Ann Arbor high school students taking charge at Neutral Zone

RELATED COLUMN BELOW: Student journalist shares her love of writing and why she works with Red Beard Press

By Carlina Duan
AAPSNews Service

A recording studio, a printing press, a concert venue, a record label. It’s not your typical run-through of independent businesses. Yet, these enterprises are unique in that all are created, managed, organized and run by Ann Arbor teens.

Youth Owned Enterprises is the latest emerging project at Ann Arbor’s teen center, the Neutral Zone, which ties all these businesses together.

YOE serves as a collaborative advisory group, which encompasses all four of the Neutral Zone’s independent, student-run businesses: Youth Owned Studios (the Orpheum), Red Beard Press, the B-Side and Youth Owned Records. Each enterprise is organized and monitored completely by high school students from around the city who meet weekly to plan, coordinate and release their respective products to the purchasing community.

“Essentially, Youth-Owned Enterprises is a collaboration of different teen enterprises,” said Youth Business Developer and YOE adviser Sarms Jabra. It gives these (enterprises) the opportunity to come together, teach each other, support each other and ultimately improve the quality of services that they’re putting out.”

Neutral Zone staff saw an intriguing chance this fall to expand students’ learning experience. “It started officially this semester as all the different businesses began to get going,” says Jabra, “We saw a really great opportunity to bring them together.”

This opportunity allows the businesses to craft more effective goals and plans for their enterprises by working together.

The services cover the entire range of the creative spectrum. Red Beard Press is the Neutral Zone’s printing press, publishing books featuring professional and student literary voices. Youth Owned Studios, also known as the Orpheum, offers recording space for musical artists around the community. Youth Owned Records is a business for aspiring young musicians to create, record, and distribute their work. Students participating in the B-Side oversee concert booking and scheduling of the Neutral Zone’s concert venue.

“Our mission is to improve the businesses that the Neutral Zone has by allowing all of them an opportunity to learn from each other,” Jabra said. “Speaking from personal experience, I think that this sort of program can teach people skills that you wouldn’t necessarily learn in school.”

Pioneer High School senior Sander Bregman is a B-Side staff member. He said YOE is a great resource. “The Neutral Zone and the staff provide opportunities for teens that really can’t be found anywhere else around here,” he said.

Youth Owned Enterprises monthly meetings consist of members from each of the groups coming together to discuss, brainstorm, and share perspectives on the status of their current businesses. Last month, the meeting entailed establishing YOE goals, which included ideas for multi-media business collaboration.

For example, a writer whose work is published at Red Beard could record their work at The Orpheum and perform it at the B-Side, said said Pioneer High School senior Sara Ryan, who works with Red Beard Press. “We definitely really wanted to start working together and supporting each other. We wanted to have a very tight-knit, interweaving business community.”

‘We definitely really wanted to start working together and supporting each other. We wanted to have a very tight-knit, interweaving business community.’
– Pioneer High senior Sara Ryan, who works with Red Beard Press

Other YOE goals include exchanging business tips and brainstorming a Youth Owned Enterprises mission statement and rationale. The November meeting featured a graphic design workshop to teach teens about the design elements of business.

“You’re not wasting your time,” says Jabra, “If something’s already been figured out, you can tap into that knowledge. We’re essentially creating wealth of information that can be utilized for this year and in the years to come.”

Jabra said the backbone of Youth Owned Enterprises is this community of support, cultivating advice and ideas from each teen business to another. “If we develop this community, it can be almost like an incubator,” he added. “One of the best things about starting your own business is the ownership you have, and the responsibility.”

Teen participants, such as Community High School senior Scott Aldworth, view Youth Owned Enterprises as an opportunity.

“The fact that I’m (having) an opportunity to be part of something unprecedented in that it’s youth-owned and operated is an exciting offer,” said Aldworth, who participates in the Orpheum.

Ryan agrees. “I think (YOE) is a great way for kids to get involved in our community and become independent and proactive in their own interests. I’m really looking forward to participating and getting the experience to work with the other businesses.”

In terms of skills, Ryan says she has developed a “strong realization in the business side of things. Coming into Red Beard, we had the idea that we were going to make really great books, and we didn’t necessarily approach it in a business manner. YOE really helped us recognize and connect all the factors of business that play into running a printing press.”

Pioneer senior Mary Gallagher, an Orpheum participant, said YOE has offered her a vivid outlook on teamwork. “It’s definitely made me feel a lot more like I’m part of a big group working towards a common mission,” she said. “It’s also neat to make progress together to create projects that are a lot more multi-layered and interesting than we could come up with on our own. The fact that we’re all connected makes it better.”

Jabra, who started his first business himself at age 18, says the most challenging aspect of creating a business is the amount of questions you have. “It’s very difficult to start a business, regardless of your age. But YOE can provide insight that you normally wouldn’t have access to,” he said. “It really offers you a bridge to people and knowledge on the other side.”

Obstacles this year could potentially be “the challenge of getting enough people to put in enough time to get what they want accomplished,” says Jabra, referring to the busy schedules and possible commitment issues of high school students.

But he and the students say they are optimistic about Youth Owned Enterprises’ budding future.

“I think for a lot of kids, what initially started as a simple interest has kind of become a really early, almost career choice for them,” Ryan said. “Being a part of businesses in YOE is a real show of passion. When you think of teenagers, the last thing you think of are kids who actually budget their projects and help other people complete their own projects. I think it’s really interesting that kids are offering their services up for the community.”

