Image for A new school teaches children from low-income families to be journalists

A new school teaches children from low-income families to be journalists

The founder of the UK’s first major Black children’s magazine has now opened a journalism school that champions diversity and creativity

The founder of the UK’s first major Black children’s magazine has now opened a journalism school that champions diversity and creativity

It may be better known for its steel bands, jerk pits and sound systems, but next month’s Notting Hill Carnival has a new addition to the line-up: a team of journalists as young as five.

Students of The Cocoa School of Journalism and Creative Arts, which opened in April, will be recording videos, carrying out interviews and writing articles. And they will all be published in Cocoa Girl and Cocoa Boy, the UK’s first Black children’s magazines.

“We want these children to have real life experiences. We give children real briefs,” explains Serlina Boyd (pictured), the woman behind both projects. “I was told as a child: ‘Keep your head down, don’t talk too much, just remember you’re the ‘other’.’ Now there comes a generation who want to show the world what they can do – and we’re giving them the platform to do that.”

The after-school club ran its first classes during the Easter holidays, offering three days of sessions across creative writing, graphic design and magazine creation. Some 30 students aged between five and 17 were coached to write their own stories without the use of iPads, phones or any other forms of tech – “just beautiful handwritten stories,” Boyd says. “When the parents came and listened to what the children had written, they were blown away,” she adds.

Based in Beckenham, south London, the school launched its second course in May, a weekly Sunday session looking at the intersection of fashion design and journalism. More classes will run in the summer holidays, where students will design costumes to be worn by dancers in the Notting Hill Carnival parade.

Tickets to the workshops cost £25 per pupil, however funded places are available to families on low incomes, thanks to a ‘sponsor a place’ scheme Boyd runs on LinkedIn. At the Easter workshops, half of all the places were funded by donations from people in Boyd’s community.

“We want these children to have real life experiences,” says Serlina Boyd

She explains: “All that we’re doing is done with no funding. We have had donations from people – we put out a post on LinkedIn asking if anyone wants to sponsor a child – but we don’t want to wait until we have the money. We want to do it now. And I’m glad we’re doing it: these children absolutely love it.”

For Boyd, it’s a natural extension of her work at Cocoa Girl, which began in 2020 as a project with her daughter Faith, now aged 10. After a trip to the supermarket to try to buy a magazine, she was struck by a lack of publications that celebrated their culture. It was perhaps unsurprising, given that 94% of UK editors are white, according to the latest industry figures. A second magazine, Cocoa Boy, launched just a few months later.

“I thought: ‘Surely there’s something’. And there wasn’t,” Boyd tells Positive News. “So, I decided it would be our Covid project. I gave [Faith] a lolly to hold and we then photographed our front cover shot – which completely went viral.”

Cocoa Girl launched in 2020 as a 'Covid project'. The first issue sold 11,000 copies

The initial issue went on to sell more than 11,000 copies, and subsequent editions are now being distributed to schools and families across the UK, along with Cocoa Boy. The team has also run 20 free journalism and writing workshops in schools to increase literacy skills and inspire those from underrepresented backgrounds to consider a future in journalism.

Crucially, children remain the driving force. Faith is still the magazine’s editor-in-chief and young people put together every issue, whether that’s inputting on design or interviewing the likes of The Little Mermaid’s Halle Bailey or the UK’s first Black female MP Diane Abbott.

When the parents came and listened to what the children had written, they were blown away

The magazine touches on current events too. The team stopped the presses of the latest edition to include a tribute to Daniel Anjorin, the 14-year-old who was killed in a sword attack in east London in April.

Boyd is also proud of a piece about vitiligo, a condition where pigment is lost in areas of the skin, which a young reader found helpful. “She was saying that she read about vitiligo in our magazine and now she understands the condition. There’s a girl in her class that has it – and she’ll be kind to her.”

But Boyd is keen to stress that Cocoa magazines are for everyone. “Cocoa is not just about hearing Black stories,” she explains. “It’s about hearing everybody’s stories.”

Three things that give me hope, by Serlina Boyd

1. Fresh confidence
My daughter’s generation are saying: ‘No, I’m going to speak up. I’m going to do whatever it takes to see a difference.’

2. A subject in Vogue
Cocoa is influencing other massive brands. We did a [bubble ponytail] hairstyle on our front cover which has never been done before. A couple of months later Vogue did the exact same hairstyle.

3. The joy of learning
Parents said they’ve never seen their children be so happy. Children say they want to learn. They’re doing it in their holidays and voluntarily come back. That’s what gives me joy.

Main image: SeventyFour/iStock

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