Whose Streets? Connecting Ferguson and Chicago

When Sabaah Folayan arrived in Ferguson, Missouri, just a couple of weeks after the police shooting of Michael Brown in August 2014, her plan was to conduct a public health study. A Los Angeles native who was then in a pre-med course at Columbia University, Sabaah quickly realized that tensions were too great to focus solely on conducting academic research. Ferguson’s residents were then engaged in ongoing protests against police brutality, and where national news media devoted their coverage to episodes of violence, Sabaah saw that the protestors were coalescing into a broad-based movement calling for deep social change. Instead of returning to med school, she decided to make a documentary film that would record this critical moment.

Speaking to the audience in Chicago about the process of documenting the movement in Ferguson, Sabaah noted:

[quote]“Once we got there, it was apparent that it was not the kind of environment where we could ask people multiple choice questions. We were there to be witnesses.”[/quote]

On March 5, the Goldin Institute co-hosted a screening of “Whose Streets?” with the non-profit organization Young Chicago Authors and their annual poetry slam competition “Louder than a Bomb” at the headquarters for the Chicago Teachers Union. “Whose Streets?” premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, was picked up for distribution by Magnolia Pictures, and made its theatrical debut in August 2017.

Sabaah Folayen introduces the documentary Whose Streets and outlines the themes she was exploring in the film.

The film depicts the lives of the young activists who were personally transformed even as they fought for social justice in the aftermath of Michael Brown’s shooting, focusing especially on Brittany Farrell, a 25-year-old registered nurse and mother of a young child. The film follows Farrell as she plays a prominent role in the large October 2014 marches that attracted like-minded protestors from around the country and organizes other demonstrations as well, including one on a highway that briefly stops traffic and results in her arrest on felony charges. While she awaits the court proceedings, Farrell marries her girlfriend – an act celebrated as “revolutionary love” by other activists – and continues to work on public protests against the discriminatory policies and practices of St. Louis-area police and other local government officials.

Small groups discuss solidarity between Chicago and Ferguson.

Whose Streets Director Sabaah Folayen and Travis Rejman prepare for screening.

Reflecting on the words of Audre Lorde as part of the facilitated conversations.

After the screening, the audience was treated to a performance from poet and musician Tasha Viets-VanLear, just one of the many up-and-coming artists who have participated in “Louder than a Bomb.” Sabaah then engaged the audience in a discussion about the film and conducted small group exercises reading selected texts. She explained that “Whose Streets?” is intended to be a “healing experience” that would counteract the negative images of Ferguson that were produced by the mainstream media.

Sabaah introduces Tasha who performed as a reflection on the role of the arts in social movements.

“Our number one goal was to have a film that would bring beauty and dignity back to the community,” she said. “The corporate message was that (Ferguson residents) were criminals, that they were thugs and that all that was happening was looting and destruction.”

Small groups discuss solidarity between Chicago and Ferguson.

“Whose Streets?” indeed presents an alternative vision of Ferguson, Missouri, through a cohort of young organizers with an emerging sense of political consciousness and solidarity with others around the globe facing racial, religious and political persecution. As a film that reveals the personal lives of its activist subjects, it a template for a new generation committed to reshaping society. Sabaah was herself inspired by her time in Ferguson, becoming one of the principals in the Millions March NYC in December 2014, when tens of thousands marched on that city’s police headquarters to express their outrage over the failures of separate grand juries to approve charges against the police officer who shot Michael Brown as well as the officer who killed Eric Garner with a chokehold in New York that same summer.

Small groups discuss solidarity between Chicago and Ferguson.

“No one is going to bring justice to the oppressed people of the world,” Sabaah told the audience during the exercise. “We have to be our own defense.”

Haiti Update: Digital Storytelling Project

The Goldin Institute was excited to expand the Digital Storytelling Project by conducting an intensive week-long workshop in Port au Prince, Haiti in August 2011. In this workshop, Goldin Institute associates teamed with Professor Lisa Dush from DePaul University and her graduate assistant Heather Eidson to train seven local women in Port au Prince to complete their own stories from start to finish and share them with their peers on the final day of the workshop.

