Earlier this fall the Pulitzer Center staff and several of our grantee journalists spent a few days in Chicago for a series of more than twenty talks at schools and universities. The David Weinberg Photography gallery also hosted an evening event during which several of our Chicago-area education partners talked about their use of visual media in and out of classrooms.
The current exhibit at the gallery, curated by Matthew Avignone, is Pulitzer Center grantee Carlos Javier Ortiz’s “We All We Got,” a series of documentary photographs that illustrate the long-term effects of gun violence on the city’s young people. The exhibit provided the backdrop for educator testimonies on the power of media creation as a learning tool.
“Here we can see [Carlos’s photos] in all their glory,” Pulitzer Center education director Mark Schulte said of the gallery. “These photos remember, they mourn, but they also hope, and I think they’re wonderful examples of...what news photography can be.”
“The work is about resilience, not really about anything else but resilience and how families learn to live again,” Carlos added. “The tragic beauty, the hope, the love - everything that comes out of that.”
Cristina Benitez, visiting instructor at DePaul University and Director of Latino Media and Communication, described her summer journalism program “Pasos al Futuro,” a video-intensive workshop to which she added a photojournalism unit this year. Mark and Carlos visited the class twice to discuss Carlos’s work and inspire students to tell the stories of their neighborhoods through photography.
Tracy Crowley, information literacy specialist at Wheeling Community Consolidated School District 21, discussed how students and teachers in the district’s schools have engaged with global journalism, particularly with images. Since the beginning of the district’s partnership with the Pulitzer Center last year about 3,000 students have studied various forms of global journalism “and it is truly some of the deepest, long-lasting learning that I’ve ever witnessed,” Tracy said. “They also have developed a lot of empathy and compassion for others...They care about the world, they care about each other, and they care about people near and far and they want to do something about it.”
Finally, Free Spirit Media program coordinator Rebecca Connie and three Free Spirit Media student participants -- high schoolers Da'Quan, Adrian and Christian -- took the stage to present the short documentary film they made in Free Spirit Media’s summer program, with mentorship from Carlos. Inspired by his work, the team of students decided to make their film about the relationships between parents and their teenagers. Then they showed the film, “#TheStruggleIsReal.”
“We feel that everyone should watch this because it’s showing both points of view, of both parents and their teens, and how they don’t understand each other,” Da’Quan said.
Adrian added that the “reward” came when he saw what people got out of watching the film. “We can produce this and help others around the world by what we can do, not just what someone tells us to do,” he explained.
Christian remembered the smile she saw on her mother’s face when she watched the finished piece.
“The process was really adventurous, an awesome adventure,” said Adrian.
Carlos underscored the importance of education programs like Free Spirit Media and Pasos al Futuro. “A lot of these kids [in the photographs at the gallery] had great things going for them, a lot of them didn’t,” he told the audience. “The future is about the investment we make.”
Special thanks to these folks at David Weinberg Photography: David Weinberg, Meg Noe, Matthew Avignone and Houston Cofield.