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Digital Storytelling

Featured Video:

A Digital Story by Jay "Jahlion" Coleman

By Jay "Jahlion" Coleman, in collaboration with Anedra Edwards

For the past three years, anthropology and film students in the course Community Documentary: Stories of Transformation have worked with residents of Southeast Washington- a historically marginalized, largely African American community plagued by poverty, violence, and crime – in the creation of four-minute, self-narrated films called digital stories. Working in partnership with the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, students assist residents in finding and telling a story from their lives, using photographs, family documents, community archives, and their own voice to create first-person narratives. Wrote one student: “When we listen to community members’ stories of the roots, love, beauty and home that they have, find, and feel in Southeast, it does more than simply contest crime and violence as the dominant images. It allows for a reimagining of this part of the city – its past and its future.”

The latest group of digital stories involve dancers, photographers, painters and filmmakers – all artists from Southeast Washington who share something special—they are called to give back to their community. As one student wrote in her journal, “the community member I’m working with brings healing in areas where people are oppressed. Like the other artists people are working with, these artists use art to challenge power.”

These digital stories mark the Community Voice Project’s fifth major social documentary film effort with the Anacostia Community Museum and bring to a total 27 digital stories created together thus far. In previous years, students partnered with the Museum on a series we called RiverStories, documenting community members’ engagement with the Anacostia River.  One community member said she never had an opportunity to tell her story and understand her lifelong commitment to environmental work. The student she worked with wrote: “…working on the story … helped our community member find a connection between her own life of struggle and the healing power of the River… (She came) to see the River as a source of healing for people who have been forsaken.”

(You can see all the digital stories on the links below.)

Digital storytelling can take us into the lived experience of community residents not often heard from. In their own words, these stories help break down a sense of “Otherness” from both sides, changing the storyteller and the witness in the process. In its place are people, in all their complexity, with nuanced narratives of segregation, poverty and violence interwoven with beauty, spirituality, connection and hope.

This is the transformative potential of the digital story --both in its capacity to effect personal and social change. It allows us to listen deeply to each other, across the divides of neighborhood, class, race and culture, allowing us to connect as people. Course description

Community Artists, 2012

Community Artists 2012

In the fall of 2012 students worked with musicians, photographers, and dancers – all who are called to give back to their community. View videos

RiverStories, 2011

Community members join American University students for a screening of documentaries about the Anacostia River

In Fall 2011, a new group of students partnered with the Anacostia Community Museum, which wanted to document the stories of people of southeast Washington who engage with the Anacostia river. View videos

Community Artists, 2010

Community VOice

In Fall 2010, film and anthropology students from American University’s School of Communication and College of Arts and Sciences, working with the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum, assisted community artists in Southeast Washington to create their own original digital stories. View videos