Akron Podcast Lab Democratizes Media Landscape in the Rubber City

by Derek Kreider 

Disclosure: Every story we publish is the product of an independent editorial process that no one, including our board of directors, can directly influence. However, we want to let you know three of the subjects featured in this story have worked with The Devil Strip previously. Dominic Moore-Dunson was elected by the membership of our co-op to serve on the founding board of directors for 2020-21, Charlee Harris has been a writer for The Devil Strip for almost two years, and EbaNee Bond is a freelance writer. We would have pursued this story even if they hadn’t been involved with us, and neither was allowed to see this story prior to publication. — Chris Horne, CEO

On May 6, the Akron Community Podcast Lab will debut its class of seven new multimedia storytellers. Those attending the Facebook Live event through Summit Artspace will be able to hear 3-5 minute segments of the shows the participants have created.

Over the last four months Akronites EbaNee Bond, RaJohn Butler, Joy Gadson, Charlee Harris, Ebony Hill, Dominic Moore-Dunson, and John Smith have learned the art of podcasting under the wing of Ella Turenne, Akron Community Podcast Lab’s instructor, and doctoral student at UC Irvine.

Producing the Podcast Lab is Harlem-based Futuro Media Group, an independent nonprofit dedicated to sharing stories of communities underrepresented in mainstream media.

Erika Dilday, Futuro’s media director, says Akron fit a number of criteria in their search for the next Podcast Lab city.

“We looked for a community that had a strong, vibrant POC population and POC history,” Dilday says. “Akron checked both of those boxes. Also, we needed good community cultural partners.”

The Podcast Lab found community support in the form of the Knight Foundation, as well as in The Devil Strip’s CEO Chris Horne. Horne directed Futuro to Ace Epps, founder of Be You Podcasting, according to Dilday.

Be You Podcasting, launched as a way to amplify local voices of people of color in Akron, has provided local support to the program by allowing the participants to use their studio in Summit Artspace.

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Turenne, the lab’s instructor, has taught the course virtually from California. She says she feels connected to the Rubber City despite never visiting.  

“Even though I’m not from Akron, a lot of the stories that are being told, I definitely connect
with,” Turenne says.

Turenne has taught the participants a plethora of techniques like interviewing methods, topic selection, and program structure, intended to open the doors to storytelling.

“Podcasting is such a great medium and it’s really expanding,” Turenne says. “It’s an opportunity for people who have something to say, who have a story to tell, to really be able to — on their own terms — get that story and that message out there.”

This will give residents a chance to level the journalistic playing field in Akron. 

“This is an opportunity not only for us to tell stories that don’t make it onto larger media spaces, but it’s also an opportunity for folks to correct information, perception, truth about their community that has been misrepresented or misreported by the media,” Turenne says.

Turenne’s philosophy is that everyone already has the tools they need to tell their own story; all it takes is a little training and some friendly support to get started. Seeing people that look like you doing the things you’re interested in helps to remove the hesitancy in getting started, she says.

In keeping with Futuro Media Group’s stated goal of providing a space for folks of marginalized communities to learn these skills, all seven of Akron Podcast Lab’s participants are Black.

“I’m also a Black woman,” Turenne says. “To me, this was also very personal — to ensure I could support other Black folks in telling stories that mattered to them.”

Turenne hopes that other Black people will be encouraged by what comes out of the Akron Community Podcast Lab to tell stories of their own. “Now that these podcasters have done it, hopefully, they’ll be able to pay it forward as well. And even if they can’t necessarily provide technical assistance, just their presence will be huge,” she says.

Meeting Some Participants
Akron’s newest podcasters come from a range of backgrounds.

EbaNee Bond had no previous interest in podcasting but was driven to the program in part because people have told her she’s good at communication and because she enjoys learning.

Bond, a Mansfield native, moved to Akron in 2009.

A co-chair on the diversity and inclusion task force at Torchbearers, Bond doesn’t have a particular art form she’s married to. “I’ve always been into poetry,” she says, listing a resume of artistic ventures: “I’ve done open-mics; I went and recorded a song over the quarantine; I wrote a standup comedy bit.” She’s also currently working on a piece for The Devil Strip.

