From Happy Hobby to Happening Hustle: How Three Teens Became Legit Podcasters

podcasters Steel City Academy Podcast Gary Indiana
Photo Credit Bill Healy From left, students Erin Addison, Evan Addison and Andrew Arevalo of the Steel City Academy look over a planning map of Gary, Ind.

Podcast have risen in popularity over the past few years. There are podcasts for a number of interests, sectors, and people. Large podcasts like Latino USA from NPR tell both overarching and niche stories about Latinos in the United States; Bitter Brown Femmes “focus is on the critique of society and identity, and empowering marginalized groups;” and Bronx Afro Dominicanas on Bag Ladiez talk about life, vulnerability, and politics.

Adults are not the only people making podcasts; youth podcasters exist too. Youth podcasters vary as well but one thing is common — they have a lot to say and aren’t afraid to say it. Indiana brothers, Erin and Evan Addison, and their friend Andrew Arevalo decided to start a podcast to pass time and have some fun. Their hobby quickly turned into a full-fledged advocacy and protest when they discovered that their school would soon welcome a new neighbor, a waste facility aka, a trash dump. 

Realizing they already had the tools necessary to inform people about the incoming neighbor – their podcast – they turned to hard evidence and solid information to inform themselves even further. The young men attended informational meetings, asked questions of the facility’s parent company, Maya Energy, and filed a Freedom of Information Act request al while speaking to their peers and the faculty and staff at the school to get their opinions on the school’s proposed new neighbor. 

The overwhelming consensus was displeased with the idea of having a waste facility next to their school. People raised concerns about noise, pollution, and adverse health outcomes. All of which are extremely valid. A recent study released in the Journal of American Medical Association found that breathing polluted air is as bad as smoking cigarettes, can make lung diseases and problems progress faster, and cause irreversible lung damage. 

Although Maya Energy told NPR they “would not burn anything at the facility,” some did not believe them and even more pollution isn’t just caused by burning materials. As a waste facility they would have a number of trucks and the vehicles of the supposed 124 full time employees that would be working at the location contributing exhaust fumes around the middle school. Moreover Gary, Indiana’s population is overwhelming financially poor. Environmental Justice advocates often point out that financially poor communities are often saddled with power plants, waste facilities, and other sites that contribute to declining air and quality of life conditions. As reported by the Sierra Club, the nation’s leading environmental advocacy organization, “a new study by scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published today in the American Journal of Public Health found that facilities emitting dangerous particulate air pollution — like soot — disproportionately impact low-income communities and communities of color – demonstrating that the reprehensible history of economic injustice and environmental racism regarding air pollution continues in the United States.” 

Thankfully the young men’s research, informative reporting, and tenacity of intergenerational partnerships brought the community together to oppose the site. Youth showed up in droves to protest outside city council meetings and as a result the Gary, Indiana City Council voted to reverse their previous green for Maya Energy to build their facility. However, the company was able to sue the city and get a reversal on the reversal and they once again have the green light to build the plant. 

The young podcasters are not deterred they vow to continue to follow the story and continue reporting. And more than that they have been filled with a sense of power and “I was always told to stay in a child’s place,” Evan says. “But now I know there are times where you have to tell people that they’re wrong.”