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From the start to the present: How a YMG alum found her path in the world of media

By Hermes Falcon

Only 20 alumni can say that they saw the beginning of Youthcast Media Group®, but Berri Wilmore, 23, definitely can. Berri was there at the start of YMG, back when we were called Urban Health Media Project, and interned with us in 2018 before she started attending Syracuse University. She wrote an article for USA TODAY on accountable care organizations in December 2017 with YMG founder Jayne O’Donnell, based in part on reporting during a visit to Kaiser Permanente’s DC offices. 

Headshot of Berri Wilmore looking down at a handheld camera.
Berri Wilmore (courtesy of Wilmore).

Berri graduated in 2022 with a focus on communications and rhetorical studies, applying what she learned both in the classroom and with YMG into her current position as Digital Media Coordinator for the City of Philadelphia.

Berri spoke with YMG intern Hermes Falcon about her start at YMG, what she learned while both a student and an intern with the organization and how she applies those lessons to her current position.

Q: What did you do as a high school participant at YMG and what were some of your responsibilities and tasks when you were an intern?

A: I was in the pilot group, back when it was called Urban Health Media Project. It was a lot of learning the foundations of journalism and reporting. We did a lot of camera work, like learning how to work with camera equipment, learning how to work with microphones and video equipment, which I thought was really great, because I've been interested in photography for a long time.

By the time I was working, doing more intern work, it was a lot of assisting with revising students' work and things in their drafts that they were working on. Helping guide some of the writing that they were doing and helping strengthen narratives and working on regular grammatical changes. Just offering support in the actual meeting, because when you have 20 high schoolers in a room trying to get something done, you can definitely use some extra hands just to make sure that things go smoothly. I would go to site visits with students, too, if we ever had to go out on photography assignments, which was cool, because when I was a student, there were people who would do that for me. It was kind of a full circle moment that way.

Q: What convinced you to join YMG?

A: That was all my mother. I don't know how exactly she heard about it because it was this new program that was happening. It was, at the time, still hosted at Howard University, which is where she went to school, where she got her undergrad. I had shown a lot of interest in journalism prior to that. She was just excited at this opportunity that I could learn more and become kind of more entrenched in the world of journalism. She really pushed me to apply, and that's how I ended up joining.

She's always been very supportive of my communication endeavors. I actually found this journal that she gave me when I couldn't have been more than eight or nine. On the front page, she wrote a little inscription that says, "A good journalist always takes notes. Write a few things every single day, and you'll be surprised what you find." She definitely was very encouraging when it came to my interest in journalism and my interest in communications in all forms, from photography to writing. 

Q: What would you say was your biggest accomplishment while at YMG?

A: It was a piece on sneaker culture. By 2024 standards, I think there's been a lot written about that, but back in 2017-2018, it was still a pretty fresh topic. It was just really exciting being able to go and interview people in their space. Being able to meet people where they're at. You're bringing the set to them. [The camera], all the lights and the equipment. We got to meet this person who had a huge collection, and we met him at his studio. After that, I ended up going to a sneaker drop. Somewhere in the city, there was a release happening at a store, a community space/store where they hosted events and sold sneakers. At the time, I was 16 or 17. It was just really cool to be able to gain access to the spaces that maybe I otherwise wouldn't have been able to. That project was something that I was really excited about and really happy that I was able to work on it. It was something that was my idea from conceptualizing it to actually creating it and that's something that you can be proud of. I really do look back on that experience very fondly.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about your current position as a digital media coordinator - if that is your current title? 

A: I work in the Office of Arts and Culture, which was something else that while in college, I realized was more my niche. This world of arts and visual arts and museums, and community organizations. That was something that I found myself really gravitating towards. Post graduating, I was lucky enough to find myself in a position where I can work really closely with arts organizations. That's what we do: we provide funding for different arts organizations within the city of Philadelphia. We also own and maintain a lot of the city's public art that just exists in the city. My position now is to maintain all of the communication that happens about these programs, on our digital platforms. Actually, working with Urban Health Media Project, or YMG, was the first time that I had really heard that you can do something like social media as a career. That was the first time that I really was told or was taught that you can actually do this as a career. I found that doing digital media creation and social media coordination is just a way that I can express myself, because it is a lot of graphic design, and it's a lot of writing copy, but still learning how to navigate doing that within the confines of an already existing brand. I have really come to love it. I'm very happy that I found myself in this niche.

You think about how much of our news we receive through social media. It is a huge and very powerful tool for communication. We're in the digital age--this is how we communicate with each other. It's important to be able to adapt with the changing times. Right now, social media is one of the hugest forces in that change and in that continuation of communication. It's definitely an important skill to have, being able to navigate it and being able to fit the platforms is really important and very helpful.

Q: What was your first role for the city of Philadelphia?

A: It was a fellowship position, communications driven-- it was aimed at promoting some of the office's newer projects that they were working on. They have this publication that they put up every year called Green Works. It was all about the city's initiatives regarding sustainability. My position was to help elevate those stories and elevate those program areas digitally, through our online platforms. It was a really great introduction to both Philadelphia--I've never really spent much time in Philly, just because I'm from DC. This was a great way to learn about the city and learn about both the challenges that the city faces, and where the city is excelling. It's also being able to communicate such a complex topic through a medium like Twitter or Instagram. It's taking these heavy, dense topics and distilling them down in a way that's engaging and also accessible for people.

That first position was a fellowship, so it had an end date. It just so happened that this position that I'm in now opened up, and it was also with the city, and it was just a good fit. I think that was one way that that first position set me up for success in the second position. I had an idea of what was going on in the city. I had just been very acquainted with the different neighborhoods, what challenges do those neighborhoods face and what community organizations are working where. It was a good transition and definitely set me up for success in that way.

Q: How did YMG prepare you for your current role as Digital Media Coordinator?

A: Having a curious mind and having a curious approach to the world and asking questions and wanting to dig deeper, I think that's something that every great communicator has. It's a trait that great communicators share. That was something that the program definitely helped foster, just in terms of being willing to ask those questions and stay curious, and be willing to explore and see what you want, see what you can find out, see what stories you can share.

Something that I really learned was how to navigate situations where there might be sensitive material being shared, how to receive that information with an open mind, and then how to talk about it in a way that is going to reduce harm and empower people. Especially when you're working in a city, you just are meeting and working and living alongside people from all walks of life. When I was a part of the program, we were doing health journalism. You're talking with people about their lives, and learning how to navigate those types of conversations with sensitivity and empathy. It's something that I still find myself leaning on and using even today, because I'm working with people from all around the city, from all different backgrounds. It's been a really important skill to just keep on working on and keep on growing, and I think my time doing health media was really crucial in developing that.

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

A: Isn't that the million-dollar question? I love doing digital media coordination, content creation. I could definitely see myself still doing this in five years, helping organizations and helping brands elevate their presence online and helping them develop a voice and helping them tell exciting stories. I would love to dig a little bit deeper into the world of arts, culture and creative economy in all its forms. I think it'd be great to work with museums. They tend to be really powerful institutions that are able to create real positive change in their communities. I would love to be a part of a program or I would just love to be a part of that world. Hopefully in five years, I'll be at the Tate or the Guggenheim. Definitely still working within arts and culture. Ideally, still doing something with digital media, because I'm just a true internet baby, born in the year 2000. That's my style, my area of expertise.

A photo of the sea with a yellow hotel in the bottom right and a cliff farther in the horizon.
One of several photos in Berri's photography collection called "Pot of Basil."


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