Bio: Alex Kelly

Monica Parfait and I speak about the Crown Heights project at a recent Medgar Evers panel

Hello, my name is Alex.  I’m looking forward to being TA for this course. I’ve had Civic Media in my life ever since I was in high school.  I coordinated weekly talk shows with students in my class and taught elementary school students how to produce stories that mattered to them on WERU, a grassroots radio station in Maine.

After I felt the power of the microphone, I wanted to pass it on to others.

As a facilitator at StoryCorps, I introduced over 1200 people from around the country to the power of listening to and capturing conversation through recording. My favorite parts were the “words of wisdom” – moments when lessons were shared with the awareness that strangers would discover them in the depth of the Library of Congress archive. People want to know that their lives and lessons will be remembered.

The StoryCorps Airstream in Denver, CO

During the Summer of 2009, I completed a self-designed project entitled Listen To This: Recording Stories of Bangor’s Homeless, where high school students interviewed homeless shelter guests at in Bangor, Maine and shared their stories with the community.  The project promoted community and youth awareness of homelessness from the voices of people who live it.  Most of the 15 people who were interviewed, attended the final listening event, sitting in different parts of the audience and watching people listen to their stories.

After finishing the project in Bangor, it was my personal goal to settle down for awhile; to be part of a community.  New York City can seem so huge sometimes that the act of seeking out a community can often seem like a daunting task!I wanted to get to know my neighbors in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Their life stories have shaped the history of the neighborhood, and continue to shape it as it changes of the years.  Where is this history going as the community becomes more gentrified, as new people (like me) move in?

Before We Present Our Work to the Neighborhood

Four students at Paul Robeson High School joined me in this community-seeking mission.  The students were the backbone of this project.  They planned it from the beginning. They set goals, talked about interviewing techniques, planned for and implemented presentations at a local nursing home and a Precinct 77 Community Council meeting.  They asked the librarian at their school to accept the completed archive of 45 interviews with people who have lived in the neighborhood for over 20 years.  For the most part, I stepped out of these interviews, sitting of to the side and letting the students take over.

Our Final Listening Event

Our final listening event attracted over 130 people from many different community backgrounds and interests.  To listen to some short pieces from this project, go to Silence Without Doors.  You can also read about the project from the students’ perspectives at their blog.

I continued my work with high school students in Crown Heights  at Brooklyn Children’s Museum.  They filmed portraits of 14 people from the neighborhood who they interviewed on the subject of “change.”  I have included one example of their work below:

Right now, I am working on a few other exciting youth media projects that dig up the history of neighborhoods in Manhattan.  The projects are still unfolding, as they always do when you work together with high school students and communities (who I have always included in the project planning process).

I would love to answer any questions about these projects and am always open to collaboration and other ideas.  I’m very interested in sharing and expanding my knowledge on developing partnerships, conducting interviews, and presenting final projects to a neighborhood audience.

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