by Mary Wood Ohiku

Can Milwaukee teens really create magazines, excel in Web design, and produce an Emmy winning television show? You bet they can! Strive Media Institute, 1818 Martin Luther King Drive, has done just that by challenging local youth to compete in real-world mass media. This nonprofit mentoring and training program founded by Matthew Johnson in 1990 provides today’s teens with experience they need to compete in the field of mass communications. Every other Saturday, teens attend journalism classes to develop critiquing, copy editing, design, page layout, and sales and marketing skills. Classes are attended by a diverse range of students, including African-American, Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian youth, all from varying degrees of socio-economic backgrounds. GUMBO, a bimonthly magazine for teens by teens, is one of many successful products of Strive Media. “The magazine is unique because it’s a project that is completely written by teens,” said Amy Muehlbauer, Managing Editor and Print Journalism Instructor. “All the reporting, all the research, all the photos and graphic design…everything is done by students. It’s really their magazine. I think people have a hard time believing that.” GUMBO contains articles, poetry, essays, and writing pieces from teens across the country. In 2001 the magazine increased its subscriptions, distribution, and advertising sponsors. GUMBO even opened a teen news bureau in Atlanta, Georgia last spring. They hope to open additional teen bureaus in cities throughout the country. Charita Ford, teen editor of GUMBO and a sophomore in high school, assigns stories, provides feedback to reporters, and maintains order among friends and colleagues. Her dedication and enthusiasm aid the magazine’s success on both statewide and national levels. “Managing a staff of your peers is challenging,” Charita said. “The toughest part of my job is that I have to make sure my friends are getting their work done, so I have to be their boss and their friend.” GUMBO also hosts an annual poetry contest for teen writers entitled “Poetic Food for Thought.” The competition is open to students across the country. The contestants are narrowed down to fifty finalists, who then give oral presentations. Among them, three are chosen as grand prize winners. “The students are encouraged to send in their poetry, short stories, essays, and other types of writing,” Muehlbauer said. “They are judged by a panel of local poets, teen-reporters, and journalists who choose finalists. These Finalists receive savings bond prizes and a book with a copy of their published writing.” The magazine is distributed to every public and private middle and high school in Wisconsin and is also available in bulk quantities for teens in Georgia, Colorado, New York, Louisiana, and Illinois. The number of subscriptions has grown rapidly each year, and many read it online at But what puts the spice in GUMBO? “This magazine spells diversity,” Charita said. “We make sure we have every race, every culture, on the cover, in the stories…everything that we do. Even the title GUMBO shows what a mixture of elements we have to offer.” “It’s amazing,” Ladonna Jones added. “It’s like feeding the teenager.” Strive Media’s ultimate mission, “Fostering Diversity Through Mass Communication,” aims to provide valuable learning experiences that will aid these teens in future career movements. They accomplish this through a core curriculum in four main fields: technology, integrated marketing communications, print journalism, and video and film production. The teaching element is vital to the success of the students. More valuable though, is the experience these teens gain in the process. “I learned that as a reporter you have to be ready at all times because a story can come up just like that,” 15-year-old Corbin Robinson said, snapping her fingers. “You just have to go out there and get it.” Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 11 – December 2002