Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

From fear to faith in the future, Minnesota youth 'imagine something bigger'

Four students sit at a desk with a microphone
Youth across Minnesota participate in The Wildling's Story Booth: Imagine Something Bigger.
Courtesy The Wildling

It’s tough being a kid these days. But a Minnesota organization wants to make sure our youth feel empowered.

The Wildling has a mission to help youth share their lived experiences in a meaningful way. And one way they do that is through a program called Story Booth. It’s a collection of personal stories told by kids as young as pre-K to college-aged.

It has several collections; the newest is called Imagine Something Bigger. They are stories as light as wishing for a future with dinosaurs to fears about what’s next.

Joining MPR News host Cathy Wurzer is Donte Wilkins, the Story Booth director and Murwat Noor, an 11th grader at Menlo Park Academy in Minneapolis.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation. 

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: It is tough being a kid these days, but a Minnesota organization wants to make sure our youth feel empowered. The Wildling has a mission to help youth share their lived experiences in a meaningful way, and one way they do that is through a program called Story Booth.

It's a collection of personal stories told by kids as young as pre-K to college-aged kids. They've done several collections, and their newest one is called Imagine Something Bigger. There are stories as light as wishing for a future with dinosaurs to fears about what's next. Here's one story.

BENNY: It's hard to imagine a world not plagued, literally and figuratively. I don't know if such a thing exists, really, but it's hard to think of what I want to be when I grow up when I don't know if I'll grow up or in what world. There's no easy way to remove this roadblock. I know I can't on my own, but I want to try, and maybe that's enough.

CATHY WURZER: That was Benny, a 12th grader. Joining us right now is Donte Wilkins, the Story Booth Director, and another student voice, Murwat Noor, an 11th grader at Menlo Park Academy in Minneapolis. Murwat and Donte, welcome.

DONTE WILKINS: Thank you so much for having us. Good afternoon.

MURWAT NOOR: Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: It's really great to have you here. Thank you so much. Donte, I'm going to start with you. Tell us about Story Booth. What exactly is this?

DONTE WILKINS: Yeah. So the Story Booth, we use capsules or a collection of audio stories around different themes that help organize our Story Booth submissions and story showcases. And the idea was to have a positive platform for youth to kind of share what they're feeling, what they're going through.

As you know, our world is the way that it has been and tough for all of us, let alone our youth. So we wanted a positive place where they could share their experiences and not have comments or anything like your social media platforms have to where they might get some negative feedback from audiences.

So that was kind of the idea, just to have a community of these stories, and individuals can hear these stories to then know that they aren't alone going through some of these tough times or can have a place of community to share ideas with other youth.

CATHY WURZER: So kind of a safe space, unfiltered?

DONTE WILKINS: Exactly.

CATHY WURZER: Say, Murwat, the prompt for this Story Booth is imagine something bigger. What does that mean to you?

MURWAT NOOR: I think it's thinking of a utopia that might not be possible right now but could happen in the future, and just imagining something else for other people.

CATHY WURZER: I have your story here in front of me. I'm going to play a little bit of it. Is that OK?

MURWAT NOOR: Yeah.

CATHY WURZER: Let's listen to your story this is Murwat.

MURWAT NOOR: My name is Murwat, and this is a story that I wrote because I believe anybody big or small could relate to this. Growing up, there have been times where I felt small, felt as if I didn't matter.

I still think like that sometimes, but I believe it's worth considering how we matter as people, matter that matters, a matter that experiences, experiences that influence our choices, choices that dictate how we interact with the world, a world we matter in, in a world where our matter lingers.

Even after mortal time has passed, minuscule, micro x infinity matter, matter that still matters. We will always matter, even at our smallest, because that'll never diminish our right to matter. In my perfect world, kids wouldn't feel small just because they haven't experienced the world as adults.

CATHY WURZER: What inspired you to share that story, Murwat?

MURWAT NOOR: I guess, of course, having a platform-- Story Booth, for me, it was like having the ability. I shared that story because there were so many other kids who were also doing it.

