I now work as the Associate Director of the MA in Writing program at Johns Hopkins University but over the years I have taught in the graduate writing programs at NYU and Towson University and taught journalism to undergrads as an Assistant Professor at Morgan State University. These are a few of my favorite projects.
This is a class I co-taught while an assistant professor from 2012 to 2015 at Morgan State University, a historically black college in Baltimore. Here is link to a video we made about the project, which involved traveling to Selma, Alabama for a week and here is a link to the resulting website students created. The class project won the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Award for Best of Web Virtual Reality and two awards at the 2016 Broadcast Education Association’s (BEA) Festival of Media Arts.
The project was a collaboration between Morgan State University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication and West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media. Bridging Selma was the first in a series of social justice reporting projects called StoryBridge. This joint initiative was an experiment in creating a new kind of classroom that explored the uses of emerging technology in crossing divides of race, class and gender in journalism and documentary practice.
“Bridging Selma” presented an extraordinary opportunity for a troupe of journalism students and faculty from Morgan State University and West Virginia University students and faculty to engage in an experiment in social justice reporting.
Ground Zero – Selma, Alabama – was our classroom. Our method was to look at Selma today through the prism of the past. Bridging was our metaphor — Bridging historical divides of race by reporting on the real outcomes of the hope and promise of political, economic and educational opportunity of 50 years ago. Bridging cultures – how students and faculty from a historically black college and those from a rural, predominantly white school could explore the difficult issues surrounding both their diversity and commonality.
Our goal was to empower young journalists to collaboratively confront issues of race and representation, and to instill in them a critical agency over that narrative. Our objectives were to sensitively explore and advance an essential dialogue on race and justice, and to create an immersive environment where students could learn from each other as they accelerated their journalistic and reporting skills using emerging technologies.
In 2014, as an assistant professor at Morgan State University, I inherited one section of our senior capstone class. Historically, these students who were working in video, print, or audio all did an independent project on whatever they wanted. I reconceived the class (and continued to teach it) so that students worked both independently and together on various projects around a single topic. They worked as an editorial team, sharing sources, experts, ideas, and research. They dug deeply into the subject—that first year, the topic was a new youth curfew that many feared would fuel tension between the black community and cops--and came up with creative story ideas and different mediums for storytelling. I received a Casey Family Foundation grant to help with transportation expenses for students who needed to move around the city for reporting. The package of student work was published in Baltimore City Paper, my students were interviewed on a local radio station, and I was interviewed about the project for The Washington Post Magazine’s education issue. Reflecting on the issue now, it’s clear students were eerily prescient in their concerns since a year after their reporting appeared, Freddie Gray died in police custody and Baltimore erupted in an uprising. Here’s link to our website, “Don’t Wait ‘til Midnight.”
Project description from the home page: This summer, Baltimore implemented a new curfew, one of the most restrictive in the nation. Younger teens have to be inside by 9 p.m. on weeknights. Older teens must be off the streets by 10 p.m.–and by 11 p.m. on weekends. Teens who are picked up by the cops must show ID and could be sent to one of two youth centers where they are held and screened by social workers. Parents of these teens could be fined as much as $500.
Concerned about racial profiling and unreasonable search and seizure, the ACLU in Baltimore has likened the new curfew to New York’s stop and frisk, a practice that a Federal District Court in Manhattan said last year “violated the constitutional rights of minorities.”
As protests on the heels of the Ferguson Grand Jury’s failure to indict Michael Brown’s shooter sweep the nation, concerns about police brutality are front-page news.
By upping the chances of youth-cop interaction with a harsh new curfew law, is Baltimore City likely to be the next Ferguson?
This is the question posed by journalism students at Morgan State’s School of Global Journalism and Communication. Thirteen students examined Baltimore’s new curfew from every angle, creating a multimedia package that explores youth-police interaction by speaking with politicians, lawyers, cops and, mostly importantly, teens themselves.
“Seven in the City”
This is a two-semester class I am currently teaching at Johns Hopkins University’s MA in Writing Program. The first semester, journalism students did written profiles of seven year olds across Baltimore and articles on systemic problems confronting our city's youth. This semester, my writing students are joining forces with undergrads in the Film and Media Studies department and I am co-teaching the class with filmmaker Matthew Porterfield. The project is supported by a $10,000 “Idea Lab” grant, funded through the JHU President’s office, that I secured to cover project expenses like the beautiful photo, above, by Baltimore photographer J.M. Giordano.
"7 in the City" is a multimedia journalism project that explores what it is like to be a seven-year-old growing up in Baltimore today. Students in the Film Department are producing short documentaries of 7 year olds. The Nonfiction Writing students are joining them as producers but are also writing in-depth written profiles of seven year olds all over Baltimore—focusing on public health issues (lead poisoning, asthma, violence, STIs, teen pregnancy, etc.), race, class, educational and economic disparities. They will also write accompanying articles looking at public health and educational issues as well as creating visual data and mapping overlays, with an eye toward the ethics and social justice issues surrounding disparate childhoods in the city.
I am borrowing the idea from the British documentary filmmakers who began a similar project in Britain in 1964, as a way of looking at how class colors children's aspirations, health, and access to resources. The 1964 film, "7 Up!" took as its premise the Jesuit saying, "Give me a boy until he is seven, and I will give you the man." In that documentary, the director followed children of diverse classes all over Britain. For my students' project, they will follow children from communities all around Baltimore to see how neighborhoods color the child's worldview, life, and their chances for health, happiness, and success.
When students have completed the multimedia website in May, I hope to partner with a media outlet to publish the student work.