Projects from our students

Srijita Chattopadhyay

During her internship, WKUPJ student Srijita Chattopadhyay followed a Rohingya refugee family as they observed 40-days of mourning after the accidental death of their son.

The original story can be seen in the  San Antonio Express-News

Sitting on the floor of her affordable housing in San Antonio, Zahidah Begum Binti Ali Miah raises her hands in prayer. To Allah she requests, “take care of my son,” and then slowly exhales, “help me find peace.”
August 12, 2017, marked the end of a 40-day mourning period for Mohamad Sharib’s family. Ordinarily, Islam calls for three days of mourning. But, for the family, a 40-day observance is a cultural variation in their Muslim faith.


On July 7, 2017, Zahidah requested to see her son one more time after the customary ritual of gusal (bathing and cleaning of the deceased) to say her last goodbye. “My son. My good son,” Zahidah kept chanting, as her younger son, Mohamad Emran, along with relatives, escorted her out of the morgue.


Laying her head on her husband’s lap, Zahidah takes a moment to look over at her grandson to make sure he is asleep. As days pass by and Mohamad Sharib becomes a memory, Zahidah feels his absence in the family. “Sharib would always take care of me,” she said with tears in her eyes. “He would cook food, make tea, give me medicines on time and massage my shoulders when I would feel pain. Now I have no one.”

Zahidah endures the pain of the loss by herself. She feels that her husband does not understand her. “He tells me to get over it and live for my other son and my grandchildren,” she said. “But how can I do that?”



Gabriel Scarlett

While interning for the Denver Post the summer of 2017 WKUPJ student Gabriel Scarlett worked on a project about the struggles of saints and sinners and the hold gangs have had on the community of Pueblo, Colorado.

A full essay can be viewed on his website

Julian Rodriguez plays with his son Christopher at their home on Pueblo’s East Side. Julian’s decades-long struggle with addiction brought him intimately close to the gang operations as he often bought from and sold for the gangs in order to support his own addiction. With his son, Christopher on the way, he reached sobriety and had his facial skeleton tattooed to remember his commitment to his son and to commemorate his brother “Bone Head” who was killed in a shootout with the police. “Everything that I desire and want in this life is for that boy.” Christopher will grow up on the East Side, in Duke territory, but Julian hopes that a loving relationship with his father can keep him from that lifestyle.


Felix Rubio praises at New Hope Ministries, a front lines church in Pueblo that openly accepts addicts, alcoholics, gang members, and anyone else seeking God. As a gang member in Denver, Felix recalls his life as a warrior, a “beast,” owning machine guns and moving kilos of product from his apartment. His drug use kept him up for days and even weeks at a time, until he checked himself into a faith-based rehabilitation program. When people look at him now, Felix wants them to see “Jesus, bro. Jesus. When I was in the hood, I wanted them to see me. When they see me now, I want them to see Jesus’ likeness.”


On a scorching summer day, Catholic parishioners of the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart pass the Pueblo Sheriff’s Department building during a procession to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, which honors the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist.


WKUPJ Shaban Athuman and Nick Wagner place 2nd & 3rd in Hearst

Congratulations to our WKUPJ student Shaban Athuman, 2nd place,  and graduate Nick Wagner, 3rd place finish in the annual Hearst Feature/News competition.  Shaban wins $2,000 scholarship and Nick wins $1,500 scholarship from the Hearst Journalism Awards.

Image from Shaban Athuman’s 2nd place entry

Dale Brumfield, of Doswell, Va, left, stands with Jack Payden-Travers, of Lynchburg, Va, on the day of the execution of William Morva in Jarrett, Va., Thursday, July 6, 2017. Both said they are opposed to capital punishment.


Image from Nick Wagner’s 3rd place entry

Lone Peak players celebrate after defeating Pleasant Grove during the UHSAA class 5A volleyball title match in Orem on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016.


Through Our Eyes – 11/29/17

Best of the best:

Public Information Officer Timothy Gray of the WKU Police Department grew up in the south side of Nashville, TN. Gray has lived in Bowling Green since 2004, and after previously working on a joint terrorism task force with the FBI, described his current position as unexpected. WKUPD needed someone who was connected and aimed to move in a new community-based direction. Gray’s passions lie in race relations and breaking down the barriers of race. “People fear what they don’t understand,” Gray said. “We wanted to create an atmosphere that was transparent and honest.” Gray values the power of respecting people, and getting to know the community he serves. He acknowledges that there is a level of distrust with the Police Department and certain minority groups in the community. “There are some folks wearing this uniform that shouldn’t be, but those are the few,” Gray said. “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” He is passionate about asking tough questions and seeing what the Police Department can be doing better. “We are servants. That’s who we are, that’s what we do.”|Lydia Schweickart

Honorable mention:

Kicker Ryan Nuss #37 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers celebrates after scoring the game-winning field goal against Middle Tennessee at L.T. Smith Stadium on November 17, 2017, in Bowling Green, Kentucky.|Shaban Athuman

