DEF and VOX ATL partner to help give Decatur teenagers a voice


Facilitator and Decatur High School student Laolu Oguneye pictured conducting a conversation on three things students will take home after the Dec 7 “Speak Up” Session.

Grant Whitley

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, VOX ATL hosted “Speak Up Decatur”, a student-led discussion panel about issues teenagers face in Decatur. Vox is a student-written journalism program whose goal is to promote “uncensored and unedited youth voices in the city of Atlanta,” VOX alumni Chiron said.

Chiron mediated the conversation along with City Schools of Decatur students who are known as facilitators. Decatur High School (DHS) junior James Watson learned of “Speak Up Decatur” through a friend and was trained to be a facilitator by VOX ATL employees along with other Decatur students. 

In this session, Watson and other facilitators brought up questions such as “What is the biggest issue for students at Decatur High School?,” and the subsequent “How do we solve this problem?”

The Decatur Education Foundation (DEF) partnered with VOX ATL to host these “Speak Up” sessions. “The partnership came from the DEF wanting and needing to accommodate teenagers in Decatur instead of turning to adults to see the issues in our community,” Chiron said.

Watson believes that a benefit of the program is the fact that teenagers run it. “I believe this makes most teenagers feel more comfortable within the space. I think that this is also beneficial because teenagers are more likely to understand ways to aid their peers than per se a grown adult,” Watson stated.

The Executive Director of the DEF, Gail Rothman, stated that DEF is planning on looking into where the DEF could invest funds based on what we hear from youth in Decatur during the “Speak Up Decatur” sessions.

“DEF did a pilot partnership with VOX ATL last spring to learn from students what was helping or hurting their mental health. From that, we saw how important it was to really listen to and center the lived experience of youth in Decatur. So often, adults just decide what kids need and we are really changing the way we operate to be more youth-centered,” Rothman said 

Rather than the VOX employees running the meeting, “Speak up Decatur” and VOX itself made a conscious effort to have student facilitators lead this conversation. 

“Our mission is to solve the challenges facing youth in Decatur and coming out of the pandemic, we really don’t know what it is like to be a young person who came through that experience so we need to listen in order to know what the issues are that need to be addressed,” Rothman said.