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Amber Sherman

Interview by Sydnie Davis.

Audio Transcription

Sydnie Davis  00:02

Okay. All right, Amber, let me ask you a couple of preliminary questions. What is your name? Full Name? Please.


Amber Sherman  00:14

Amber Sherman. a m b e r  s h e r m a n.


Sydnie Davis  00:19

And where are you located?


Amber Sherman  00:20

I live in Memphis.


Sydnie Davis  00:23

Okay. And are you comfortable with this being recorded and being used in our podcast?


Amber Sherman  00:31



Unknown Speaker  00:34

All right, so I'm gonna get started. Thank you so much for meeting with me. You know, we're working as a group to put this podcast together about the history and kind of just the people behind Teen Appeal, which was such a fun and innovative program. In the early 90s, in our late 90s, early 2000s, in terms of a Memphis, city wide, high school newspaper, it was it was definitely one of a kind. And, you know, it's disappeared in the last few years. And I believe you're part of the last class one of the last class of Teen Appeal. And so could you just tell me what inspired you to join Teen Appeal? In the beginning?


Amber Sherman  01:21

Yeah, I was really into because I liked writing. And I was on the yearbook committee at the time, but I wasn't really doing anything on year book. Because the main people who do most of the work on yearbook were seniors and I was a junior. So I started to work on it for a day and it was really fun.


Sydnie Davis  01:41

How many years like what year did you start? How many years? Were you in the program?


Amber Sherman  01:46

Two years, I did my junior year, my senior year of high school.


Sydnie Davis  01:53

Do you remember like what your position was on within the group? Like, did you? What did you do specifically?


Amber Sherman  02:01

I was a writer. And then I was an editor in my senior year.


Sydnie Davis  02:05

Really cool. What was one of your favorite part, like one of your favorite projects that you worked on?


Amber Sherman  02:12

Um, I wrote a story about art education funding. Senior year, I wrote something about them trying to like close down our school, the community school, like school, like in a neighborhood. And it was on like, the list to be closed down. And it was a lot of like, activism and movement around that.


Sydnie Davis  02:34

No, that's really cool. You you currently are an activist, you know, involved in a bunch of you. I mean, you are definitely supporting the Memphis and local local area communities. I mean, would you say that being a part of something like Teen Appeal shaped that or do you think it just may be supported a little bit all your


Amber Sherman  02:58

I would definitely say that being a part of Teen Appeal me feel like I had a voice and really, me an outlet. And that kind of geared me towards doing more organizing, like type of work, and more activism side work. Also, you have a very serious reporter voice.


Sydnie Davis  03:20

No, I, I have to, I'm trying to I'm trying to keep it professional, trying to make sure trying to make sure that we get all the hard hitting questions because like Teen Appeal was such an innovative program. I mean, it was it was created out of the necessity of bringing the you know, Journalism and Creative Writing to an area that was essentially underrepresented, you know, upper underrepresented, especially in those City Schools. You know, Shelby County has a very specific demographic, and we noticed that, you know, these creative writing programs just were non existent. Yeah. They were they were almost, I don't think they were absolutely you know, and the fact that this program ran it went on for so many years and actually won awards, you know, speaks volumes, one of the things that we are trying to, you know, shine a little bit of light on it's just the fact that it ended what, uh, you know, in terms of, I the program is no longer


Amber Sherman  04:25

I honestly don't know what happens in the field program, I just realized I wasn't really seeing much about it anywhere. Um, I do feel like the adults, especially like on school board or other things did not like Teen Appeal that much because of some of them more like the stories that were more geared around activism or like pushing back against narratives that they didn't necessarily like, and definitely had a piece in it.


Sydnie Davis  05:00

Yeah, it felt like you're kind of going against the grain, especially with the leadership individuals. 


Amber Sherman  05:07

Yeah, I feel like some people don't agree with the superintendent or don't necessarily agree with the school leadership, they'll look for ways to not have those people let those people have a voice basically.


Sydnie Davis  05:19

Well, you know, the the name of the podcast is Disappearing Ink, you know, not only, you know, not only is it a program that is no longer, but the resources and the opportunities, that Teen Appeal brought to those students are fastly fading, especially when you consider the fact that high school newspapers are really becoming obsolete, just with the emergence of social media and digital communication. I mean, there were just a lot of really cool things to be a part of, and, you know, you mentioned, you know, some of those hard hitting questions or hard hitting articles that kind of pushed against, you know, can you describe a particularly challenging article or project that you worked on during that time? You know, and how, you know, maybe give us a little bit of how you guys overcame it, or dealt with some of the pushback?


