NYC student podcasters take top prize, shining a light on anti-Asian racism and on environmental injustice

Students at two New York City public schools beat about 2,200 other entries from across the country

Jaheim, a student at Brooklyn’s High School For Innovation in Advertising and Media, helps record an episode of the now-award-winning student podcast, “The Flossy Podcast.” (Courtesy of Mischaël Cetoute)

Students at two New York City public schools each won first place in National Public Radio’s Student Podcast Challenge for audio segments examining racism and inequality, beating about 2,200 other entries from across the country, NPR recently announced.

Sixth-graders from P.S. 126/Manhattan Academy of Technology won the middle school prize for their podcast episode about how Asian students were subjected to racist comments related to the coronavirus. Seniors from Brooklyn’s High School For Innovation in Advertising and Media took the top prize in the high school category for their episode about climate change and environmental racism.

Both teams had already created a podcast series at their respective schools. The sixth graders call theirs “The Dragon Kids” and typically feature lighthearted topics, such as food reviews of restaurants near the school in Chinatown or how families celebrate the Chinese new year. The high school students run the “The Flossy Podcast,” a name based on the school’s Canarsie neighborhood. They’ve aired episodes on immigration, what it means to be masculine, and video games.  

For the NPR challenge, the P.S. 126 students had been set to work on a comedic episode about things adults do that make teenagers “cringe,” said Leo Yu, one of the middle schoolers behind the podcast. But then, the threat of the coronavirus descended on New York City, sparking racist behavior toward some Asian Americans. 

“I knew there was lots of bullying going on,” Leo said in an interview with Chalkbeat. “Those people singled out were hurt, and their feelings were sad and not good.”

P.S. 126 students Nicole Zheng, left, and Becky Liu, right, record an episode of “The Dragon Kids” podcast. (Courtesy of Karin Patterson)

The students started the episode explaining the coronavirus and dispelling rumors, while introducing listeners to words in Mandarin, such as “mask” and “sneeze.” Then they interview two students, including Amanda Chen, an Asian high school sophomore who had been helping the sixth graders put their episode together when she found herself in the middle of the story. While at school one day, a group of students told Chen and her Asian-American friends that they probably had the coronavirus because of their race, and that Asians “were trying to spread” the virus. 

Chen, who later addressed the issue with her principal, said she hopes the podcast will allow people to “actually feel how we feel at the moment.”

So far, the episode has been played about 1,200 times. 

About 8 miles away in Canarsie, when the high school students wondered what to cover in their next episode of the Flossy Podcast, they went to September’s climate march in Manhattan in search of material.

The episode opened with interviews with marchers. Pretty quickly, the students, all of whom are Black, noticed they did not see many people who look like them at the event. They were “deep in Manhattan,” as senior and podcaster Jamar Thompson put it, and a long journey for people in some majority black neighborhoods like Canarsie or East Flatbush, where Jamar lives. 

“We felt like we should talk about what we’re seeing and what’s going on from our point of view,” Jamar told Chalkbeat.

The podcasters interview fellow student protestors at September’s Climate March. (Courtesy of Mischaël Cetoute)

Their experience at the march inspired them to ask which communities are most impacted by the very issues these marchers were raising. In the podcast, they read from a 2018 Quartz article about a federal study that found black communities, regardless of wealth, face higher levels of pollution than white people and are more likely to live near landfills and industrial plants. 

“Bro, that’s like environmental racism,” one student says. Another exclaims, “Climate change is racial injustice!” Students shared their own experiences with natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged Canarsie. The episode ended with a call to action, advising listeners to voice their concerns and participate in protests if they feel passionate about the issue. 

“Our hope,” Jamar said, “was to educate people and inform them and tell them, ‘This is a big deal and you should care about this.’”

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