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Truth to Power club takes on Ashland issues via podcast

A group of 15 Ashland High School students have taken to a new platform to dissect issues facing the Rogue Valley through a club called “Truth to Power,” which focuses on podcasting and issue-specific community events.

The club’s podcast “Tea, Toast and Truth” centers on topics of interest for club members, such as the most recent episode focused on Ashland’s homeless population. A series of interviews incorporate experiences of people fleeing from domestic violence, alienation from family, hardships brought by life without home, and for some the complexity associated with a choice to live free of four walls and a welcome mat.

In their narration, students call out perceived consequences of materialism and greed, acknowledge sources of power and influence, and embrace nuance in an often black-and-white narrative about issues of homelessness and law enforcement in Ashland.

Each interview taps into an introductory theme — “Teen talk that matters.”

“During quarantine, we had quite a bit of time on our hands — I had a rough time just sitting still and not doing something with that time,” said co-founder Anya Moore, sophomore. “There (were) a lot of things in the community, and there still are, that we see that need to be changed, and a lot of improvements that we think need to be made, and people who need to have a platform to share their thoughts.”

The club’s podcast in progress takes a look into the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and its “symbiotic relationship with the town,” Moore said. Other planned podcast topics cover teen deaths and the effects of Zoom school.

On Jan. 31, the group presented a workshop titled “Dear White Folks: Let’s Talk About Racism,” and a follow-up session Feb. 7 focused on how to be anti-racist, facilitated by Danielle LoPresti and Akeel Williams. The workshops were preceded by a screening and discussion of the film “13th,” a documentary exploring the history of racial inequity through the lens of the U.S. prison system.

Workshop attendee Daniel Murphy said his attendance was the next in a series of steps to look inward during a time of “racial reckoning,” adding to self education about the history of racism in the U.S. and movements toward racial healing. The facilitators offered honesty, poignancy and provocative questioning to inspire thought among the group, Murphy said.

“It’s both fierce and loving at the same time,” Murphy said of the club’s approach to discussions of race, referencing Dr. Martin Luther King’s writings.

Moore said the workshops provided guidance and motivation for the club’s future efforts, including a goal to install a mural on the AHS campus honoring Aidan Ellison and other Black alumni, a podcast on Southern Oregon’s racist history, and pursuing anti-racism in their daily lives.

The name of the club puts a core belief at the forefront, said co-founder Isadora Millay — a message to encourage speaking one’s innermost truth to government entities, the American people and “to the idea of power itself.”

Millay said the club received some social media backlash for hosting a workshop calling out “white folks” but asserted the group would not succumb to others’ discomfort with the phrase or alter their mission to further social change. By offering the workshops and seeking connection points with the public through their projects, Millay said she aims to transform passivity into active anti-racism.

Project suggestions and feedback can be submitted to truthtopowerclub@gmail.com.

Humanities teacher and club advisor Shane Abrams said the students have no shortage of passion and drive. Still, the standard obstacles of delegating tasks and collaborating are amplified by the pandemic, he said, and club members face the challenge of setting attainable goals without burnout.

“The gears in any institution like a school turn really, really slowly,” Abrams said. “The kids want to move really quickly, both because they’re passionate and they’re excited, but also because all the work we’re doing feels really urgent.”

Truth to Power is a podcast club first, often combined with a service project suited to the topic, Abrams said. This week, the club organized a supply drive for homeless community members. For Black History Month, the club is coordinating a school-wide advisory lesson on Black activists.

Going forward, efficient and ethical podcast production, source evaluation and audio engineering may integrate into an educational component of the club, Abrams said. Thus far, he’s satisfied with their podcast work.

“They’re pretty clearly framing their sources as interview testimony, not definitive truth, and I admire their capacity to do that,” Abrams said.

Contact Ashland Tidings reporter Allayana Darrow at adarrow@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497 and follow her on Twitter @AllayanaD.

Co-founders Anya Moore and Isadora Millay talk to a community member about the Truth to Power club. (Allayana Darrow / Ashland Tidings)