Jerry Ayers, 75, relaxes outside of Teresa’s Restaurant in Bowling Green, KY on the back of his 1987 Ford Wrangler. “My first car I bought was a 1957 Ford. I kept that car until her wheels fell off. After three engines and thirteen thousand dollars later I had to let her go. I’ve had this sweetie Wrangler here for fifteen years and she still has her original engine. She breaks down, but this Ford Wrangler is a easy fix.” Ayers said.|Michael Blackshire

WKU volleyball team beats North Texas to win the C-USA Volleyball Championship in E.A. Diddle Arena on Sunday, Nov 19, 2017.|Silas Walker


Undocumented, Unafraid

Undocumented, Unafraid

Video produced by Nick Wagner

Diana Lopez is familiar with the non-English speaking courtroom in Nashville. She’s been there twice before to settle two different charges of driving without a license. But circumstances were different on May 4. As an undocumented immigrant in the era of deportation-happy President Donald Trump, stress levels surged when Lopez heard that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were at the courthouse during the days leading up to her appearance. Lopez plans to fight back, no matter if it’s from inside a jail cell, or on the streets of the United States.


Summer’s Solstice

Summer’s Solstice

Human trafficking survivor empowers women with a grassroots Christian ministry


Summer Dickerson, 38-year-old from Louisville, Kentucky, is a human trafficking survivor and former prostitute. Within two years of initiating recovery from her old lifestyle, Summer accepted Christianity and founded a ministry to empower women caught in similar cycles. Her relationships with her husband and 11 children have improved drastically since her personal transformation. Her husband identifies as a former pimp, and their marriage requires daily sacrifice to overcome battles with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that she still faces today. She includes each of her children in her ministry work in order to demonstrate her healthy changes to them.

Soon after committing to Christianity, Summer started a Bible study for sex trafficking victims. She invites women from clubs and bars around Louisville to meet weekly for counsel and secure friendship. Additionally, she welcomes women in more desperate need to live with her and her family in their home. In summer of 2017, she completed renovations for a transitional home for them as well. Here they receive mentorship and community in exchange for maintaining strict rules for recovery. On a national scale, Summer connects a community of survivors called the “Sisterhood.” To date, she has saved and transformed many of her “sisters'” lives and fervently continues to do so.


Through Our Eyes – 11/14/17

Best of the best:

My grandpaÕs leathered skin and soft eyes are brighter than most and have seen more sorrow. They’ve seen twelve presidents, a world war that took his father away, a civil rights movement, the stoplight in town be put up then taken back down again when there was no longer a need for it. His hands have helped give birth to hundreds of calves and have carried both his parentsÕ caskets. Now, at 72, with three children and seven grandchildren all spread across the country, the future of his land is uncertain. He reckons it isnÕt time to worry yet. He reckons heÕll just work this land till he dies. He reckons they’ll be buried together. |Skylar Ballard

Honorable mentions:

NASHVILLE, TN – NOVEMBER 12: Running back Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans carries the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals at Nissan Stadium on November 12, 2017 in Nashville, Tennessee. | Shaban Athuman

“I have memories from back at home and putting them together I could tell the difference and Up to now I can remember things from there to here,” Mohamed muketar speaks of the culture difference since moving to the United States from a refugee camp in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2004 his family moved to the United States in search for a better life. | Shaban Athuman 

From left, Judy Wilkins, Jasmine Wilkins, and Sherry Simmons hold the graduation picture of Gregory Wilkins, who was murdered on Tuesday, November 26, 1996 in Louisville, Ky. He was pronounced dead as soon as he went to the hospital. Jasmine, his daughter, was two years old and in the other room when he was murdered. His girlfriend Sherry was at work, and his mother Judy was at home. “I visit his grave once a week,” said Judy. “I have been once a week for 21 years. I once dreamed that he was reaching out to my hand and I almost reached out to his. I said ‘baby, why did they take you so soon?’ He told me his time had come. Then he was gone.” Judy said. |Michael Blackshire


Through Our Eyes – 11/7/17

Best of the best:

Bill Santley, 50, waits to get off in North Hollywood on the Green Line Metro Bus in Los Angeles, California. Bill Santley has been blind all of his life. “I would suggest stay in Northern California, there are a lot of people who don’t speak english here. I have to find an address and people I try to communicate to on the train speak Spanish. Very hard to navigate around LA, and being blind makes my days more rough. Unfortunately IÕve lived here all of my life, but the train system helps. Housing is ridiculous. If your going to live in LA you better have a kid, or else people won’t help you. Or your going to get left behind.” | Michael Blackshire


Honorable mentions:

Eugene Monsun, 76, smokes a cigarette before headed back home. He has lived in Bowling Green, KY for 10 years after retiring from carpentry. ” My old roommate died a year ago so now I live with his son. I try not to dwell on death but I can’t help but think about the inevitable since he passed away. Also doesn’t help my health that I chain smoke cigarettes.” Monsun said. | Michael Blackshire

Connor Fadely helps to clear the football field following a Creek Wood victory over the Portland Panthers on October 20, 2017 at Portland East Middle School in Portland, Tn. The Red Hawks won 21-6. | Gabriel Scarlett

