U.S. Ambassador Joseph called the conversation, “tremendous.” “I almost thought professionals were interviewing me,” he said.
While the radio booth had long been silent, the Learning Lab was still bustling with activity: loud declarations by the students of whom to interview next and soft-spoken words of praise from the teachers, administrators, and other community members that had come. In the middle of it all sat former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa, James Joseph, praising his student interviewers and signing his book.
With help from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, five students in the Youth Radio apprenticeship were able to interview Ambassador Joseph about his life in the Jim Crow South, his progression to the ambassador, serving under four presidents, and his book Saved for a Purpose. The students were Ozzy Mendez, Dylan Donato, Danny White, Dilano Williams, Janee Johnson, and Leah Kardulis.
Ambassador Joseph introduced himself to them by telling them that they were “engaging with the primary art of leadership, which is communication.” During the second half of the interviews, he even remarked that many journalists weren’t well prepared as the JMA students. He called the conversation “tremendous. I almost thought professionals were interviewing me.”
In addition to the ambassador, the Youth Radio students impressed the many adults in the room.
“They were well prepared, well thought out, and most importantly, they listened to the answers, and they could follow up with what they heard. It was clear that they had read the book and the ambassador’s face just lit up because he knew they had. I know that doesn’t happen overnight, and I know that they had guidance and help from all the grown-ups around. The whole team just did an amazing job,” said Nancy Benben, a member of the Hartford Foundation.
Linda Kelly, president of the Hartford Foundation, who was at the Learning Lab for the interview, said to the group, “I enjoyed spending time with you all so much. You really are great. You’re poised, you’re self-confident, you did your research, and you asked fantastic questions.”
That much was evidenced when directly after the interview, Tikeyah Whittle, Education Specialist, led the students in a debriefing of their interview.
“What do you think you did well and what do you want to work on?” says Whittle, who worked with the five students over the course of the semester as their Youth Radio apprenticeship instructor.
While the students were eager to critique themselves, they were even quicker to complement each other. “I need to work on starting better because I was pretty shaky in the beginning,” said Dilano. “But you bounced back,” interrupted another student.
When they were quizzed about what they had learned from the experience, the group was again quick to answer.
“I learned that a lot of it is mental,” said Danny. “I thought it was going to be harder than it actually was, like writing it down and doing all the research. The book was fun, I liked reading it, but before, all that was in my head was ‘the ambassador’s coming, don’t mess up.’”
Even with all of their preparation and ready questions, the students did have their fears and bouts of nervousness. “This is his book; he knows what he wrote. So you have to really be aware of what you’re talking about the whole time,” one student said.
“I wanted to get better at follow-ups. Follow-up questions are never easy, but I would just ask him the question, take what he said, and then ask the question in a different way,” said Danny.
“That’s a good way to make someone elaborate,” encouraged Whittle. “And sometimes it’s not always a question; it’s a clarification.”
The interview and reception afterward served as an end-of-year celebration for the students, for whom this was their last project, and for the coaches who had helped them prepare for meeting the ambassador.
Ozzy summarized his interview experience, shyly announcing that “the whole process was challenging but exciting at the same time because we had to do research, had to write our questions and when we actually got to the interview, I think we all learned a little bit more about him.”
Afterward, their instructor rounded up the critique. “Who’s next?” said Whittle, “Who are we interviewing next?”
“I would maybe do this again if it were Obama, definitely John Cena,” replied Dylan.