This month we say goodbye to an amazing colleague and friend, Silvia Rivera, who has transformed our work over the past 3+ years. We’re so lucky to have worked with such a thoughtful, mission driven, and incredibly fun person. Here are Silvia’s parting words of wisdom on the LPC stage:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.
That was on the postcard that I gave William Kennard, the first Black Chairman of the FCC, in a meeting to petition for a wattage increase for a Class D radio station in Chicago, WRTE-FM, Radio Arte. I was 18, and the station operated at 10 watts, covering a densely populated Mexican community on the southwest side of Chicago. Latino youth primarily programmed it, and we hoped for an exception to operate at 100 watts. “This isn’t just about a power increase,” I argued, “It’s about an empowerment increase.”
Sometime after, we received special approval to operate at 73 watts, making us the country’s most powerful class D radio station, with a signal covering about 500,000 people in Chicago. The programming we curated included a dynamic mix of Latin and urban alternative music and provided us with a platform to discuss and report on issues that impacted our community, such as immigration, gentrification, LGBTQ+ rights, etc.
We were a small radio station among commercial and public radio giants, but we knew our community best. We listened to the community, we were of the community, we were the community. The community trusted us. The power of civic media became apparent early in my professional career.
I’ve been reflecting on my time at Radio Arte as I close out another chapter of my personal and professional life with the Listening Post Collective. For the past three years, I’ve had the honor of working as the Senior Business Strategist for LPC. In this journey, I’ve grown close to partners who launched their civic media organizations because of a clear need in their community. Because if they didn’t do it, nobody else would serve their information needs or do so in a genuine way. Projects like Conecta Arizona, Documented, uSpark, Frontline Observer, The Space, El Tímpano, and Lede are exemplary in listening to their community and responding to their needs. The sweat equity our partners put into their work is unparalleled, and they do so not because of bottom lines but because these communities deserve to be served.
Their challenges have often felt similar to those I faced when I eventually grew into the role of g.m. at Radio Arte. Among them was the challenge of convincing funders and those with influence that my community was worthy of support and that our work was still essential, even though our sustainability pie looked different from that of a community with affluence. And that our reach still mattered, even though our audience numbers felt negligible to them.
Reflecting on this, I realize that the landscape has changed significantly over the years, thanks to social media, technology, and collaborations. The reach and impact of civic media outlets have expanded in ways we could have never imagined just two decades ago. However, one thing remains constant – the projects and organizations that become essential do so by actively listening and engaging their communities.
LPC’s partners are adeptly using the tools at their disposal because that’s where their community leads them. For instance, Conecta Arizona has leveraged WhatsApp to build a community in Arizona and Sonora and has now become a multi-platform civic information hub. El Tímpano is using video dispatches to expand its reach and impact by connecting with the Bay Area’s Mam Community, while Documented is having two-way conversations with NYC’s Caribbean community on Nextdoor.
Today, there is a renewed appreciation for the power of community-centered news and information in our society. Local media’s influence and importance have taken center stage, and the arguments for why equitable, civic media matters are finally being heard. In many ways, we’re finally getting that empowerment increase.
I am leaving the Listening Post Collective at the end of this year for an exciting new role that will help support our civic media ecosystem. I’ll let my friends at LPC tell you more about that in January.
It’s a bittersweet moment in my journey with LPC, and leaving a team and a group of partners I have grown so close to is not easy. However, I close this chapter feeling inspired by our collective work and the future and appreciative of all the people I’ve worked with who are working towards changing the world.
Thank you for all you do.