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The Kids in the Neighborhood

Reflections on young writers, children and grandchildren

      This week’s paper is full of stories written by kids who were babies not so very long ago. Not that the tenderness of their youth earned any slack for this summer’s three young women interns.
      The oldest at 21 is Cassiopeia, aka Cassi Whitehead, a Severn School grad entering her senior year at the University of Pittsburgh. Rising juniors Ellie ­Pesetsky, a Calverton School graduate, coincidentally also at the University of Pittsburgh, and Keri Luise, returning to Towson University, are both 20. 
      You’ve been reading their stories since June, probably without realizing they were written by virtual kids. That’s because we didn’t treat them as kids, challenging them with the same demands we do writers of every age and expertise: Find us some news (which is often hidden in plain sight), learn all about it and report it in a story so fascinating that your readers can’t put it down.
      “Writing a good story is like fishing,” I tell every writer. “To catch a reader, you’ve got to use good bait.” 
      Story by story, Cassi, Ellie and Keri sat by my side, analyzing what worked and didn’t, writing and rewriting, until they had a story good enough that it might lure you in.
      I’ve seen many an adult writer retreat under that regime.
      This week, you’ll read Keri’s story about Marylanders fighting the terrible fires out west and Cassi’s story inviting all you poets to help make a better world by taking on the challenging subject of hunger. Next week, you’ll hear their take on their summer internships as they join our annual Labor Day parade of working people.
      What might become of them in their big universities and the much, much bigger world beyond college is a story not yet written. But we get a glimpse of what could be in the stories — and story — of Shelby Conrad. Southern High School graduate and now Annapolitan, Shelby is not many years older than Cassi, Ellie and Keri. Shelby, a Towson graduate, is one of our staff writers, building skills (and in her other job as a server, income) as she creates her future out of aspiration and hard work.
    Younger than any of them at 16 is Mackenzie Boughey, who is one of those wonder kids who think they can do just about anything — and prove themselves right. This week, Mackenzie, a rising junior at Severn School, reports on how she’s making good on her vow to be part of the solution to the problem of gun violence in our schools and our community. If you know Mackenzie — or read about her as organizer of this spring’s Annapolis March for Our Lives — you won’t be surprised to learn that she invited Maryland’s top politicians and educators to a round table discussion on the subject. Or surprised that they came.
     We’ve known Mackenzie since she was the newborn nicknamed Grumpy by her grandfather Bill Burton, one of the greatest of Maryland’s outdoors writers and a Bay Weekly columnist for 16 years. Hard-driving athlete, bagpipe player, community activist and writer — with Bay Weekly bylines to her credit — Mackenzie is living her grandfather’s advice to dreamers: “Do it, do it, do it!”
      Mackenzie, born at the end of the fateful year 2001, is a child of the new millennium. Like her, our 21st century children and grandchildren are fledging, forced out of high school into such a big world this year or next. 
      Among them are my grandchildren Elsa, born the same year as Mackenzie, and Jack, whose birth was my subject exactly 18 years ago.
     “Holding a new child,” I wrote, “you touch the far reaches of the ages, beyond your beginnings, beyond your end.”
How lucky we are — parents, grandparents and editors — to watch these babies step out of our time and into their own.