During a time of chaos, people stood up to create community, peace and tried to reinforce justice within their hometown: Ferguson, Missouri. “The aftershock of an outraged town compelled a group of UD students and program coordinators to be there, front and center, to experience the start of a human rights movement.”
The Moral Courage Project traveled to Ferguson in May 2016 to interview community members about their reaction to the nationwide news of Michael Brown’s death on Aug. 9, 2014. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer.
With Jimmie Briggs, a documentary storyteller and advocate for racial and gender equality, acted as the community connection for the Moral Courage Project. With Briggs’s assistance and through oral history interviews, photographs, and audio recordings, the group painted a picture of Ferguson for viewers through an exhibit.
Sponsored by the University of Dayton Human Rights Center and PROOF: Media for Social Justice, the “Ferguson Voices: Disrupting the Frame” exhibit showcased the work done by the Moral Courage Project. The exhibit was filled with portrait panels dedicated to each Ferguson native they highlighted within this project. Along with the panels was a SoundCloud audio component viewers were invited to listen to while observing the exhibit. The exhibit was displayed on the first floor of Roesch Library in January 2017.
The exhibit is currently traveling around the nation for others to experience. In early spring 2017, the exhibit was displayed at the Dayton Metro Library, and this past August, the exhibit was housed at the St. Louis Public Library. The exhibit has future plans of traveling, making stops at St. Louis University and Newark Public Library to name a few stops.
With the exhibit leaving its mark around the nation, the UD Human Rights Center and PROOF: Media for Social Justice decided to expand on the project by creating a complementary website and podcast.
Steven Dougherty, a senior english and philosophy double major, is a Moral Courage Project team member who traveled to Ferguson, Missouri to help his team conduct interviews. He stated that the team of students had the idea of bringing this research to a digital media platform always in the back of their minds.
“One of the big things we realized is that we had all this other stuff,” said Doughtery. “We gathered a lot of voices and we could only highlight so many with the exhibit, (the group wondered) what could we do with the other voices?”
With that, the points of view and the voices were turned into a website and podcast. The “Ferguson Voices” project was led by Joel Pruce, assistant professor of human rights at UD, who oversaw the Moral Courage Project’s work. The idea of transforming the project into a podcast and a website was driven by the rich audio gathered by the Moral Courage Project during their 35 different interviews.
“We wanted to get high quality audio where the stories and the voices of the people would be strong so that it would have an impact on the listener,” said Pruce. “The podcast does rely so much on the clarity and power of audio- that’s what we always wanted to do- be able to work and translate the interviews into sort of more of a narrative form.”
The website was professionally done by TOKY, a branding and design company based in St. Louis, Missouri. TOKY donated their work to the Moral Courage Project in constructing the website. Mark Katzman, a professional photographer, also donated his talents by shooting all the exhibit portraits.
The podcast featured many working parts with multiple talents helping to bring this podcast to life. Lushlife, a hip hop producer from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania created an original score for the podcast. Brett Sanderson served as audio mixer for the podcast. Jada Woods, a senior political science and journalism double major at UD, narrated the podcast.
Woods brought the podcast to life through her retelling of the Moral Courage Project’s experience. When she first heard about “Ferguson Voices” being transformed into a podcast, she said she thought it was a super interesting route to take. Although she’s never worked on a podcast before, Pruce called to her to be the lead narrator. Woods said she knew the podcast would be a lot of work, but she was excited for it.
“Especially the first time doing it, it was just me trying to figure out when to speed up, when to slow down” said Woods. “There’s also certain words I didn’t use in my everyday vocabulary, it was a lot of trial and error, but I had a good time.”
Pruce co-wrote the five-episode limited series podcast with Amanda Dee, a Moral Courage Project team member and UD alum. Dee played the role of editor for the podcast and was the lead writer of two podcasts within the series.
When Dee heard about the project being turned into a podcast, she knew using a podcast as a way of expressing information had it’s perks.
“Right now with podcasting, it’s definitely a trend. Podcasting is something that is more accessible. It’s also something that appeals to the non-readers. It’s sometimes easier to connect with a voice. I think (podcasting) is a good way to get stories out there, which could otherwise go untold.”
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Dee said she’s always been drawn to arts and entertainment projects. She remembers walking on UD’s campus and was struck by poster she saw about the Moral Courage Project. Dee said she was open to take on a more social justice route within her work. With that in mind, Dee said she enrolled in the human rights and mass media class, taught under Pruce, as required prep course for the Moral Courage Project.
“When I heard about this project, I just knew it was something I needed to do,” said Dee. “It was almost a vocational pull that I needed to do this project.”
The podcast doesn’t follow a traditional layout of a chronological sequence of events, but instead uses a theme structure, leaving each podcast episode with a different theme. Dee so far thinks it’s been a pretty effective way to get each story across successfully to the audience.
Pruce wanted to make sure the podcast has the ability to immerse the listener into their Ferguson experience. He described the podcast as something that has a historical bearing.
“(The podcast) is very provocative. We want to broaden the spectrum of the narrative. It’s not pro or against. It’s honest, humane, personal perspectives,” said Pruce. “You don’t have to agree with everyone, but the point is just to hear and understand them, understand their perspective and the events.”
The hope for the podcast and website is to create conversations and portray a movement in a different light.
Woods recalled Ferguson being shown in a negative light through the media when the protests were at their peak, but she hopes the podcast will start a new discussion.
“When you mention Ferguson, people are like, ‘oh that’s so bad they rioted’, but there were some positive things that the media didn’t portray,” said Woods. “Just hearing people’s voices, that they had the courage to stand up for what they believe in- I think that’s pretty cool. You see little glimpses of heroes in everyday people.”
Dee felt privileged to be up close and personal to a historical moment and that the Ferguson natives were so willing to share their personal stories with the Moral Courage Project team. She believes using the website and podcast can be an effective way to educate and unite others.
“A project like this is a way to document history, and it’s a way to share it beyond just a textbook,” said Dee. “(The project) serves as a way to connect people and build understanding in a time when it’s easy to just shut people down. Especially now when everything is so divided in our political landscape, I think storytelling can transcend these divides, everyone has a story to tell.”
The “Ferguson Voices: Disrupting the Frame” podcast is available to download on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, Stitcher and tunein now. To find out more information, visit the Moral Courage Project’s website at fergusonvoices.org, like their Facebook page and follow them on Twitter at @OurMoralCourage.
Photos Courtesy of Mark Katzman