Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood is known for its bustling blocks of artist lofts and galleries, a plethora of vibrant street murals and the nation’s largest Hispanic cultural organization, the National Museum of Mexican Art. Now, it’s also home to a new regional hub for young people of color who want to break into the media industry.
Chicago native Kyra Kyles ’98, ’98 MS is CEO of YR Media, an educational center for aspiring music producers, podcasters, journalists and multimedia content creators. Headquartered in Oakland, Calif., the center primarily serves 14- to 24-year-olds, 90% of whom identify as people of color and 80% of whom come from low- to moderate-income households. Since last December, Kyles has led the center’s first full-scale expansion in its 30-year history: a brick-and-mortar facility in Chicago that will mirror its Oakland offerings. Programming at the Midwest location is slated to launch this fall.
Housed in an early 20th-century brick building that was once home to a furniture factory, the 5,200-square-foot YR Media regional facility will provide training programs, paid internships, wellness support and state-of-the-art audio and video production technology to young people from Chicago as well as national contributors in Detroit and neighboring Midwestern cities.
Setting up shop in Pilsen was no accident, Kyles says, noting its proximity to Chicago’s West and South sides, which are home to many minority neighborhoods. “We want to make sure it’s welcoming for everyone.”
A lifelong storyteller, Kyles draws on experiences from her more than 20-year career in media, where she has focused on reaching young, multicultural audiences. She spent half a decade as a reporter and columnist for the Chicago Tribune’s RedEye, a weekly newspaper for young adult readers. Kyles, a two-time president of the award-winning National Association of Black Journalists-Chicago, worked her way up to editorial director of Jet and editor-in-chief and senior vice president of digital editorial for Ebony magazine, both part of the former Johnson Publishing Company.
“It’s been my lifelong dream not only to be a journalist and a storyteller but to make a way for others, especially storytellers of color. When I grew up, there were a handful that you could name, especially in really prominent positions. That has an effect on whether people believe that they can achieve that. If they can’t see it, they don’t believe it.
“In my career, no matter where I've gone, I never wanted to be the only person of color in the room.”
Nevertheless, she often was. A 2022 Pew Research Center report showed that 76% of journalists in the U.S. are white. And the staff and leadership at most major media companies do not reflect the diversity of their audiences.
Creating pathways for more youth of color to enter the media industry — and feel supported in their creative endeavors — is a core part of YR Media’s mission. “I’m proud of and passionate about creating a pipeline,” Kyles says. “This is really full circle for me, to work with young people, especially from underrepresented communities.”
The organization offers wraparound support, including financial coaching, mental health services, healthy food access and more, because, Kyles says, “you can’t produce your best work if you’re not feeling your best self.”
Alumni of the program have gone on to successful careers at The Washington Post, Gimlet Media, Vox Media and KQED, as well as Pulitzer Prize finalists and winners.
Alexa Harrison ’10 MS, a New York-based communications professional, is the public relations manager at Ben & Jerry’s. She is a former red-carpet reporter for Variety and New York magazines.