Interview by Marina Murayama Nir

There is some real magic that comes out of spaces that strike the perfect balance of creativity, friendship, learning, and collaboration. SHE CAST, the youth-led podcast of Chicago-based journaling and youth-empowerment non-profit, {she crew}, brilliantly bursts from the seams with energy, wisdom, positivity, and community. I reached out to program director Meredith Montgomery and two SHECASTers, Super and Just to talk about their work.

Thank you to Meredith Montgomery, Jessica London-Shields, Just, and Super for your time, energy, and leadership!


Questions for Facilitators

MMN: How did {she crew} and She Cast come about? What was your initial vision for the podcast, vs how it’s unfolding?

Meredith: Basically, {she crew} creates safe spaces for young people to investigate themselves as well as their peers through creative writing, performance, podcasting, cooking, and social justice 101 education. For the past five years, we have taken a holistic, feminist approach to supporting young people, and one way that we do this is by making all of our programs completely free of cost to all. We are based out of the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum which has both historical and living dedication to social justice in Chicago. SHE CAST is one of {she crew}’s programs that produce for youth by youth podcasting during the school year.
We got the idea for SHE CAST because we had a lot of the same participants year after year, and their writing skills, their collaborative abilities, and their personal voices were needing a larger stage. We were inspired by the discussions the {she crew}ers had with each other over meal-time and thought they had all the skills to do a podcast. So we pitched the idea to them, and they were down! We created the format of the show with the first group of SHE CASTers.

MMN: It seems like, at least for SHE CAST, the participants are actually in charge – what kind of role do facilitators take on? What are your relationships like with the participants?
Meredith: The SHE CASTers choose the topics of each podcast and they create all the content. Jess and I, the facilitators, help create the structure and focus necessary to tell a story. And that includes the structure of the day, so we are still creating ‘curriculum’ you could say. We also weigh in on the order of the episodes, since we get opportunities to interview people at different times, but they are very much in control of their voices and the content of the podcast. In the room, I would describe our relationship as collaborators more than a traditional teacher-student relationship.
MMN: What was the biggest learning experience for developing {she crew} and She Cast?
Meredith: I guess there’re a lot of things you don’t think about when you listen to podcasts. Like, when you are recording you have to create the energy of an audience without there being one, and that was something that everyone in the room was learning, facilitators and SHE CASTers. Also, just the stamina that is required for episodic projects, because as soon as you’re done with one episode you are onto another. I think that’s the biggest learning experience for SHE CREW. {she crew}’s summer intensive always makes us learn something new. Every cohort has its own personality, strengths, and areas for growth. Figuring out what makes every new group of people tic is challenging. Facilitating each {she crew} and SHE CAST program for us is magical because we witness the transformation of a group into an ensemble.
MMN: What kind of support do you sometimes wish that you had as facilitators, or as an organization?

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Meredith: We have a lot of support, or we couldn’t be doing what we are doing. We are a growing project though, and so we are always looking for more people to get involved! To support the podcast, subscribe, rate and review, share with a friend, don our feminist apparel (hand silkscreened feminist animal prints!) or people can donate on our website, shecrew.org. All of our programs are free, so we rely on the support of people, small businesses, and foundations to make what we do possible.
MMN: Do you have a long-term vision for {she crew} and SHE CAST?
Meredith: Yes! For SHE CAST we would love to have more episodes released more often. And for {she crew} as a whole, the programs have grown to address three major areas: expressive outlets and platforms (writing, performing, podcasting, cooking), social justice and representation, and addressing issues in mental health. We would like to expand how we address these areas through our programming.
MMN: What does collaboration look like to you?
Meredith: With {she crew} and SHE CAST, not getting in the way of what they want to say, but helping them say it in the strongest way possible.
MMN : How old are the current SHE CASTers?

Meredith: The She CASTers range in age from 14-16 years.

MMN : Why do you think it’s important to dedicate spaces specifically for women and gender-expansive people?

Meredith: Gender is weird. And gender can become a bigger deal in adolescence. Whether or not you are questioning your gender identity, our bodies change and we begin being treated differently. The tropes we have for ‘what it is to grow up’ are sometimes loosely/sometimes closely based on gender roles. We wanted a space where we could question and delve into that. With this age it’s good to talk about all aspects of identity, such as race, geography or sexual orientation, and we do a good deal of that as well. But it can be helpful to have an area of semi-commonality, in this case, marginalization on the basis of gender. As facilitators, my wife and I are both female identified but present very differently, which I hope is a gentle maybe subliminal reminder to the participants that there is not just one way to be.

MMN: Are there any questions you wish we would ask?
Meredith: How to interact with the SHE CASTers!
We wanted SHE CAST to be able to be interactive. So we have a peer advice section (because the kids give such thoughtful advice to each other) that we call Tea Time. It’s called that because they really like to drink tea. Not a tea party reference. So If you are a young person (or an adult!) that wants to ask some advice from the SHE CASTers, send it in to shecast.podcast@gmail.com . The SHE CASTers will be so happy to spill your Tea!

