This February, Ashland High School’s Truth to Power Club reached out to us on Instagram to share about their podcast, Tea, Toast, and Truth. We were impressed by how they connected the dots between issues like houselessness and the senseless murders of Black youth within the podcast while also calling the community into action through organizing campaigns, like supply drives for houseless community members facing sweeps, and creating a mural holding up the powerful folks of color who have changed Ashland, Oregon, and the US. In June’s episode of Rural Roots Rising, we featured an episode from Tea, Toast, and Truth that dug into houselessness in Ashland. For the second season finale of Rural Roots Rising, we interviewed three of the powerful community leaders who create Tea, Toast, and Truth to learn more about the ways they are intertwining education, media, and organizing! Listen to “Behind the Scenes with Tea, Toast, and Truth” on your local station, your favorite podcasting platform, or at ruralrootsrising.org!
Truth to Power was founded with the goal of creating a podcast that tackled the issues teens in Ashland are facing today, while pairing action out in the community with each topic they covered on the air. In November of 2020, just a few months after they formed, Ashland was shocked when Aidan Ellison, a 19-year-old Black man who was playing music in his car, was shot and killed by a white man. Truth to Power knew they had to help build the community response to this act of racist violence and so they organized a workshop called “Dear White Folks: Let’s Talk About Racism.”
“Dear White People” received tons of positive responses, but also pushback from community members who didn’t think Ashland should be talking about racism. As Izzy put it in the interview: “People were like, ‘you shouldn’t be putting this on. There is like nothing going on wrong in our town. There is no racism.’” This didn’t deter them, but instead helped make clear how needed the workshop was! In fact, so many people reached out after the first workshop asking if there was a recording, or if there would be other ways to participate, that the club decided to host a whole series of workshops. After three workshops and a screening and discussion of the documentary 13th, Truth to Power made plans for continued action. They started work on a podcast episode focused on systemic racism in Ashland and Aidan’s murder, and decided they also wanted to create a mural in his honor.
Through this process, Truth to Power reached out and was able to connect with Aidan’s mother, Andrea. As they prepared for the mural project, members of the club sat down with Andrea to talk about her hopes for how Aidan would be remembered. Anya, one of Truth to Power’s leaders, shared: “We are hard at work on the mural right now… And we are right now trying to get permission from other people, other BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] from the Ashland community who have done amazing things and brought amazing things to Ashland. And so the whole mural is kind of a celebration of Aidan’s life and honoring Aidan’s life, but then also …making sure that like, [BIPOC Ashland Highschool graduates’] achievements aren’t overlooked here.” One of the other Ashland High School graduates they are planning to include is Michelle Alexander, author of the book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration, in the Age of Colorblindness.
Organizing three workshops, a mural, and a podcast might sound like enough for one group to take on, but this just scratches the surface of the many projects that Truth to Power is working on! With about 20 active members in their group, Truth to Power has split into small teams to tackle topics such as mental health, teen deaths, Zoom school, first love and more. They have been making space for people to learn new skills and try out different roles in Truth to Power’s work based on what each club member is interested in. In the latest episode of Rural Roots Rising, Truth to Power shares about the making of their “Seeing Homeless” episode and touches on the ways they are developing collaborative processes to create media when most of Truth to Power’s members had never participated in any part of the podcast creation process before.
Tea, Toast, and Truth’s first collaborative episode “Seeing Homeless” was produced together as a big group to allow members to build skills and learn which roles in the podcast-making process they were most interested in taking on. As Anya shares in our interview, “There was a lot of things I think that we gained from [creating ‘Seeing Homeless’] that we wanted to change in our future podcast making. So I think that while the product was amazing too, just the experience of doing it together as a group, and having that first one was in some ways even more valuable to kind of bring the group together and figure out how we wanted to all actually collaborate.”
Like so many human dignity groups that we work with at ROP, Truth to Power is learning as they go and are making a difference in the local community, at the same time that they are building new relationships and growing their base of members and supporters. In our interview, Izzy shared that making the podcast has amplified their voices and given them a space to get feedback and be in conversation with community members they aren’t working with directly. Izzy said, “I think we’re just adding a little bit of ourselves and our own personal like opinions and stories and emotions and interests, which is pretty powerful to know that, like we have that much control, and we’re just like, able to just express ourselves in such a beautiful way and also get feedback from the public.”
Listen to their story in Truth to Power’s own words on your local station, your favorite podcasting platform, or at ruralrootsrising.org! And if you’re interested in listening to more of Tea, Toast, and Truth, you can listen to full episodes on Spotify, Anchor FM, or follow Truth to Power on Facebook and Instagram.
Our second season of Rural Roots Rising has been an exploration of community-based, intergenerational, collaborative, rural media from across the state. Do you know a rural media maker we should connect with? Has Truth to Power’s work inspired you to take action on the issues that matter most in your community? Is your group grappling with how to tell stories that shift the way your community thinks about local issues? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d love to hear what you are up to or support you in figuring out where to start!