A consortium of women's groups in Haiti each selected participants for the workshop who were examples of courageous and thoughtful grassroots leaders tackling gender-based violence issues in Port au Prince. The stories were as unique as each individual participant but shared common themes of strength, perservarance and commitment.

The workshop followed the same principles as those taught at Chicago's DePaul University by Professor Dush. Three primary goals were met during the week in Haiti:

  • To teach the participants how to draft, storyboard, write and produce their own digital story using their photographs and recorded voice.
  • To bring together like-minded women who share an active voice in organizing against gender-based violence in and around the temporary camps that arose in post earthquake Haiti.

  • To familiarize the participants with the basic computer hardware and software used during the workshop so that they could in turn teach the method to others or create new stories of their own.

Digital Storytelling Workshop

Thanks to the generousity of many donors, the Institute was able to leave behind the equipment to produce future digital stories. The equipment included a computer preloaded with the software needed to produce a completed digital story, along with several cameras, a compact digital scanner and the recording equipment to supply the audio tracks for newly created stories.

Workshop attendees expressed an interest in sharing their new experiences and skills with others who might benefit from digital storytelling. We are confident that through our ongoing partnership with the women's groups, our colleagues now have a powerful tool for educating and raising awareness to the issue of gender-based violence.


[quote]The Goldin Institute team showed us how to construct a personal story with photographs–a work that we would not have been able to do without GI. I can say that the week will remain etched in my mind because I felt I learned many things and I am ready to go on to teach other women how to construct their own personal stories ... thank you very much for this work."[/quote]

- Workshop participant Getchine Lima


A special thank you to our partners at KOFAVIV and the IJDH/BAI, whose partnership made the week successful and meaningful. We continue to work with both organizations on the RAPP Project. The Goldin Institute Global Associate based in Port au Prince, Rose Getchine Lima was a participant in the workshop as well and her digital story will become part of her biography and posted at our website.

We were pleased to have a Chicago-based documetarian, Renato Velarde accompany us on the trip.  Renato has started post-production work on the hours of footage he filmed of interviews with many of our associates involved with the ongoing security project (RAPP), as well as those working tirelessly behind the scenes at our partner organization KOFAVIV. Renato also filmed a brief overview of the women's workshop during this time - please continue to visit our site for updates and clips to view of Velarde's work.

We owe a great amount of gratitude to those who supported this project from its planning stages to its successful launch. Together we can continue to make a difference to those still jeopardized by the violence that plagues the makeshift communities that were meant to only be temporary shelters to women and their children. To find out more about how you can become further involved, please follow this link.

[slide] [img path="images/lisa_juliette.jpg"]Professor Lisa Dush (standing left) gives overview of digital storytelling to participants through a translator.[/img] [img path="images/writing_drafts.jpg"]Participants begin work on writing their individual stories or 'scripts' on the first day of the digistory workshop.[/img] [img path="images/workingjoemike.jpg"]Goldin Institute associates Joseph Genslak, Gia Biagi and Michael Di Maria offer instruction to workshop participants.[/img] [img path="images/lisa_standing.jpg"]Program Coordinator Lisa Dush checks in on the progress of workshop attendee.[/img] [img path="images/trav_lisa.jpg"]GI Executive Director Travis Rejman and Professor Dush listen to participant feedback, along with translator.[/img] [img path="images/audiorecording.jpg"]Digital story 'rough cuts' come together with audio tracks being checked for alignment with pictures.[/img] [img path="images/mikejoegia.jpg"]The team from GI and four of the Haitian participants pose for a photo sometime early in the workshop.[/img] [img path="images/joe_olguine.jpg"]GI Associate Joseph Genslak reviews a story in progress.[/img] [img path="images/ren_adjusting.jpg"]Filmmaker Renato Valerde checks the frame of his shot while documenting the workshop proceedings.[/img] [img path="images/renwithgetchine.jpg"]Renato and Travis (far right) interview participant Getchine about her work in curbing gender-based violence.[/img] [img path="images/kids_kofaviv.jpg"]Young women pose for a picture outside the KOFAVIV facilities.[/img] [img path="images/groupfeedback.jpg"]Back at the workshop, comments are exchanged about the value of participating in the digital storytelling workshop.[/img] [img path="images/postcelebration.jpg"]A post-production celebration is shared amongst participants and instructors on the last day of review.[/img] [/slide]