For these girls, it's word power

With a new radio station, they hope to spread a positive message

By Monica Rhor, Globe Staff, 1/19/2004

Lola Oladimeji colors her hair to match the clothes she designs herself: ruby red like her Mary Jane shoes one day, shaded sapphire the next. Roberta Rezil wears the hippest Rocawear and Ecko gear with just the right balance of casual and carefully coordinated. Maria Xavier sports tiny jeweled studs that glitter from her chin and nose. These teenagers look good and they know it.

But the girls are also honor-roll and straight-A students with Ivy League aspirations. They don't shrink when outsiders disparage their troubled Dorchester neighborhood or look down on their Cape Verdean, Haitian, and Latino roots. Nor do they accept negative labels anyone else thrusts upon them, such as the crude pick-up lines taken from hip-hop songs and rap videos that boys on the streets try to use on them.

Two years ago, the girls decided to fight fire with fire. If many popular songs use derogatory and sexually abusive terms to refer to young women, then maybe they should put out their own message -- on their own radio station.

This month, what once seemed to the girls a far-fetched dream is set to become reality, when the all-girls radio station R-LOG (540 AM) starts broadcasting from the fourth floor of a women's center in Dorchester.

Behind the microphones, control panels, the programming, and the station's motto -- ''Where the voices of young women are heard and respected'' -- will be 12 teenage girls.

They are determined to provide young women with an alternative to what they say is a hip-hop culture that equates money and material possessions with status and success, and treats women like cheap baubles to scoop up, show off, then toss away.

''No woman ever deserves to be called a name. But other girls on the street don't have high self-esteem. They let men talk to them like that,'' said Oladimeji, 15, a sophomore at Fenway High School. ''We want them to know they don't have to accept that.''

The founders of R-LOG are first-generation immigrants who grew up around Bowdoin Street and Geneva Avenue where obstacles abound and opportunities are scarce, where drive-by shootings and street violence often overshadow the accomplishments of young people such as Stephanie Alves and Karlemis Castillo.

They first met through after-school recreational programs at the Log School, an alternative school in Dorchester, and soon realized they had much in common. They were high achievers, with their eyes on college and careers in community development -- and they were vocal in their rejection of the negative attitudes toward women in some urban music.

''We wanted to create a sisterhood in the community, to show other girls that you're not what the music portrays you to be,'' said Alves, 18, a student at Boston College whose family immigrated from Cape Verde. ''You can listen to hip-hop, but then you have a choice: You can decide that's what I can do or what I'm not going to do.''

In March 2002, at the prodding of Larry Mayes, the Log School director, Alves, Castillo, and three other girls brought their cause to Mayor Thomas M. Menino, who pledged his support on the spot. This helped convince the eventual funders -- Mellon Bank, the United Way, and the Hayden Foundation -- of the credibility of the project.

In early December, workers equipped a fourth-floor corner at St. Mary's Women and Infants Center in Dorchester with sound equipment and DJ tables and set up a transmitter on the roof. R-LOG was no longer just an idea. It was a radio station.

''Words are so powerful. Words got us here,'' said Castillo, 20, a junior at Temple University in Philadelphia who serves on the radio station's advisory board and visited the new studio recently. ''Now, the message we're going to send out is powerful.''

Castillo and Alves's dream has almost come true, but the hardest work is still ahead.

With the clock ticking toward their official launch, the girls of R-LOG have shifted into high gear.

Every day after school, they spend a few hours at the station, where a sign on the door reads: ''Only Positive Attitudes Beyond This Point.'' There, they sit behind the control panels, honing their on-air personas, writing copy, and learning to decipher a maze of buttons and knobs.

Although some of the original founders are now away at college, the R-LOG lineup includes one of the founders, Dalida Rocha, 19, who graduated from high school with a 3.8 grade point average, four years after emigrating from Cape Verde. The other spots were quickly filled by other girls from the Log School, ranging in age from 13 to 18.

They want R-LOG to reflect their voices and their lives -- in everything from commercials to programming.

They say they do not want their station to preach, lecture, or pass judgments -- the kind of things young people might tune out. They plan to have call-in shows where listeners can talk about what's going on in their neighborhood or in their lives. They are also planning current-events programs, and features such as segments for Black History Month on women of color who have made a difference.

''Out there, there are a lot of girls who feel alone sometimes,'' said Maria Xavier, a senior at John D. O'Bryant High School in Roxbury. ''We want them to know there's always someone to talk to. Just let the bad things flow over your head.''

One of the toughest programming decisions they have made was to leave hip-hop and rap off the playlist. It was too hard to find songs that don't put women down, the teens said. Instead, R-LOG's musical blend will consist mainly of reggae, and neosoul, ballads, and Cape Verdean dance music.

At a recent recording session to practice writing and on-air skills, some of the girls were taping mock commercials for local businesses. The results were lively and funny.

''T-Stop! The place that drops the bomb seasonings on food,'' Oladimeji said, using street slang for ''the best.''

''Hey, Girls! I just got my nails done. Michelle's salon just hooked me up. . . and their prices are off the hook,'' said Deja Walker, 15. ''So, go out and get your nails did!''

The author of the text, Roberta Rezil, 17, chuckled at the deliberately fractured syntax, which she had intended as a parody of both the slang of the streets and the advertisers who use it to try to appeal to urban consumers.

Capturing R-Log's message in a soundbite, she boasted in jest: ''I'm good!''

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 1/19/2004.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

R LOG is a Youth Entertainment Studios Partner.

 

smalltext


One of the girls interviews Boston Mayor Tom Menino

 

 

Two years ago, the girls decided to fight fire with fire. If many popular songs use derogatory and sexually abusive terms to refer to young women, then maybe they should put out their own message -- on their own radio station.

 

 


 

''Words are so powerful. Words got us here,'' said Castillo, 20, a junior at Temple University in Philadelphia who serves on the radio station's advisory board and visited the new studio recently. ''Now, the message we're going to send out is powerful.''

 

 

 

 

''Out there, there are a lot of girls who feel alone sometimes,'' said Maria Xavier, a senior at John D. O'Bryant High School in Roxbury. ''We want them to know there's always someone to talk to. Just let the bad things flow over your head.''