arezou Rezvani, Megan Sweas and Yasser Zhang will also produce episodes of “20something.”

The series can be heard live online at 4:30 p.m. on Friday at

KQED’s “The California Report” airs on more than 30 public radio stations across the state. In Los Angeles, it airs from 10:30 p.m. to    11 p.m. on Sunday on KPCC 89.3 FM.

In addition to airing every Friday on KQED throughout the summer and occasionally later this year, USC’s Neon Tommy will produce web content that correlates with the aired stories.