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We Are Not Doomed

I spent Saturday night at the airport in Atlanta. Although I slept on the floor, I felt well cared for thanks to Annabel Harris.

I walked down the deserted concourse, decorated with “wet floor” signs and trash bins, looking for a place to sleep for the night. I finally decided upon a piece of carpet at the end of terminal A – just as good a spot as any. As I lay down, Ms. Harris stopped vacuuming and gave me a blanket. “They used to have couches here but then they took them away because too many people were sleeping on them” she told me. “I hate that.”

This past year, Ms. Harris experienced a work-related knee injury that kept her at home until recently. Two months ago, her husband passed away. Working at the airport keeps her busy. “I’m not planning to make a career out of it, but it helps,” she said. “Life will throw things at you, and you just have to keep going.”

At the age of 56, she lives in Atlanta with her son, but sometimes thinks of returning to her home state of Ohio, where her grandchildren live. “They ask me, ‘Grandma! When I graduate, will you come to my graduation?’ And I say, ‘Of course I will!’” As she walked away, she smiled and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll be safe here tonight. I’ll be just over there with my vacuum.”

‪#‎Atlanta‬ ‪#‎travel‬ ‪#‎airport‬ ‪#‎humanity‬ ‪#‎compassion‬ ‪#‎latenight‬ ‪#‎talktostrangers‬ ‪#‎people‬ ‪#‎photo‬

The Elders Project: Connecting Youth to the Wisdom of Elders

One of my favorite projects I worked on while at SideXSide Studios was the Elders Project. When I started my work with the company, I knew I wanted to conceptualize a creative project to produce original content, separate from our daily commercial work. My bosses were completely supportive, so we put our heads together. Soon, we launched the Elders Project.

We created The Elders Project to fill what we see as void of perspective on social media platforms. Many of us live in silos based on age. At times it can be difficult for a person in her 20s to connect with a person in her 70s, and vice versa.

“You really want to hear this?” 81-year-old Jean Johnson kept asking during her interview. Yes. Absolutely.

Older generations have experienced trials and triumphs that parallel those our younger generations are experiencing now. Their voices lend an invaluable level of understanding to conversations about current affairs, politics, adversity, love, and history that can brings some context to a world that needs it.

One week, we featured Russell Campbell, who protested alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. Almost a half century later, he attended the inauguration of President Obama. When we called him to ask if he’d like to participate in the project, his answer was, “I tell people when you get the chance to tell your story, tell it. Or else our stories are going to die with us.”

The idea for The Elders Project came a client project, where we interviewed veterans for the USO’s 75th anniversary. We couldn’t stop talking about how interesting and underrepresented these types of stories are in media. We remember asking grandparents for their stories as kids, but as those relationships come to an end, many of us lose touch with older generations. Our short Instagram and Facebook posts cover love stories, politics and everything in between. We hope these posts will not only spur understanding, but conversation.

I have returned to the West Coast, but the beauty of this project is that it is something we can continue anywhere in the world. For example, while traveling home last weekend, I met an 85-year-old musician in the airport. We spent an hour and a half talking about his life – everything from playing with Willie Nelson, to seeing the repetition of the political atmosphere of the 60s in the world of today. I made his portrait. Although an environmental portrait, there is no reason the project format cannot evolve.

 David Amram, 85.

David Amram, 85.

We will expand The Elders Project to include an ever more diverse group of older adults from a larger geographical area. The scope of this project is essentially limitless.

If you have a story or know someone we should reach out to, please write to elders@sidexsi.de

 

The Power of Newspaper: My First Weeks at the Register-Guard

When people asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated, I always answered "work at a production company," "make documentaries," or "start my own production company in the future." The word "newspaper" was not in my vocabulary. I considered people naive to ask me "which newspaper do you want to work at?" I am a visual journalist. A long-form storyteller. I studied video editing and photography, not writing, page design or anything involving stories I would digest and regurgitate in a 24-hour time period.

But mid-June, I began working at the Register-Guard newspaper in Eugene, Oregon for a paid summer internship. And, despite the daily grind of news videos and feature photos, I have had the opportunity to dive into the community I thought I knew well – the track-dominated, hippie-stereotyped college town of Eugene – and discover new people and cultural dynamics I never knew existed here.

 Harry Pinsent leans against his 27-foot doobie, built of foam and chicken wire, which he erected on top of his gift shop in Sutherlin, Ore. to celebrate the legalization of marijuana.

Harry Pinsent leans against his 27-foot doobie, built of foam and chicken wire, which he erected on top of his gift shop in Sutherlin, Ore. to celebrate the legalization of marijuana.

In addition to cut-and-dry videos about dead bodies in a freezer, a giant root ball stuck in the Willamette River, and a man who erected a giant doobie on his roof in celebration of the legalization of marijuana, I have had the pleasure of following 87-year-old track star Bill McChesney on his 40th Butte to Butte race in Eugene, and body builder Aydian Dowling as he represents the transgender community and tries to win Men's Health magazine's Ultimate Guy competition.