And I just thought, I want to share a story that I'm probably sure most of the kids talking could relate to. And that's just what kind of inspired me.

CATHY WURZER: And I'm wondering, Donte, why is it important to help these kids tell their stories?

DONTE WILKINS: I think that it's important to allow youth to share their stories because they have a lot to say. They're going through a lot. And outside of the education or social media, what other positive outlets do they have to share this? And this can be kind of a therapeutic experience.

I shared a story in a training with YMCA staff, and it was a story that I never shared myself. And after that as an adult, it's like, wow. I've been holding on to something that I've needed to get off my chest but not knowing how and what positive way I could do that. So we noticed that even with the youth that we've been able to capture stories from, not just the metro area, but across the world.

And even just getting thank yous from some of the youth-- hey, I've never been able to share that story and being vulnerable, which we don't ask you know. But it's like, if you're comfortable, please share that. But it's important to have that, just to be in community and to know that you're not the only one going through some of these things in the world.

CATHY WURZER: And of course, as you know, sharing stories can lead to a greater understanding between people, better connections, that sort of thing. In a world where we're connected via social media, but we're really not-- many of us don't feel connected. There's so much loneliness. Does this effort help, do you think?

DONTE WILKINS: I think it does, and that's kind of why we wanted to use the youth's voice versus having written publications. Having their voice, their phones as their microphone, to share and let us feel and hear what they have to say and what they're going through, the things that they have experienced.

CATHY WURZER: Murwat, what did you learn when you were writing your story?

MURWAT NOOR: I learned that sharing your story feels good. I don't really have opportunities like that often to just talk about my experiences just because I want to, and I kind of just learned that it felt really nice. I learned more about other people as well around my age and just their experiences as well, which was really nice.

CATHY WURZER: Good. I'm glad to hear that. And I'm wondering-- my lead sentence there, it's tough to be a kid nowadays. I think when some adults hear that, they roll their eyes and say, right, yeah, exactly. But can you explain that to folks, just some of the pressure that you're under, you and your peers?

MURWAT NOOR: Yeah. Totally. Of course. I like to imagine myself as somebody who's really independent because I have to, and it's really hard to explain how difficult it is to be a kid now because you don't get to have the same leniency as adults. You can't really get a job.

Nobody really listens to you as much when you're a kid. I've noticed that some people just don't really listen as much because they don't think our voices matter as much as adults. It's really hard because being a kid just feels small. And I mean, kids are small, but I'd like to think we do matter just as much as adults.

CATHY WURZER: I'm not going to put words in your mouth, but you sound maybe a little irritated that you're not taken seriously.

MURWAT NOOR: Very, yeah.

CATHY WURZER: Donte, as an adult, what have you learned from the kids you're working with?

DONTE WILKINS: I've learned that we can all learn something from our youth. Taking a step back and not just treating things as business as usual but actually caring about what they have to do or what they've gone through and what they have to say because it can inform how we need to shift our education or how we just communicate with our youth.

So those are some of the big things that I just really noticed just collecting these stories and having you know brief conversations with some of these youth.

CATHY WURZER: By the way, when I think Story Booth, I think a physical place that you go. Is that the case, or can any kid listening now maybe get information from you, record their story on their voice memo on their phone? How does it all work?

DONTE WILKINS: Yes. We have gone to different schools. We work with the YMCA and Bancroft Foundation. We work with their youth. Definitely want to thank them for their partnership. But you can also do it on your own. Going to our website at the wildling.org, if you want to record your story, you can record your story.

We have a couple different prompts and PDFS to get you thinking about, what do I want to share? How can I get this story out? And if there's questions or anything like that, you can reach out to our email that's on the website, and I can walk through or hop on a virtual call to help record.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Donte Wilkins, thank you so much. And Murwat Noor, thank you for being with us, and thank you for your voice.

DONTE WILKINS: Thank you so much for having us.

MURWAT NOOR: Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Donte Wilkins is the Director of the Wildling Story Booth Project. Murwat Noor is an 11th grader at Menlo Park Academy in Minneapolis. By the way, we'll have a link to the full collection of stories on our website, mprnews.org.

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