GRLZ Radio: allowing young women to be heard and respected

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Twelve years ago, a group of high school girls from Dorchester was driving to a soccer game with their coach. According to the story that has since been handed down, the radio was blasting songs with lyrics that were degrading to women. The girls were disgusted and became quite upset. The coach — who was also a youth worker — asked them what was wrong. They responded, “We are sick of the music on the radio! It is ridiculous, and the songs are so bad and horrible!”

Listening to their concerns the coach asked, “What would you guys do if you could do something about it?” Together they devised a plan to make their own radio station, host their own shows, and play the music they liked. He took the initiative to pursue his connections, and eventually pitched the idea to (then) Mayor Thomas Menino. The mayor loved the idea, and with his help GRLZ Radio was born.

Created in 2003, GRLZ Radio is a youth development program that hosts students from Dorchester and the neighboring communities to teach broadcasting and music production. It serves as platform for young ladies to have a voice in radio that is heard and respected.

“This is real life, real skill, a real actual thing that they can do,” said Saun Green Program Director of GRLZ Radio. “These skills are so transferrable because you have to research in every part of life, you have to make deadlines in every part of life, and you have to public speak in every part of life. Even if the girls aren’t particularly interested in going into a field of broadcasting, they take something away from this regardless.”

GRLZ Radio is currently streaming online, and is also featured on the TuneIn Radio app. It has about 4,500 listeners worldwide and is run entirely by girls. It has three sessions throughout the year. During the summer session, which runs from July through August, the girls are paid a stipend, and work five days a week for five hours a day, from 12-5pm. During the fall session (October to December) and the spring session (February to May), girls work for hourly pay after school until 7pm. In the summer, the live shows run for an hour and half each weekday. During the fall and spring, they last an hour.

A typical day at GRLZ Radio begins with the girls signing in and getting their research topics. Afterward, the training coordinator, Danielle Johnson, helps them edit their features for their radio programs. They work together to get the studio prepared for a live show, and then go on-air with guests. After the show, they do a rap-up and discuss how the girls thought they performed. The staff runs the show in a professional manner to emulate a work place environment.

“It gives them the opportunity to do it and not have to work at Footlocker or Dunkin Donuts,” said Green. “Not like there is anything wrong with that, but to be here and to be enriched in learning, they can actually do it because they can get paid for it.”

Photo courtesy of GRLZ Radio

Photo courtesy of GRLZ Radio

The funding for GRLZ Radio comes mostly from grants and donations. The radio station does not use commercials for profit, but they do plan to spotlight community events in the future.

Most of the girls hear about the jobs through word of mouth and also from outreach events. They reside in primarily urban neighborhoods around Boston. According to Green, 90 percent of the young women who participated in the program this past summer were involved with the Department of Children and Families. This usually means that they were in foster care, or had no parents, or had parents who were incarnated, and may not have had anyone looking after them.

“Many times the hugs and love that they get on a daily basis are just from us,” said Green. She added that even when the girls are on their day off, they frequently come in to help out. “They are facing some disgusting challenges and I can tell you so many things you will cry, but these girls are here fighting through all of that.”

For Jahtajia Austin, a high school senior at the Boston Green Academy in Brighton, and a peer leader for the upcoming fall session, being part of GRLZ radio has empowered her to become a leader. She says she is able to both make friends and be professional at the same time.

“I was always an outspoken person, but it was my first job and first place that I interacted with other girls, and at first I wasn’t speaking to other people,” said Austin. As she continued to work hard and gain leadership roles, she became more comfortable with the other girls.

Now, Austin is in charge of preparing the technical equipment for on-air shows. She also leads radio discussions, and writes and researches her stories while helping other girls research their own programs.

Before Austin met the current program director Saun Green, she didn’t have plans to continue her education. “I felt like I wasn’t good enough to go to college,” she said. “[Saun] put the confidence in me and now I’m going to go.”

Austin is now applying to college, and plans to major in social work and minor in communications.

The small, full-time staff consists of Saun Green as Program Director, Cori Bodley as Outreach Coordinator, and Danielle Johnson as Training Coordinator. The team works together as a family, and tries to both train the girls to be broadcast professionals and to create a space where they can speak their minds about their problems and personal concerns.

Johnson notes that since Green has worked in youth services for so many years, she has a gift for helping girls communicate. Johnson says that, “by the end of the day, the weight that they came in here with is gone by the time they leave.”

This past summer, the girls ran a show called “What’s Good in the Hood?” The topic highlighted all the positive community-based events in Dorchester that were overlooked by other media outlets. The major subject the girls discussed was why shootings and trauma were so frequently reported, while so many free worthwhile events were not.

Through reporting on topics close to their hearts, and by talking to guests ranging from government employees to teen moms, the GRLZ Radio workers learn a little bit from everyone in the community.

“It’s very hard to find all of that in one place. It’s kind of like having caviar and peanut butter all in one refrigerator,” said Green.

Working together, the staff, mentors, and girls involved in the show are able to transform difficult realities into positive solutions. They try to improve their surroundings through community outreach and the broadcast discussions on their phenomenal online radio station.


GRLZ Radio is part of the St. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, located on Cushing Avenue in Dorchester. The center hosts several programs that assist the lives of young women and their families, including a transitional shelter, General Education Department program, and employment opportunities. GRLZ Radio is the only prevention program on campus.