Bond isn’t on a quest to find the right form of expression for her. Instead, she says, expression itself is her medium.

Entitled Unboxing A Resonant Future, Bond’s podcast is for people seeking inspiration. “They’re trying to figure out, maybe, what their purpose is,” says Bond. “So the whole podcast is about sharing stories and interviewing people that have leveraged their lived experience.” 

Joy Gadson didn’t turn in her application to the Akron Community Podcast Lab until the last minute. Her decision was motivated by a desire to share her vision of the world with others.

A business counselor for the Akron Urban League, and author of the book Joy for the Journey, Gadson sees herself as a natural communicator with an eye for unconventional muses.

“For me,” Gadson says, “I can find inspiration in this wood on the wall. I wanted to give that back to people.

Gadson’s podcast, Joy for the Journey, centers on finding happiness in everyday life.

Growing up in the suburbs as a Black woman, Gadson says her struggle was “Being too Black to be white, but too white to be Black.” She hopes her podcast will help other people in similar situations find something to celebrate in their travels through life.

Dominick Moore-Dunson, choreographer and dancer by trade, is crafting a podcast with his brother-in-law and fellow participant RaJohn Butler.

They had both been precipitously close to making a podcast together when Moore-Dunson had a conversation with Epps who told him about the Podcast Lab.

“It looked like a perfect opportunity to learn from professionals who already know how to do it, as opposed to going straight DIY,” Moore-Dunson says.

Butler and Moore-Dunson’s podcast, Black Super Dads, is “about looking at life through the lens of Black fatherhood and comic books,” says Moore-Dunson. “At the same time, we’re both trying to figure out how to raise our kids as two men who didn’t grow up with our fathers in our lives.”

“I was like, well, let’s do this,” says Moore-Dunson, “Let’s talk about Black identity, let’s talk about resources, let’s talk about really big conversations,” filtered through the medium of comic books.

Moore-Dunson says, “For two of us to be Black fathers, and be brothers-in-law, and having a fun conversation about things like race, as opposed to always being connected to our peoples’ trauma, I think shifts the narrative.”

Changing the landscape

Every participant of the podcast lab expresses a hope that the work they’ll carry into the world on May 6 will help transform people’s lives and the media landscape in Akron. The experience has left them profoundly changed already.

Gadson developed a strong sense of her own voice and recognized the value of what she has to say. “I can talk, it’s OK, and I’m confident, and I don’t care if you like what I say or not,” she says, laughing.

“Hopefully if people like [the podcast], they’ll pick it up, and it’ll do something for somebody even if it’s just one person,” Gadson says.

The Akron Community Podcast Lab has expanded Moore-Dunson’s understanding of storytelling. “I do storytelling through my body and now, through this audio-visual space, it helped me realize that stories can come in different ways,” he says.

Bond’s quest to inspire others with Unpacking a Resonant Future is about the excitement of seeing other people become passionate about a topic. Watching someone’s energy change when they talk about what moves them creatively is a moment of beauty for Bond.

“Who doesn’t like inspiration,” Bond says. “I just think everybody should have a right to really live in that, and it’s really beautiful when people figure out a way to do that.”

The debut of Akron’s newest cohort of podcasters is on May 6 at 6:30 pm on Facebook Live. Anyone wishing to attend can RSVP to the event here.

One thing we can expect, says Epps, is to “hear stories and topics that highlight local Black interests from a group of movers and shakers streaming from one of the coolest places in Akron.”

The heart of the program is engendered in something EbaNee Bond said when describing the intention of her podcast and the idea of being moved to act artistically or otherwise.

“We all are an inspiration to the world if we tap into it more,” Bond says.

Derek Kreider is a freelance writer and the Devil Strip’s distribution manager.

Photos of Joy Gadson and EbaNee Bond by Derek Kreider; photo of Dominic Moore-Dunson by  Michael Cannon Photography used with permission from Dominic Moore-Dunson.

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