Jabra said he is satisfied with their progress. “So far it’s been a really great experience. Everyone’s really positive about this,” he said. “As far as I can see, the teens really seem like they appreciate it, and that’s encouraging. … it’s becoming very exciting.”

Carlina Duan is a regular contributor to the AAPSNews. She is a senior at Pioneer High School and is the editor of The Optimist, Pioneer’s student newspaper.


COLUMN: Pioneer senior promotes literary message of Red Beard Press

Carlina Duan
Carlina Duan,
Student Contributor

This past summer, I and five other Ann Arbor high school students gathered at the city’s teen center, The Neutral Zone, each week to greet an ever-thickening amount of paperwork and rigid ambition.

Each meeting was met with a whirlwind schedule of designing business plan goals, learning about the publishing field, researching facts on the print industry, cooperating as a group to develop a mission statement, rationale, a vision … and realizing daily reminders of the importance of our work for the latest addition to the Neutral Zone’s youth-owned enterprises, Red Beard Press – an independent, youth-driven printing press dedicated to publishing cutting-edge books.

Our presence seemed, at times, a little idealistic, and a tad pretentious. After all, there are other independent printing presses in Ann Arbor – all aiming to reinvigorate readers with the freshest and the most compelling works of literature. So what makes us emboss ourselves? How can our voice cast clear over all the others?

Maybe we’re too bold, or too young.

Sure, we have passion, curiosity; we’re not afraid to plummet depths in order to fully carry through with our mission.

But one key we have that other groups might not: A limitless belief in our generation. And we want our work to delve into the heart of the community, but especially into the core of our generation: the youth.

Growing up in a world that’s been widely centered on usage of the Internet, cell phones, television, and other multimedia appliances, I admit that I’ve been prone to becoming easily influenced by the swelling arena of technology. But a constant in my life has always been the more “traditional,” rigid spine of the book.

Needless to say, I’m a reader.  However, I can’t speak for the rest of my generation.

In many of my past English classes, many of my friends (and, occasionally, myself included) – have grumbled at the mandatory assignment of each Shakespeare novel, each Elizabethan-era poem. The problem with literacy in our generation is that many young people have developed the mindset that literature is a burden. Books are material that only encompass the confines of class work, the five-paragraph essay, the often out-of-date, indecipherable diction, complete with a revolving set of metaphors and detailed reading quizzes.

Although classic literature is a necessity in the academic curriculum, I find that it can be stifling for students who must sift through years of mandatory English class novels to re-discover the joy of literature. In fact, an increasing number of high school students have stopped reading books outside of what they’re required to do for class. They don’t have the motivation or the eagerness to read any more than the bare minimum.

Needless to say, they’re missing out.

At Red Beard Press, we strongly believe that books have an extraordinary power to teach and to energize. Our mission statement declares that literature “still has the power to serve as a bridge to both inspiration and insightful dialogue.” That said, we think that books should unite, educate both academically and culturally and preserve a vibrant scene of literary awareness in Ann Arbor’s youth and beyond.

Countless modes of our print culture are being lost to media and technology, yet the existence of Red Beard Press is as urgent as ever right now, and we’re ripe to make it happen.

Red Beard Press is aiming to publish five books this year – ranging in subjects from anthologies of teen prose and poetry, to short poetry books featuring emerging voices of young writers around our community. We’re even planning on partnering with local nonprofits to develop books orbiting on a common theme:  integrating ourselves further within the community.

We published our first book of the school year two weeks ago. Titled “Watch Me Swing,” the book was released for the annual literary event, Poetry Night In Ann Arbor, which took place Nov. 4. “Watch Me Swing” showcases the work of two brilliant, professional poets prime in their field, who performed at the event: Martín Espada and Samantha Thornhill.

Youth participants like myself meet at least once each week at the Neutral Zone, and, essentially, partake in every aspect in the publishing process of a book. We’re key in selecting the content, promoting community outreach, crafting business plans, laying out the book design, marketing, coordinating events, organizing publicity, and more. Which makes it even more exciting for our audience.

By involving high school students like myself in Red Beard, we’re essentially at the forefront of being able to choose and cultivate what our generation is reading. We can offer the appeal of books in ways other publishing companies might not be able to. After all, who better understands what the youth today love than … youth?

Additionally, we can peel away stereotypes of our generation that others may have developed, and help the rest of the community gain a better understanding of our imaginations, and the issues we’re passionate about. And by doing so, we’re able to unify a diverse group of people through a shared interest in reading.

For me, Red Beard Press is a huge outlet to create, and to teach. As an aspiring writer, it’s absolutely invigorating to read the words of others and be able to help others achieve a similar feeling. It’s especially beautiful that I can change others’ perceptions of books. It hasn’t been the easiest of tasks. Laying out an entire book or even just selecting which poems to keep and take out of an anthology has proven to be daunting. But it’s work that I find unique in that it offers my generation a booming voice to magnify the things we really care about for the community and for ourselves. By doing so, I’ve already experienced a surge in inspiration by reading and dishing out these good reads to others.

That being said, hear us out. We might be young, we might dream big, but I know I speak for the rest of the Red Beard staff when I say we’re dedicated to churning out top quality books for ourselves and for the rest of the community.

For more information, check out our website:

Carlina Duan is a senior at Pioneer High School and is also involved this year with the Neutral Zone’s Red Beard Press project. She loves to read and wants to encourage other teens to read for enjoyment. She is a regular contributor to the AAPSNews.

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