A Message from Our Co-founder

The Urban Health Media Project launched in March 2017 to train diverse high school students from under-resourced communities how to produce multimedia journalism on health and social issues. We planned to focus on the social determinants of health, including the food insecurity, housing and transportation challenges that lead to glaring health disparities in many of our students’ neighborhoods. 

While we covered these topics (and still do), the young people involved in our programs told us early on - long before COVID-19 forced us all indoors and strained everyone’s mental health - they wanted to cover issues they felt affected them more directly. They wrote about topics such as fatherlessness, domestic violence, addiction and the stigma surrounding mental health treatment.

Fast forward to 2021. 

Thanks to large grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Melinda Gates-seeded Upswing Fund for Adolescent Mental Health, we’ve been able to plunge far deeper into social determinants and are addressing mental health stigma head on. We launched our first nearly full-semester Community Health Storytelling class at Richard Wright School for Journalism and Media Arts last year, developed partnerships with the Washington Blade (the country’s oldest LGBTQ+ publication) and the online news site DC Line and had our most successful journalism workshop to date, “Home Sick: How Where We Live Influences Health.” 

“Thanks” to social isolation and a move to virtual instruction, we’ve also trained dozens of high school students in states outside of DC and Maryland, where we focused at launch (Baltimore, to be exact). We now have a virtual bureau in Miami, where former USA TODAY national reporter Alan Gomez has a talented team of high school reporters, and a growing number of high school correspondents in Philadelphia, Cleveland and other Ohio cities. We’re also further expanding in New England t with a new partnership with the University of Rhode Island’s Harrington School of Communication and Media and a focus on the diverse high schools and communities in and around Providence.

We’re creating powerful, high quality journalism in our workshops and bootcamps, where we pay the students to learn and produce health projects with professional reporters, editors and college interns. The four news feature stories  produced in our Spring housing workshop were published in the Miami New Times, the Philadelphia Tribune, Freshwater Cleveland and the Washington Blade. Our “Surviving and Thriving Despite Trauma” workshop led to a series in the DC Line and another story in the Philadelphia Tribune, a widely-read Black print and online publication. 

In June, we celebrated the release of the Blade’s Youth Pride and Mental Health special edition by co-hosting a reception at the uber-hip nonprofit arts and culture venue, Dupont Underground. We are planning a fall UHMP exhibit and reception there this fall, most likely for our D.C. “Public Transportation during COVID” project that involved graduate students from Georgetown University’s international health program and students from Richard Wright School for Journalism and Media Arts. 

This kind of experiential content sharing is just one of the many cool new directions UHMP is heading to reach community members who aren’t reading traditional media. We’re also partnering in Baltimore with the group Empowering Communities Block by Block to provide visual public health content for the Community Walk Through Theatre in the midtown Edmondson neighborhood. The neighborhood, which has been nearly decimated by redlining and, ironically, the state’s decision not to extend the light rail “red line” there, was made famous in the TV show The Wire.

Our graphics, videos and even our new Therapy Thursday Instagram Lives - tune in every Thursday at 7 pm or click our IG Live for replays! - have aired on the big screen there. The space has performance stages and, of course, will be home to more UHMP events soon. 

We’ve come a long, long way from our launch with a $300,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. And we can go even further with more students, more partners and more pro bono help from those in our communities. Want to talk about how we could work together? Email me at jodonnell@urbanhealthmedia.org. I’d love to hear from you.

Jayne O’Donnell
Co-founder and CEO
Urban Health Media Project