Personal Story: Asha Richardson

Personal Story compiled by Whitney Burke

At the age of 10, Asha Richardson’s father attempted to introduce her to basic HTML coding. But as a lover of the creative arts, she wanted nothing to do with it. At the time, Asha believed she had to choose one over the other. It was a paintbrush or a keyboard. It couldn’t be both. But after speaking with staff members from Youth Radio’s journalism training program, she came to the realization that the two could — and very much should — go hand-in-hand. Her interview with Youth Radio sparked a lightbulb moment for the Oakland native. Art and journalism were in fact related. Both were forms of storytelling, a powerful means of communication she was passionate about pursuing. As a Youth Radio intern, Asha was exposed to the organization’s innovative media education program, and through its unique peer-education training program, she developed competencies in media literacy, production, journalism, and technology. It was a budding interest in the latter that led her on an economics path at Mills College. Now as a third-year student at Mills, Asha’s intellectual interests and passions fully intersect. On a daily basis, she actively engages in a personalized learning process, which in turn, gives her learning direction, purpose, and meaning.

My upbringing was very interest-driven. While attending the Oakland School for the Arts, I fell in love with the art of storytelling. It’s how I got hooked on writing stories. While covering the economy/technology beat at Youth Radio, I thought to myself, I want to learn about business. I want to learn how money works. I want to learn how it affects the world. I answered these curiosities by pursuing an economics degree at Mills. I am now at a point in my life as a junior in college where I am interested in technology, business, and art. They may not seem related, but in reality, they help each other develop. I find spheres where my interests overlap. It’s about seeing where your learning can take you. Writing stories on the economy and technology actually led to my involvement with the Mobile Action Lab.

Being a part of the Mobile Action Lab has allowed me to interact with working professionals in the app development world, many of whom are close to my own age and are currently working in the technology field. My learning comes full circle with the Mobile Action Lab. Not only are we learning app development, but we are a group of young people learning how to network, how to properly send emails, and how to set up appointments. Not only are we creating apps with the App Inventor and engaging in computer science, but as a group we also acknowledge that we need to market these apps. We need to do the user research. We need to understand the business principles. For every app we develop, we devise a unique business strategy. What I’ve learned at Mills in my study of economics becomes paired with what I am learning at Youth Radio. It might not be learning in the same way, but it allows my interests to continue to flow back and forth. At Mills I am taught theory, and at Youth Radio my learning is hands-on. I use what I learn at Mills and apply it to what it is I’m doing at Youth Radio. It’s wonderful to have those two things coupled together.

As I continue to grow with Youth Radio, I find myself not only looking up to my own mentors, but becoming one for other students as well. Running App Inventor workshops for Youth Radio has transitioned me into the new role of mentorship. I talk to young people about issues that matter to us, and by doing this, we build trust between one another. It’s difficult to make the switch from being a young learner to teaching young people, but it aligns with the primary mission at Youth Radio, which is that of peer-education. You are first trained in journalism by youth who might very well be your own age or even your close friends. I’ve taught students who were older than me and students I’ve grown up attending school with. I am at a point now where I have learned a set of skills, and I am sharing that process with others. My role as a learner and as a teacher has developed in a really amazing way for me

Youth Radio’s peer-education model provides us with a safe environment, which allows us to engage in this type of interaction. It’s a space that pushes your work forward. Our directors and mentors facilitate our learning processes in a way that makes us realize that our opinions are equal and matter just the same. We talk things through, work them out, and come up with solutions together. We are taught from the beginning that our input can and does make a difference. It is a space filled with respect. This builds our confidence as learners, as speakers, and as teachers in the long run.

After college, I want to go into the field of marketing. I’ve always enjoyed art and computers and storytelling. To me, marketing is a form of storytelling. Selling things is storytelling — I might be telling a different story — but it is storytelling nonetheless. Over the years, I have noticed what it is I naturally fall into. I naturally enjoy meeting people. Just the other day, while participating in Code for Oakland, I met a black woman who accomplished some amazing things in marketing, engineering, and computer science. When it came to discussing travel plans to Sacramento for a follow-up hack-a-thon, I made it a point to ask her how she planned to get to there. When I found out she was getting there by train, I immediately jumped at the opportunity to go along with her. I picked her brain for more than an hour during that ride. I love to find black women who are doing things that I want to do. It makes me feel like I can do them as well. I know I am capable of it.

Now, as I look for more mentors, my hope is that I can also serve as that type of role model for younger people. I am now — more than ever — recognizing that I have that responsibility to other young girls.

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