Off/Page Project poets draw from CIR's public housing investigation

“I see barren hallways / Broken cameras / Uninvited guests / There’s no service here / As if a sea of people were cast away on an island to fend for themselves”

So begins the verse of Richmond poet William Hartfield-Peoples in the latest example of sourced storytelling for the Off/Page Project. The project is a collaboration between The Center for Investigative Reporting and Youth Speaks, the leading nonprofit presenter of spoken word performance, education and youth development programs in the country.

In conjunction with CIR’s new investigation, produced in partnership with the San Francisco Chronicle and KQED, about the failures of Richmond, Calif.’s housing authority, Off/Page recruited three poets from a local nonprofit to work with CIR reporter Amy Julia Harris.

Hartfield-Peoples, along with fellow Richmond poets Donte Clark and Deandre Evans, is part of the arts nonprofit RAW Talent, or Richmond Artists With Talent. They joined Harris in the Hacienda and Nevin Plaza housing projects, interviewing sources and walking through dilapidated, mold-infested buildings. The poets also worked with drafts of Harris’ stories to inform their writing.

Playing the roles of both documentarian and storyteller, the poets incorporated Harris’ findings into their own investigation of the larger socioeconomic state of Richmond. The result: “This is Home,” a collective piece of multimedia storytelling that highlights the findings of CIR’s investigation and cites sources’ experiences pulled from Harris’ reporting.

This poem, coupled with the poets’ own experiences growing up in Richmond, offers a bird’s eye view of how the failure to maintain these government-subsidized properties speaks to larger ills gripping the Richmond community. Harris and CIR Senior Editor Andrew Donohue provided creative feedback and editorial support to the poets.

After finalizing the poem, Off/Page Project director José Vadi and filmmaker Jamie DeWolf produced a short film featuring Hartfield-Peoples, Clark and Evans performing their poem, music video-style, inside Hacienda.

This is the second short film produced by Off/Page, following the nationally acclaimed “Whispers From The Field,” inspired by CIR’s Rape in the Fields investigation. That film, available in both English and Spanish, was part of Off/Page’s launch last August.

You can also watch the video for “This is Home” on The I Files.

Off/Page’s work on this investigation continues with a collaboration with StoryWorks, CIR’s partnership with Tides Theatre in San Francisco, to bring CIR’s investigation and the compelling performances of Off/Page’s poets to the stage. Stay tuned for more details on the premiere in March.

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