Amber Sherman  06:10

Well, I think just the the push back against arts funding, like that was a big thing. When I was in school, we had different arts programs, but they dwindled quite a bit. And it's more like a overtaken or like a optional school that was geared towards those type of programs, like towards arts, like you didn't have that in the title of your school, or that was down for, you didn't get funding for that. And so those programs just kind of disappeared. And I think they, US writing about them, but also like, pushing against the narratives of of, you know, schools and predominantly white neighborhoods not having art funding was kind of a turn off for them too. Because it, it pushed against that narrative of, you know, we're doing the best we can for our students, when realistically, we're only giving the people who we feel are talented enough, or are deserving enough or are willing to go to optional school, the money to continue arts programming, and because overtuned is award winning, and they can keep their funding, but Carver High School, no, I mean, they aren't doing anything with it. They don't need the funding, like that's kind of how it was viewed.


Sydnie Davis  07:19

Yeah, no, that's super unfortunate. I mean, I'm assuming and just reading through the articles that you guys said a lot to support, you know, support the community, you know, what impact do you think that had had on the community and maybe even yourself personally.


Amber Sherman  07:37

I think it tied in, like community voice, that when folks different that didn't necessarily have a place for community voice, and it made it more accessible. So someone who can't necessarily go to school were meeting at three o'clock on in the middle of the week, but they can speak to someone from a newspaper, or a voice their concerns and those concerns are gonna get hurt because they're going to disseminate that newspaper to all these different students in different communities. I think that that did make a difference.


Sydnie Davis  08:05

And that's really cool. You know, how did it you know, outside of just supporting our community, you know, you said it affected yourself personally, you know, how do you believe it Teen Appeal helped develop your skills like in writing and editing and communication you know, that's the other half was like it was supporting the community but it was also meant to shape the students that were in the program.


Amber Sherman  08:32

Um, I definitely think it contributed a bit especially like my editing skills, I wouldn't really say my writing skills because I was already an impeccable writer. But I did the high school too. And I think they made it easier to edit my speeches and stuff like that for debate and give more of like a creative outlet to kind of decide what I want to focus on like what kind of writing I want to do really opened my eyes to like other avenues around like investigative journalism and stuff like that


Sydnie Davis  09:07

It's really nice. What do you what would you say was your most rewarding experience? You know, you were there for two years 15-16-17-18. In this program, where all it's all in front of you. You know what what do you look back on and just think man I'm so I was so glad to be a part of that.


Amber Sherman  09:29

I think that it was a definitely an interesting time. Really helped me form relationships with people because I didn't live in the community where I went to school. So it kind of gave me a group of friends to kind of develop those social skills, but also kind of helped me really hone in on something I thought I was good at, but you know, you never can be too sure. So it really gave me an outlet for that like to be able to write and various tones like investigative writing, creative. I'm just paying NPCs kind of got to do my own thing. I think that that having that kind of outlet gives folks a chance to like, think beyond just writing for a school newspaper, like, what else can I do with these skill sets? And like, how else can they be applied?


Sydnie Davis  10:16

Yeah, it was bigger than just a newspaper, this. To use this word sparingly, it was essentially a safe space, it was a space that you were able to be current, you know, creative, and have an outlet, you know, even at such a young age. Even before you realize it before you realize that this was something that you really wanted to do you know, professionally.


Amber Sherman  10:41

Yeah, I definitely think that it gave me a safe space, because I mean, nerdy black kids are not the most liked in high school. So it definitely gave me a safe space to kind of figure out, you know, what I want to do, but also feel comforted in my regular nerdiness.


Sydnie Davis  10:59

That's really nice. So I mean, it seems like you were around a lot of like minded individuals, like how did you guys work together? How did you guys come up with the actual stories? It was a big group project every, every every release? Like, how did that look? Like? What was the process like?


Amber Sherman  11:17

To me, it feels like, you know, you see, like all movies. And I have like those pitch meetings, when people are pitching different audiences. I felt like people were just like sitting around my desk and like, just pitching different stuff. And now when I see that and move with, like, it's exactly what we were doing. That's crazy. Little digital.


Sydnie Davis  11:32

Do you remember one, one that just kind of sits out to you like one that you just can't remember off the top of your head, like a fun article that maybe got people really riled up?