Questions for SHE CASTers
The following questions were answered by SHE CASTers, Just and Super.

MMN: What is your approach to creating an episode?

Just: It starts with a conversation over breakfast. On Saturdays, we show up in the morning, have a cup of tea and a bagel, sit down and catch up and vent. We realize we are really up in our feelings about a particular issue, and decide we want to talk about it further. That’s how it starts.

MMN: What do you – as young people – think is especially important that you think us old people miss out on?

Super: Knowing our side of the story. Old people like to believe their narratives about our generation. They keep saying social media is ruining the world. But it helps people who have trouble interacting in person and gives them a way to communicate with people that is easier for them.

Just: Yeah, I think along with that there is an “our generation is self-absorbed” narrative and an “our generation is apathetic” narrative, because we grow up with cell phones. But we are actually the most informed generation because of our phones. And we don’t just use it to connect with our friends, it connects us to everything. Like with #MarchForOurLives we see that we don’t need to hand over our movements to adults for them to be successful. And we don’t need adults representing our causes. Teenagers are more radical than adults anyway because we are willing to see ourselves as the change that needs to happen.

MMN: What episode are you most proud of?

Just: I love all of them. But my favorite is either our most recent, Family Matters, because we did a really good job with our interview with Michele Jones Galvin, and Stories Without Borders because I am really proud of the poetry in that one.

Super: I like Female the Remix because I like how we talked about beauty standards. But I think my favorite is Ode to my Bully because I think I could really relate to the topic. I put my heart and soul into that one, and I think other people can relate too.

Listen to Family Matters here:

MMN: How do you stay positive, even though your episodes revolve around the issues that affect other youth?

Super: I think we are doing a good thing by talking about things that some people are afraid to talk about.

Just: Like what Super said, someone said to me the other day “You have to see the glass half empty so you know to fill the glass.” And I think that’s really true. We are talking about issues, but at least we are talking about them. And it is alleviating to talk about things that you might not be able to talk about with your family or with your friends at school. I feel like we are putting ourselves in a position where other people can relate to us or what we are talking about. And that can be empowering, and when people are empowered they are more likely to do something.

MMN: Do you have advice for other people your age, when it comes to organizing and executing creative work?

Super: Just do it. Because you don’t know who you can help and what you can do. You never know how impactful something is going to be. And even if it doesn’t become a big thing with a hashtag, you should still follow what you care about.

Just: Be passionate and know what you’re talking about. If you are going to do creative activist work, be confident in yourself and know that what you are doing is powerful. Because I think people are afraid that if it doesn’t become a big thing if it stays grassroots, it isn’t important. And I don’t think that’s true at all. Even if it’s just a few people like your friends and your friend’s friends, you are still part of something much bigger.

MMN: What does collaboration look like to you?

Super: I think collaboration is a group of people that are getting something done. Collaboration is when everyone is included. At SHE CAST Jess and Mere include

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everyone to be a part of everything.

Just: I think that collaboration at SHE CAST is when we bring in our personal experiences and our own work that is all about us, and then we build on top of each other. And when we add things together no one is dismissed from the conversation. We don’t say “You don’t have this experience so you can’t talk about this.” We think that no matter what your experience and perspective are valuable. And it unifies into a bigger thing. But then you can also take it apart and say “hey this is a little bit of Super, or a little bit of Burr ” or any of the SHE CASTers.

MMN: Are there any questions you wish we would ask?

Just: Um. I wish you asked, what’s our favorite thing about each other? Cause in addition to being a podcast we are also a community of people. Ya know, just makin stuff out here. And… Meredith wants me to answer my own question. Okay: In general. SHE CAST is such a safe space for me. And I think we bring out the best parts of each other. I can talk to Burr and Super and Pinkie and everyone about stuff forever. And the same passion I see in myself I also see in the other people at SHE CAST. Because I can feel really isolated, like at school when people read or see something on the news and they’re like “Oh that doesn’t really impact me.” But it does, it really does though. Also, before, like when I was in 6th grade, I used to separate myself a lot from people. Because I thought that if they didn’t have the same background as me they couldn’t possibly understand where I was coming from. But at SHE CAST we can be so different, but still hate on Kylie Jenner together, you know?

Super: I wish you asked how to support SHE CAST!

Just: Good one, Super!

Super: There are a lot of ways you can support SHE CAST: you can subscribe to our podcast, SHE CAST. I think we are now on all the podcast platforms now. And be sure to rate us on iTunes. Also! You can get merch from our website at shecrew.org or you can donate!shecast3

You can buy shirts and pins from {she crew} and SHE CAST
here, or support them through Patreon!

Marina Murayama Nir is an editor at Culturework.