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This week I, along with a dedicated group of University of Tampa students and a Central Florida youth cultural arts nonprofit called Prodigy, will launch a community journalism program for teens.
Tampa Youth Voice will be an online youth media platform where young people in Tampa will tell their own stories, as well as those of their peers and their neighborhoods, from their own perspectives.
For me, this marks the culmination of years in which I’ve sought to bridge my previous professional history in journalism and teen social services with my scholarship on youth media and start an applied youth media project in our area. And obviously it marks the beginning of an exciting, terrifying new chapter as well.
Why terrifying? Because it has been a dream for so long. Because I feel that a great deal of personal validation hangs on its success. Because I have a lot of people looking at me to lead this thing in making the vision a reality.
My church started a new series this week called “Dream Year.” Our pastors are challenging us to let God fill our hearts and minds with his dreams for us. I can do that. The tough part is something else the pastor said Sunday.
If you can see exactly how your dream will become reality, if you’re not a little nervous about how it will all come together, then your dreams probably aren’t big enough.
The Lord has been hammering me pretty good recently with the truth that on my own I got nothing. I’ve been swallowing a big heaping helping of humility in this new year. To be fair, there have been some pretty great moments of encouragement, too. But the message that I can do little more than trust and obey is coming through loud and clear.
On Sunday the pastor used the story of Jacob, the dreamer, to kick off this series. It’s only when that fancy coat comes off that God can begin leading us where he wants us. Think you’re called to lead? You might not want to go trumpeting all the great things you’re going to do, or you might find yourself at the bottom of the pecking order in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable land.
The Lord has the most curious and remarkable ways of bringing us to the place of complete surrender. Only after this journey of faith and patience will he bring us to this place where our dreams—ahem, his dreams—come true.
I don’t know that I’m there yet, but I know there’s no way Tampa Youth Voice is going to succeed without him. I can’t do it. I can’t make it happen. I can’t make the youth buy into this vision. I can’t make my students truly invest themselves in these teens. I can’t make people listen to their stories.
But I’m here. I’m nervous, but I’m ready. My plans, my dreams are yours, Lord. Make them happen.
And as Tom Grosh IV reminds us: To God be the glory!
Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans (Proverbs 16:3).
About the author:
Jeff Neely is an assistant professor of journalism at The University of Tampa, where he teaches courses in newswriting, feature writing, multimedia journalism and literary journalism. His research has examined the role narrative and literary journalism can play in broadening our understanding of various issues and experiences life brings our way, from identity formation to environmental ethics. He has also studied how youth journalism programs, where young people tell their own stories and those of their peers, can help strengthen local communities. He is currently working with local non-profit outreach organizations to build a youth journalism program called Tampa Youth Voice. Prior to entering academe, Jeff worked as a writer and editor for various publications in and around the Tampa Bay area, as well as a case manager and resource development specialist for the Florida foster care system.