Amber Sherman  11:48

Wasn't a fun article, but the the one that had the most just patient was the stuff around them closing our school, because it was a consistent effort. Like they tried to close it several times.


Sydnie Davis  11:59

What year do you remember what year that was?


Amber Sherman  12:03



Sydnie Davis  12:07

And you mentioned earlier, like, the arts funding went to schools that were essentially labeled with arts, like art high schools. No, predominantly, you know, what did that, like? What was the difference in the clientless? The schools like, what did that population demographic look like? Between like, maybe your school that they were trying to close down, and the other schools that seemingly got funding fairly easily?


Amber Sherman  12:36

I think they, people do look at numbers versus like, community a lot. And it was a smaller school. I mean, my graduating class, and I have a lot of people in it. And the population for the school was maybe like 103, to 200 students, it wasn't a lot in total. Yeah, like, and so well, a smaller high school, but I feel like that's kind of what you should expect from community schools to kind of make, like at the school is in a neighborhood, that's kind of what you should expect. So usually, the bigger schools with like 1000s of students, were getting that funding, but it's not really fair considering that the after school program, it's definitely not the pitch for so like, your parents don't stand in a line and do a lottery for it. Like it's my getting older. And so to give them more money, because they have more students, because they had like, more award winning, quote, unquote, programs, when realistically award winning just me they had a lot of money to fund the programs. And so they were more likely to have to enter competitions. That's because they were seen in that way. They were given more funding, and it just isn't. It's statistically, there's a lot of discrepancies there. Because people can skew data and look however they want. But realistically, if you find ours in all schools, everyone is going to benefit. And it's discriminatory to only fund the schools that are quote unquote, award winning.


Sydnie Davis  14:06

Because then it could be said that Teen Appeal was an award winning program. And it was at you know, those smaller community schools, but yet they still face you know, closing. So the real question is, was it about their wars, or was it about something else?


Amber Sherman  14:24

Yeah. And your investigative journalism voice.


Unknown Speaker  14:30



Sydnie Davis  14:31

You know, newspapers are, I don't want to say dying, but they're not they're definitely not as popular as maybe they would have been during the time of Teen Appeal, are hoping that with looking back on the history of this program, that maybe it could inspire a new program. If you could be involved hypothetically, with this new program, you know, maybe what would it what would it look like? Or is there something that maybe you would want to make sure was in select something that the students would have to be involved in, especially looking at it in the year of 2023. Compared to like, 2011, 2012, when you were there.


Amber Sherman  15:13

I think you don't have to reinvent the wheel, I think offering the option to students, people are going to want to participate. And I think that Teen Appeal had a great model. And that it was open to all students. And I wasn't selective. I think that that's a good model to have. And by offering again, people sign up.


Sydnie Davis  15:31

And I guess my last question is, you know, what advice would you give to a high school student who's interested in journalism, investigative writing, creative writing, especially thinking about the students who are still in the Shelby County School System? Oh,


Amber Sherman  15:50

I would tell them to look for programs that are similar to Teen Appeal, they might not be offered in schools. And even outside of there just to practice your writing, like, you can always pick a story idea that you see online and write something about it. And it doesn't have to be like perfect, you can kind of perfect those skills. YouTube is really good for like, you know, different questions was in my head about writing styles and stuff like that, but I think they, they should just go for it. And whatever access they had, and then they're able to find a program that's similar to Teen Appeal or like a summer program or summer writing program, that's always helpful. But even still, like, is doing.


Sydnie Davis  16:33

Actually, I have one more question. You know, you are part of Teen Appeal. You are a writer, and then an editor. So you were able to see it from kind of both sides. In your current profession, you know, what do you do now? Like, would you say that it was almost directly related to what you were doing as an editor, or as a writer.


Amber Sherman  16:53

Um, it's quite similar. I mean, I don't get paid to write but I do have a blog and a podcast, and I use those. I think I use those skills all the time. And I've written a lot of op eds and stuff too, like for newspapers. Yeah, a lot, probably about like, four or five, but I read what I read quite a bit about investigative stuff and other issues, like different types of things. So I definitely think that it helped me to stay consistent with both things. I mean, I started doing it like in high school, and I still do it now. So I definitely think it sparked a skill in me that I didn't necessarily use it out then and now use of time.


Sydnie Davis  17:37

Oh, that's great. Well, thank you Amber. I really appreciate your interview with us and we will be in touch.

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