PORTLAND, TN – 20: Kicker Camrin Lyle of Portland Panthers sits during halftime of a game in which she did not see playing time against the Creek Wood Red Hawks on October 20, 2017 at Portland East Middle School in Portland, Tn. She is the only female member of the Portland team. | Gabriel Scarlett

Dawson, 6, trick-or-treats with his family on Halloween in Brownsville, Ky.|Morgan Hornsby

“Here, we are not prisoner,” Denise says. “The [refugee] camp was surrounded with bushes.” Since moving to Morehead in 2014, she started a garden that includes her infamous hot peppers.|Shaban Athuman

Hours after Denise Luke was born in Togo, a west African nation, her family thought they were looking at her for the last time. She was born a bit overdue, and had swallowed some bodily fluids during the birthing process. A man passing by asked what was going on and the family told him that she was dead. The man looked at her, then made a cut under both of her eyes and applied some material on the wound. Seconds later she was awake. |Shaban Athuman

Nashville, TN – 4: Runners compete in their race at the TSSAA State Meet at Percy Warner Steeplechase Course in Nashville on Nov. 4, 2017. | Gabriel Scarlett


Through Our Eyes – 10/17/17

Best of the best:

Laura Webb waves goodbye to her foster son Dawson as he goes to school. Unknown to Dawson, his mother and father would soon leave for a court appointment regarding the adoption of him and his brother. After three years of foster care, the court system changed the goal of the boys’ case to adoption and decided to begin the process of terminating parental rights.|Morgan Hornsby

Honorable mention:

WKU tight end Mik’Quan Deane (85) catches a pass for a touch down at the WKU Homecoming football game on Saturday October 14, 2017 at LT Smith Stadium. WKU won 45 to 14.|Silas Walker

Other work:

A fight breaks out between patrons and is quickly pushed out into the parking lot during Yo Gotti’s performance at a concert on Saturday, October 14, 2017 at the Sloan Convention Center. |Silas Walker

Saxton lights one of many kerosene lamps for light in his home as the sun sets. | Kelsea Hobbs

Dawson waits for the bus while his foster mother Laura Webb dries her hair in preparation for their upcoming court appointment. Unknown to Dawson, his mother and father would soon leave for court to receive a hearing on the status of the adoption of him and his brother. After three years of foster care, the court system changed the goal of the boys’ case to adoption and decided to begin the process of terminating parental rights.|Morgan Hornsby

Paige Henderson dances with her friend Melody Dickerson in Henderson’s dorm room. The two are both on the Major Redz majorette-style dance team. Since meeting at tryouts, they spend most days practicing routines or creating new choreography homework for the Major Redz. “Most days, we dance, Henderson said. Everywhere, sometimes in the Chick-Fil-A line.” | Morgan Hornsby

Wide Receiver Cameron Echols-Luper #23 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers gives high fives to young fans after his game against Charlotte at L.T. Smith Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Bowling Green, Kentucky.|Shaban Athuman

Quarterback Brooks Barden #12 of the Charlotte 49ers is tacked by Defensive Back Drell Greene #9 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at L.T. Smith Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. |Shaban Athuman

A member of the WKU Athletic staff holds a smoke canister before as the Hilltoppers are introduced on the field to play against Charlotte at L.T. Smith Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. |Shaban Athuman

Frank Phelps outside his mechanic shop in Bowling Green, Ky. Phelps and Son was once run by himself and his father, Andrew, but he has since taken over, often working 12-hour days. | Gabe Scarlett


Through Our Eyes – 10/10/17

Best of the best:

Autour Love, 46, holds a framed photo of his deceased son Javon Saadig Jackson, who was murdered by a drive by shooting on December 1st, 2016, he was 19.”First 20 minutes I heard about my son getting shot, I was Boom, out the house, drove straight from Park DuValle to 12th and Hill Street. All of the anger I let go when I was younger grew back inside me. The coroner didn’t even lay a sheet over my son’s dead body. Had him lounged over the car with his lifeless body, blood dripping on the ground. I left the streets for my son to learn from my past life lessons. All I can do now is lay back; ask God for answers, because the streets won’t give me answers.” Autour Love said while reflecting on the memory of his son Javon Saadig Jackson. October 9th, 2017. |Michael Blackshire

Honorable mention:

Running back Luke Owen #21 of the Salem Spartans scores a touchdown against Patrick Henry on Friday Oct. 06, 2017 in Roanoke, Va. |Shaban Athuman

Kenneth Forbes Sr., 45, son died a year and seven months after graduating from Valley High School in Louisville, KY. Kenneth Forbes Jr. died on December 23rd, 2012 in a parking lot off of Dixie Highway. “Christmas isn’t a good time for me, my son died two days before Christmas; that breaks me down every year. I don’t celebrate holidays. The closes people to me always ask me whats wrong, and I’m thinking do you know what happened to me man. I only have one son now, and I had to burry my first born. I suffer from grief, anxiety, and depression. Don’t ask me whats wrong, sometimes I just want to lay down in bed all day. I can never accept my son being murdered. I can find closure through reflection but my life changed on December 23rd 2012.” Kenneth Forbes Sr. said. October 8th, 2017. |Michael Blackshire