Eugene is an interesting place; in the summertime, when campus is dead and football season has not begun, my assignments take me farther out into Lane County, and I interact with people of different age groups, socioeconomic backgrounds, and personal stories. Stories are everywhere, and the beauty of working for a newspaper is that it gives you many different entry points into a community.

 Oliver runs through the water feature at Washington Park during record-high temperatures in Eugene.

Oliver runs through the water feature at Washington Park during record-high temperatures in Eugene.

 Leroy Douglas is a self-taught violin maker in Eugene, Ore. He fashions two violins per year, which sell for approximately $10,000 each.

Leroy Douglas is a self-taught violin maker in Eugene, Ore. He fashions two violins per year, which sell for approximately $10,000 each.

I almost forgot that my passion for journalism and storytelling originated in newspaper and youthful desire to write fictional novels from the time I could hold a pencil. In high school, I broke my shroud of reservation of shyness when I discovered the art of the interview in my first journalism class – I had a reason to talk to people, ask questions, be curious. I drew cartoons, wrote editorials and news stories, designed pages, and eventually became an editor.
Holding the finished product in my hands on publication day was the best feeling in the world.

In college, the drive for digital took over, and I turned to video; but, my interest in words never dissipated. Even a video or a photograph contains words. Piecing together stories through pages of transcriptions, capturing the adjective or adverb that best describes the scene before your eyes in one frame of a photograph – it's all writing. In the past year, my interest in multimedia storytelling and the incorporation of different media elements blossomed. I crafted a prototype for a multimedia project that switched from writing to photography to video according to the needs of the story in my Journey of Jeopardy project.

Working at a newspaper isn't easy. But working here offers me two choices: to either write off newspapers as a dying breed and start panicking because I need to find a place for my work elsewhere, or to embrace newspapers as a place for innovation in the digital age, and incorporation of multimedia to transform and transition information into a meaningful, digestible platform. News is always necessary, and so are long-form stories. Maybe newspapers can find a balance. Maybe online journalism isn't a dead end. Maybe there is space here for conversation and dialogue among many departments to create something new.

I have three months here at the Register-Guard. After that, my life is unpredictable. My passion is still long-form storytelling, documentary production, story conceptualization; the path to living these passions in my career is hazy. As is the life of a recent college grad.

I will continue experimenting and working to understand the role of visual storytellers and digital journalists in the newspaper world. Maybe we have a place, maybe we don't; but I have respect for the work people do here. The amazing machine that is a newspaper combines the talents and skills of hundreds of people to spin out a fact-checked, well-designed, quality conglomeration of stories and visuals daily, which is pretty overwhelming for a long-form video producer.  I definitely will not overlook newspaper journalism ever again.

Starry Skies Clear the Mind

Final projects culminate, Flux editorial meetings are put on hold, and Oregon's outdoors beckon: winter term is officially over. I drove away from Eugene for a night for a much needed break. It's time to clear my mind and mentally prepare myself for my last ten weeks of college.

On clear, cold nights by the water, there is nothing but the distant rumble of a car and the wide open sky of stars above.

To Court: Excerpt from El Viaje

Last summer, newsflashes reported on the influx of unaccompanied children crossing the border from Central American nations. Deemed an instant "border crisis," I decided to pursue the topic as a multimedia project to explore the ways in which multimedia journalism can humanize a fact-based issue. I am currently following a family from Honduras through the court system as they seek political asylum in the United States, placing their story within the Eugene community and immigration history in Oregon. The following is an excerpt from my working multimedia project, El Viaje.

 Cristel (23) holds her son, Christopher (4) two days before she attends their February 4th court hearing.

Cristel (23) holds her son, Christopher (4) two days before she attends their February 4th court hearing.

It’s 4am: time to get up.

Debemos dejar a las cinco.

Bleary-eyed, Cristel dresses herself and makes a sandwich for breakfast. She joins Keyla, who sits in the living room with her coffee. She checks the official notice again. It’s true, it’s today: February 4, 2015.

Modesto wanders around the rooms as the women prepare for the day. He turns the TV off and on again: nothing at this hour. Soon, he will leave for work. The family sits together, talking quietly and eating in the dark living room.

The two women leave the house and buckle up in the car. Modesto leans inside and kisses each of them on the cheek. As the car rolls away, he waves goodbye, barely visible in the dimly lit street.

Adios.

On the ride up, both women sleep. Even for a workday, it is early. The sun rises as they arrive in Portland. In the cold morning air, they walk to the Edith Green-Wendell Wyatt Federal Building, for their immigration hearing .

The building was recently renovated – the epitome of an energy-efficient, sustainable, solar-paneled Portland edifice. To Cristel and Keyla, standing at their 5’ 3” height before the building, the tall glass structure seems daunting and ominous.

They undergo an airport security-like screening process, and take one of eight elevators to the fifth floor.

