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Wauwatosa West grad named one of PBS’ 20 under 20 storytellers of the year for vlog about working the 2020 primary

  | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

She called it a “leap of faith.”

On April 7, 2020, Anyiah Simone Chambers, who was then a Wauwatosa West High School senior, grabbed her iPhone, a selfie stick and her mask.

Then, she pressed record. 

She was working as a poll worker at Washington High School in Milwaukee — one of only five polling places open in the city during that year’s spring primary election. 

She spent more than 20 hours at the polls that day, arriving at the site before 5 a.m. She handed out “I Voted” stickers and helped people place ballots in the voting machines. 

She didn’t get home until close to 3 a.m., after she helped clean up when the polls closed. 

And soon after the polls closed that night, she edited and sent out a vlog (video blog) of her experience to PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs. 

The video, titled “Follow this 17-year-old election poll worker during Wisconsin’s primary,” was quickly posted on YouTube. 

“As you guys can see, the lines are pretty long,” she said in the video, while walking alongside voters who were waiting in line. 

“All I can say is, this is very, very long and chaotic,” she added. 

After the last voter walked out of the high school, cheering can be heard in her video.

“I took a chance on myself. I became an essential worker in my community, giving back,” she said. 

Chambers said it was empowering to see the number of people who showed up to cast their ballots that day.

“It meant everything to me watching the people show up and cast their ballots,” she said.

Months later, Chambers received an email from the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs.

She was being named as one of the labs’ “20 under 20 storytellers of the year,” a nationwide list, because of her vlog.

Chambers’ first reaction? Shock.

“I was like, maybe they have the wrong person,” she said. “Then, after I read the email, I was like ‘wow, this can’t be real.’ It felt so surreal that I got an award on taking a leap of faith and just having confidence in myself and making that vlog.”

Positive news 

Chambers, who is currently a freshman studying mass communication at Kentucky State University, now has her own positive news outlet. She’s also in basic training for the U.S. Army Reserves. 

She’s writing and reporting for her own news business, Simone & Co. She tells positive stories about young men and women in the city of Milwaukee and throughout the world, who are doing “amazing and positive things.”

She started taking journalism classes during her junior year of high school. At the time, she told her journalism teacher, Chris Lazarski, that she was interested in writing and  journalism. Lazarski was also the teacher who encouraged her to make a vlog of her time at the polls. 

Chambers grew up watching local TV news. She quickly transformed her love for broadcast journalism to learning how to record video and read a teleprompter while in high school. 

Lazarski said Chambers was able to work with veteran TMJ-4 reporter Jessie Garcia to produce a story for News Literacy Week for TMJ4. She was also an anchor for the school’s biweekly video news program, as well as a regular reporter and writer on the news website.  

When PBS Student Reporting Labs contacted Lazarski and other teachers about producing stories during the primary election, he quickly reached out to Chambers. He said he communicated with her throughout that day. 

He thinks Chambers deserves the recognition she got for her reporting. 

“I think she kind of embodies, in a lot of ways, what we hope … who our students will be and how they’ll behave in the world, and I think Anyiah is a good example for other students around the country as a role model, as someone who is engaged in their community, as someone who is interested in the world around her,” Lazarski said. 

Empowering others 

So, why journalism?

“I really love to inform other people about everything that’s going on, and to me, journalism is more than just getting views and having people commentate on your stuff,” Chambers said. 

“I get the feeling of empowering others and making others see things differently,” she added. 

Chambers said watching CNN also got her interested in broadcast journalism. Her goal is to cover politics for CNN.

Chambers is in her second round of training for the U.S. Army Reserves. She said she joined the reserves because it could help her pay for college and make her more “versatile” in her community. 

“My intention is to change the narrative about how individuals, but especially people of color, are looked at within the media,” Chambers said. 

Chambers, who was too young to vote during the spring primary, was able to vote during the 2020 presidential election.

She said she felt empowered to be able to vote after reporting on it months earlier, even if it was by absentee ballot this time. 

Chambers hopes others can look to her story for encouragement. 

“You just have to be confident in yourself and your ability, and it will take you a long way,” she said. 

Evan Casey can be reached at 414-403-4391 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @ecaseymedia

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