To Be Honest, Inc was inspired on Valentine’s Day 2019 while listening to Morning Edition on National Public Radio during a commute to work by Executive Director, Erika Celeste. The episode commemorated the one year anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Two things occurred to Celeste while listening. First, one student talked about adults offering up “thoughts and prayers” after the massacre, but no one asked the students—those who experienced the shooting firsthand— their opinions, what they’d like to see changed, or how events leading up to that day could have been handled differently. In short, they felt voiceless. The student went on to explain, that while teens don’t have all the answers, they can often bring fresh perspective and new ideas to the table.
Executive Director, Erika Celeste
Second, Celeste learned how the students organized so quickly in the face of such a horrific tragedy. Several students had already been interested in activism and creating change in their community. Shortly after the shooting, the Parkland students teamed up with the Peace Warriors, a group of Chicago high school students fighting gun violence. Joining forces gave them a voice.
Celeste realized Indiana high school students could have a similar voice to address issues of concern in their schools and communities, with a little help from the media. She wondered what would happen if students could have the chance to report, produce, write, and edit their own TV show about issues that they cared about? But, in order for teens to reach and influence other teens, they had to go where their peers were—to social media—not necessarily just TV.
Riley/Adams media teacher, Tim Richardson
As the project grew and took on a life of its own, it became obvious that a nonprofit was needed to ensure its success. Tim Richardson was the first to join the TBH Board followed by Wayne High School innovations teacher, Carrie Bubb. Several talented and resourceful individuals including project manager Marc Cotter, graphic designer Ginger Santiago, research manager Maeghan Brass, and free spirit Drew Benson rounded out the board.
A TV show that could cross media platforms would not only reach and influence other teens, but provide adults with a window into teen minds! She wondered what teens would do if they were given a voice and chance to bring meaningful change to their communities.
Mass media teacher, Tim Richardson's combined James Whitcomb Riley and John Adams High School classes in South Bend, Indiana were the first to collaborate on an episode. Approximately 15 students participated in the project. The result was a half hour magazine style television show. While it primarily addressed school shootings, it also examined other school safety issues.
Pilot episode with Riley/Adams Students
Both the TV series and nonprofit were originally named TBH after the text abbreviation. However, the legal name remains the full phrase To Be Honest, Inc.
To create the new series, Celeste enlisted the help of 13 high schools throughout northern Indiana. Of course Riley and Adams high schools were the first to sign on followed by Prairie Heights (Lagrange), Bishop Luers (FtW), New Tech at Wayne (FtW), Oak Farm (Avilla), Garrett (Garrett), South Side (FtW), Homestead (FtW), Hamilton (Hamilton), St. Joseph High School (South Bend), IMPACT (Kendallville) and Cahoots Cafe (Angola).