Wandering the tall, empty halls, they search for the right room. Keyla slides her finger down a list posted on the wall. They locate the room with their judge, Andrea Sloan. Cristel pauses with her hand on the doorknob. With a nervous glance back at Keyla, she opens the door. They enter the courtroom.

“Toma mi mano,” Cristel says as they wait. Take my hand.

The robed judge sits before the American flag, looking out over her court. At her fingertips rest the documents that will determine their futures.

For half an hour, Cristel and Keyla watch defendants take the stand. Each has a legal representative, except for two kids – about eleven or twelve years old– who sit silently behind them, eyes wide.

The first defendant requires an interpreter,who speaks the language of K’iche, a Mayan language spoken in Guatemala. Next is the hearing of an “unaccompanied juvenile” from Honduras, whom Cristel and Keyla recognize from Eugene. The judge pushes the boy’s next hearing to the end of June so that he can finish the school year.

Cristel and Keyla draw in deep breaths, clenching each other’s hand tighter. The judge calls their names together, as joint cases.

They take their seats and put on headphones through which they can hear the interpreter. The questions begin.

What is your relation to each other? Cristel is the mother of Christopher, daughter of Modesto, sister of Keyla’s son.

So, Keyla is…? Partner of Modesto, mother of Modesto Jr.

The two children, Modestito and Christopher, do not have to appear in court due to their age – ten and four.

Do you have a legal representative? No.

Have you called any of the attorneys on the list we gave you last time? Yes. We waited, and finally they said they were not able to help us.

Did you call the Christian ministries? Catholic services? Pro-bono attorneys? I can’t remember the name of the place in Eugene, but I remember the person’s name being Kathy.

An attorney is beneficial, but not necessary. The judge continues the hearing.

On June 28, 2014, did you receive documents in Texas that say you entered the United States without parole? Yes.

And are you citizens or natives of the United States?  No.

Are you citizens or natives of Honduras? Yes.

Did immigration officers find you after you already crossed into the US? Yes.

Did you have visas or any documents that would allow you to legally enter the US? No.

“I find you removable from the US by law,” says the judge, her face both stern and sympathetic. With each question, she probes for any information that could reveal hidden stories that may strengthen their case, qualifying them for relief.

“Why did you leave Honduras to come to the US? Did you face any persecution directly?” she asks Cristel.

“Not exactly,” Cristel responds. “But in our town, it is violent.”

The judge turns to Keyla. Tears begin to run down Keyla’s face, who speaks quickly and nervously. “First, I apologize for entering your country without permission,” she bursts. Her voice shakes, but remains strong in the microphone before her.

“I came here for my family.”

She recounts family members who have joined gangs and became wrapped up in violence. “I don’t want the same to happen to my son.”

The room is stagnant and silent. The judge begins to shuffle through her paperwork.

“Okay. Um… well…” she sighs.  She knows their cases are weak.

“I’m going to give each of you an asylum application,” she concludes. “Being afraid of crimes, gangs and even civil unrest is not enough to qualify for asylum. You somehow have to prove that you or your children would likely be harmed if you were to return.” It needs to be personal. Some characteristic about your family. Physical evidence.

She tries to help – give examples of what will make the application successful. They must return to court with the forms filled out on April 21, 2015.

The date falls into a silent courtroom. Two months.

“In English,” she adds.

“Do you have any questions?”

Keyla’s voice sounds meek through the silence. “Is there a way to do this in Eugene? It’s hard, coming to Portland.”

No.

“There are buses – the Bolt bus is a good option…” The judge flounders for suggestions, but offers nothing the women want to hear.

But please, remember to show up. She stares intently at the women. “If you don’t, I could deport you.”

“Thank you very much, ladies.”

The judge sifts through her stack of paperwork, searching for the proper forms. Finally, she hands them asylum papers and Cristel and Keyla leave the room. They collapse onto a bench outside the courtroom, wipe their tears, and gather themselves.

As they leave, the door to the courtroom opens behind them. An attorney and his defendant exit from their hearing. The attorney looks at them, smiles, and holds out two business cards for the Christian Values Support Services.

“You need an attorney,” he says. “Call me.”

Two months.

Flashback: Science and Memory

Searching through videos in my hard drive, I found a video I made after my first trip to Alaska with Li Li. The two of us went ahead of the Science and Memory group in June to film migratory birds. We survived and were not attacked by swans and left in the wilderness to die. Quite an adventure.

A Holiday Classic

This holiday season, as I sat around the house with my family for the first time in awhile, my brother approached me with a Christmas song he composed under the name Greesy Reese. I only had to listen to 30 seconds before deciding to be an accomplice in the music video production process. Three days later, we have this.

GTFF Strike at UO Campus

When you're a journalism student on a college campus in the midst of a GTF strike, there is only one thing you can do: cover it.

I spent some time between classes yesterday photographing the GTFF strike, which supports a number of demands, including living wages and parental leave for GTFs.

Twitter and Instagram feeds active. @JuliaVi12

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