Families tell their story of loss to Louisville’s Gun Violence

Michael Blackshire started his journey to document victims of gun violence last semester in Louisville, Ky. What started as a series of portraits evolved over time as he came closer with the family’s of homicide victims and began recording their stories with audio then transitioning to video. As the project became bigger he brought together a team of WKUPJ students to help him bring his vision for the story together. Michael along with Fahad Alotaibi, Gabriel Scarlett, and Shaban Athuman attempt to tell the stories of people that often feel their stories aren’t being told.

To view the entire piece, visit https://michaeldblackshire.atavist.com/broken-branches

 

 

Rochelle Turner wraps her body around her only son’s Ricky Jones High School jacket. Ricky Jones was murdered April 2017 from gun violence at the age of 29-years-old. “At first I would look at other mothers who lost their sons and thing their sons were into something and mine wasn’t. I would think that maybe if my son was doing something wrong or died from a disease or committed suicide I would be able to find closure, but in any way I can’t bring my son back. Hew was murdered but his life wasn’t his own. He had five children who now have to live without a father in their life,” said Smith.

Judy Wilkins, Jasmine Wilkins, and Sherry Simmons, left to right, hold the graduation picture of Gregory Wilkins who was murdered at his home on November 26, 1996 at 1737 South 22nd Street, Louisville, KY. “I visit his grave once a week. I have been once a week for 21 years,” said his mother Judy Wilkins. “I once dreamed that he was reaching out to my hand and I almost reached his. I said baby why did they take you so soon. He told me my time had come.The last thing I heard him say is take care of Jasmine, and let Sherry know that I love her, and that I love you, my mother and my dad. Then he was gone.”

Craig Bland holds middle school and elementary school photos of his son Craig Bland Jr. and Toreze Bland who were both murdered in 2012 and 2015 from gun violence in Louisville. “After my first son was murdered the situation made me worried about loosing my youngest son. I thought it was only a matter of time until they shot my youngest one. The streets killed my sons. My son’s were good people they just were around the wrong people. I watched my wife Diana die from cancer in front of my eyes, my brother was murdered, my two nephews were murdered, and now I have no more sons, no more children. There used to be a lot of live in this house. That love is gone now.” said Bland.

 

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

https://www.expressnews.com/40-days-mourning-photo-essay/?cmpid=gsa-mysa-result

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 in the summer of 2017, WKUPJ student Gabriel Scarlett began traveling to Pueblo, Colorado, a rust belt town known for its gang culture. His ongoing essay focuses on the community’s resilience.

A full essay can be viewed on his website

http://www.gabrielscarlett.com/their-eyes-on-high#1

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 Wins 23rd Overall Photojournalism in the Hearst Intercollegiate Photojournalism Competition

WKUPJ Wins Overall in Hearst Intercollegiate Photojournalism Competition.

Hearst Journalism Awards program recognized Western Kentucky University as the overall winner in their Intercollegiate Photojournalism Competition.  This marks the 23rd year that Western as won First Place overall in the prestigious competition.
To win overall in Photojournalism students competed in two competitions, News and Features, and in Picture Story/Series.

In the first competition two students from WKUPJ could enter up to 8 images each. Senior Harrison Hill won 1st place and Sophomore Gabriel Scarlett took 2nd place with their collection of images.

The second competition was Picture Story/Series with Junior Srijita Chattopadhyay taking first place for her story about a mother’s struggle with the loss of her 12-year-old daughter who died from an overdose brought on by bullying at school.  Freshman Lydia Schweickart placed 10th in the competition with her story about a mom starting her career as an exotic dancer to support her family after her fiancee lost his job.

Congratulations to our students who competed, along with the rest of our students who push to make our program a success every year. As the WKUPJ family we inspire and challenge each other to do better and in turn we all are a part of our fellow student’s success.

Love You Forever

Love You Forever

WKUPJ Student Srijita Chattopadhyay documents Melanie Hack’s struggle to carry on following the death of her 12-year-old daughter Reagan, who died from an  overdose of prescription pills. “I am tied of everybody hating me.” were Reagan’s last words to her mother, who learned Reagan had been a victim of bullying.

We Fear The Water

How the push of a button has ignited an almost year-long battle over clean drinking water and how residents of a City stuck in financial turmoil are trying to cope.

 

Bishop Bernadel Jefferson encourages the crowd to take action on the issue of Flint's water quality during the Healing Stories on Racial Equity speaking event at the Flint Youth Theater on Saturday, March 22nd, 2015. The event was hosted by Flint Strong Stones and supported by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion and included many other conversations about the quality of water and it's connection to African-American neighborhoods.

 

It was April 2014 when, at the push of a button, the Flint River — which hadn’t been treated for daily use in over 50 years — became the city of Flint, Michigan’s main water source. The responsibility of water treatment was passed from the Detroit Water and Sewage Department to the shoulders of the local water plant. Government leaders cited a potential savings of around $5 million over the course of two years for a city staring into the face of financial emergency.

As water plant operators used more chlorine to fight bacteria in the water, the presence of trihalomethanes (THMs), an EPA regulated carcinogenic, spiked. Many began buying bottled water and would do so for the coming months, refusing to drink the toxins coming from their taps.

Later that year, elevated levels of lead were found in many of the City’s homes, as well as in the blood of children. State officials however, did not alert their citizens. It wasn’t until an independent study conducted by Virginia Tech showed the rise of lead levels that state officials began taking action.

Today, the City of Flint is under a state of emergency declared by recent mayor elect Karen Weaver. It’s citizens are left coping with a failing infrastructure, a lost trust in their government system, and a looming sense of fear for their health. READ MORE

Los Rancheros

Los Rancheros

Marcos Espinoza, 17, who is half Guatemalan and Mexican is born and raised in the U.S. He’s a son of illegal immigrants. He represents a generation of Hispanics, the biggest and youngest minority group in the States currently counting 54 million people (2013). Never before in the history of America has a minority ethnic group made up such a large share of the youth in America. One-in-five schoolchildren are Hispanic and every fourth child born is Hispanic according to Pew Research Center.

WKUPJ Student Betina Garcia introduces us to the Espinoza and Barrillas family, giving us a better understanding of the changing population that makes up the U.S. today.

 

 

A Father at 60

A Father at 60

In the hilly countryside of Fordsville, Ky., 60-year-old Faron Cox spends his days in the same double wide trailer where he spent his childhood. Following the loss of his father in 2006, Cox inherited the home in addition to the expanse of land he now looks after.
At an age when most are retiring, Cox faces the daily challenges and struggles of raising his two youngest sons, Faron “Bear” Cox, 8 and Skylor “Tiber” Cox, 4.
Reality hits often for Faron as he finds himself worrying about the demands of childcare and his diminishing health. He relies on his disability check and pain medication for his back to get through the fiscal and physical challenges of each day.
A tense and complicated relationship with the children’s mother leaves Faron as a single father. Now, he questions the time he has left to watch his children grow.