Feature Stories

Finding their voices

You pass them everyday. They are all around, and their numbers are huge. In fact, more than a quarter of Athens residents live below the poverty line, but those 28 percent tend to suffer in silence. Often their power is limited, their stories untold.

That is until now.

Video and slideshow stories of 10 Athenians living in public housing are available on a Web site created through collaboration between the School of Social Work and the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

"These stories are not about poverty. They're about people," said Mark Johnson, a photojournalism lecturer in Grady's Department of Journalism and one of two faculty sponsors of the project. "It's not us talking about them. It's creating a space for them to tell their own story in their own words."

The stories are told through nine social work and 17 journalism students, who each made the presentations .

"I visited Joe all throughout the semester, at least six times," said social work student Amanda Davis of her subject Joe Lawrence. "It surprised me that I was so welcomed by the residents (of Rocksprings Community Center) as an outsider. I was surprised by the level of involvement Joe had with all the other members of the community. Hopefully this will change people's perspective on what it's like to live in public housing."

Changing minds is what it's all about, said Donna Bliss, assistant professor in the School of Social Work and faculty co-sponsor.

"I can tell you that the stereotypes are just not true. I've had the privilege to work with some of these people, and they are some of the best people in the world," she said. "What I can do for them is to speak for them, to tell their stories. But to allow them to tell their own stories is much more powerful."

The project is funded through a $10,000 grant from the Paul and Margaret Beasley Broun Student Support Fund.

These are the kinds of stories that surround not just the Athens community, but countless others across the nation and the globe.

As video subject Russell McBain watches a video about himself in which he goes to church, applies for a library card and visits a senior center in Watkinsville, his eyes begin to tear up. His voice, normally a low grumble, softens.

"I can't believe it. That's so nice," he says to TiTi Akinkanju, a first-year graduate student in the School of Social Work who produced this video about him. "Thank your for telling my story."

Published Sunday,