Clad in a leather jacket and yellow heels, her black and pink hair pulled back in a high ponytail, Lilian Yange leans into the microphone to introduce a multimedia story she’s spent five days preparing.

Yange and her peers from high-risk neighbourhoods in suburban Scarborough stayed at Ryerson University’s Pitman Hall dormitories while learning about the craft of journalism and creating their own reports in audio, film and written form.

The first-ever five-day summer camp was part of the Verse City journalism training project for youth, founded by director Vinita Srivastava in Toronto in 2004 with support from Young People’s Press. It aims to keep marginalized youth out of gangs and help them care about their communities.

Ryerson faculty members and student volunteers helped participants develop story ideas and report on topics ranging from the hidden lives of street performers and hotdog vendors to the place of religion in people’s lives.

Peter McNelly, a Ryerson instructor, stepped forward to deliver a handshake and a certificate with a gold seal to Yange. She grinned and waved her arms like a conductor as the crowd launched into a rowdy a cappella rendition of Pomp And Circumstance.

Srivastava said Verse City and the summer camp let youth ages 13 to 24 express themselves, but also develop media literacy.

“It’s been proven media literacy leads to greater civic participation. That’s what we’re trying to get.”