A version of this post was published in the September issue of the West Side Newspaper. 

Today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders.

This phrase, while often treated as a harbinger of doom, is something the Bezos Family Foundation takes quite seriously. In fact, the Bezos Foundation, an organization devoted to bettering education, created the Bezos Scholars Program to make sure today’s youth are prepared to be tomorrow’s leaders.

The Bezos Scholars Program is a leadership development initiative that selects 30 students and teachers from around the United States and Africa to become Bezos Scholars. In June, the Bezos Foundation sent the Scholars to Aspen, Colorado to receive leadership training and attend the Aspen Ideas Festival. This event, a conference of experts in everything from foreign policy to astrophysics, allows the Scholars to discuss the challenges facing the world with those who know them best.

I was fortunate enough to be chosen as a 2016 Student Scholar, along with my Educator Scholar, West Salem teacher John Divelbiss. The reason I’m turning my journalistic viewfinder onto myself, however, is not to boast about this experience. It’s to talk about Phase II of the Bezos Scholars Program: the Local Ideas Festival.

The Bezos Foundation gives its Scholars an all-expenses-paid trip to intellectual Neverland, but they don’t do so without stipulations. Each Student and Educator Scholar team is tasked with initiating change in their communities, in the form of a Local Ideas Festival.

This festival can take any form, and cover any topic, as long as it addresses a community need. For Divelbiss and I, we found our sweet spot in a shared passion: student journalism. Our festival won’t be a one-day celebration — it will be the culmination of a year-long student journalism program.

The goal of our project is to bring student journalism to the younger grades — as young as fifth grade, if we can find a local elementary willing to take on a journalism program still in its infancy. If our vision is realized, the students will interview, write, and photograph for their own newspaper, which will be distributed at a community open-house, i.e. our Local Ideas Festival.

I find it difficult to articulate the importance of journalism. When you love something, the need to describe it comes second to enjoying it. But there is a line in a novel by André Brink that gets close: “To have been granted the grace of meeting and touching so fleetingly: is that not the most awesome and wonderful thing one can hope for in this world?”

Journalists satisfy the individual’s need to feel like a part of a greater whole. The joy of journalism, for me, is making someone feel appreciated by reaching out and telling their story. And I want to share that joy with others.


André Brink also wrote, “There are only two kinds of madness one should guard against. One is the belief that we can do everything. The other is the belief we can do nothing.” If you would like to stave off the madness and join us in our quest for journalism, feel free to reach out. You can reach me through Instagram and Twitter or comment on this post. 

Since I sent this article to print, Divelbiss and I have met with the principals of Straub Middle School and Walker Middle School and plan on initiating our project at that level.