Thursday, December 04, 2008

Walk the line: freedom writers

"A student stands alone during a version of the "line game" where students stand before a line on the floor and then step onto it when they agree with a statement said aloud at Van Bokkelen Elementary School. These students were learning to express themselves with writing, more distinctly in journals, by Karen Gibson who based their exercises from the Paramount film "Freedom Writers.""

Often one will see people wince when they see a graphic photo. They feel it's objectionable content and are overwhelmed. One will also hear folks say that they cannot read a story any further when it's about loss and despair, too.

But that's not fair. Their actions are unjustified because the subjects, the people in these stories and photographs, don't have to simply look at it, they have to live with the conditions and environment they are in at that moment in time. Their story must be heard.

While the images I had to take on this assignment weren't graphic or difficult to capture, the story was profound. It made me want to share these girls story again after the article.

A couple weeks ago I walked into an elementary school in Anne Arundel County to document some "Freedom Writers."

These Freedom Writers were being taught by Karen Gibson, who had based their current exercises from the film which told a true story of an English class in a gang-ridden area in which the students came to respect their teacher and others after learning to express themselves with writing, more distinctly in journals.

As just mentioned, Gibson was doing the same with a small group of girls who also came from troubled families.

During my time in the school, the class played the "line game" - a game where students stepped on a tape line silently if they could answer yes or agree with a statement said aloud.

Things started simple with general questions that I could have stepped on the line for, such as: Do you like rap music? Do you have a pet? Do you have siblings?

But then questions turned serious: Who knows someone who died in gang violence? Who has seen someone commit suicide? Who has seen their parents have sex? Who has had bullets fired at their home?

These and other questions were jarring to an objective, young adult like me. I feel like I've witnessed a lot and am well versed with the daily news, but when you look around at a bunch of elementary school girls who have lived lives I've only seen in movies, it's heartbreaking.

As the game progressed, the students started asking their own questions, rather than a prewritten list by Gibson. This is when the courage showed, this is when I noticed they got the point of the game.

Several times during the game a single student would ask a question and then peer around the room to see if anyone would join her on the line and often no one did.

Here these young students were sharing things they are embarrassed to admit to strangers and classmates. But as we were told by Gibson, it's a huge relief to know that someone in your class could also share those same hardships.

Stories like this make me realize that I am in journalism for the right reasons. You can read the entire story here.

On an unrelated note: Thanks to Vincent Laforet for posting the audio of Platon from the Eddie Adams Workshop. Great to hear it again. Listen here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with you on the fact that its completely heartbreaking to hear about the things these girls have had to go through in their lives, and especially because they're just in elementary school. I think its also the fact that people aren't aware, or wear blindfolds when they see the world around them and refuse to believe that there are crazy things happening out there to people who don't deserve to go through that at a young age.
Love the pictures! the first one I felt had a lot to say.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 8:39:00 PM  

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