PBS NewsHour profiles the Off/Page Project

PBS NewsHour has produced an exclusive segment profiling the Off/Page Project, a collaboration between The Center for Investigative Reporting and Youth Speaks, the country’s leading nonprofit presenter of spoken word performance, education and youth development programs.

NewsHour senior correspondent Jeffrey Brown interviewed Off/Page Project Director José Vadi about the project’s origins and why new forms of sourced storytelling are necessary in both the poetry and journalism communities.

The segment also showcases Off/Page’s recent poem-turned-short film, “This is Home,” produced in conjunction with CIR’s new investigative report on failures by the Richmond, Calif., public housing authority.

The Off/Page Project launched in August with the film “Whispers From the Field,” featuring a poem by 19-year-old Monica Mendoza. The poem-turned-film (produced in English and Spanish) is based on the CIR investigation Rape in the Fields, produced with FRONTLINE, Univision and the Investigative Reporting Program at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. 

For its most recent film, Off/Page recruited three poets from a Richmond-based nonprofit – Deandre Evans, William Hartfield-Peoples and Donte Clark – to work with CIR reporter Amy Julia Harris in the Hacienda and Nevin Plaza public housing projects. The group interviewed sources and walked through dilapidated, mold-infested buildings to inform the poets’ writing.

Watch NewsHour’s segment profiling the Off/Page Project below:

 

Watch Off/Page’s “This is Home” below:

 

The Off/Page Project’s work on the Subsidized Squalor investigation continues with a collaboration with StoryWorks, CIR’s partnership with the Tides Theatre in San Francisco, to bring the investigation and compelling performances of Off/Page’s poets to the stage March 20 to 22. Tickets are on sale now.

Here’s the full text for “This is Home:”
Written by (in order of appearance): Deandre Evans, William Hartfield-Peoples and Donte Clark

Deandre Evans:
This is where rodents and roaches are like family
’cause we share the same meals
Top Ramen, cereal, Kool-Aid
It’s no family complaints
Everything is enjoyed that we refrigerate and put in cabinets
We feel 30-below air from cracked windows
No heat for when Richmond wind blows
No AC to cool down the weather that makes us sweat
Neglect is the only thing we get
Fungus disintegrating the walls
Bathroom sink replaces bathtub
Only place where I can wash my body
Everybody comes through the door except people who repair
Why are elevators broken in a place made for people who are disabled?       
How can we use stairs when we
roll the wheels of our chairs and lean our bodies on canes and walkers?
No one is responsive – feel like I’m talking to myself
When help is asked to restore something as simple as a lock on a gate
So I can feel safe
Never get any phone calls returned
Don’t get to talk to anything more than a machine,
This is home ­–
it’s not built for us to survive.

William Hartfield-Peoples:
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
The weather outside is frightening
The absent guard’s ghost remains in its rightful place
A world ran by village rules
We exist only to survive
Accustomed to the law of the land
Mind your business
Pay no mind to that body that just fell
from the top floor the other night.
Silence has become an ally to fear
the fear of being evicted,
Like a sickness the madness of this reality soaks in to a simple statement:
“Better here than out there”
I see Juanita:
a double amputee bound to a chair,
hands scarred not by surgery or disease,
but by a room and a door that a wheelchair wasn't made for,
Every day she pushes through,
Every day she pushes on because
This is home.
Look at Mama Hall:
81 years young and she still keeping a routine
Weary eyes maintaining order with disorder
Day in and day out
and if the proper authorities won't help
Then they help themselves
Whether it be mice nesting in the walls
Dope dealers in the halls
Or prostitutes treating for a trick
These seniors take hold of what they can
and fight for what they can't because
This is home
Where videocassettes are glued to the ceilings and the walls to keep the mice out
This is home
Where the people make their own
Ain't family but they'll never be alone
Ain’t nowhere else to go
and these old folks need a place
so they make space
and pray for tomorrow
’cause tomorrow shows a new face.

Donte Clark:
Tomorrow, as dawn peeks
and blue jays sing praise
I will awake,
with a gracious morning
resting lightly on my eyelids,
Thankful
I can roll out of my plush covers feeling silk
Feet seep deep into warmed carpets in my apartment
On winter mornings around Decembers
Unthaw the frosted grip I have on misery
And set me free
Believing without seeing has brought life to this carcass
Tomorrow,
I will be treated more like resident
Feel more relevant than just a pawn
You feel me?
I bet not ­– see no dirt but green in these lawns, huh?
Don’t want to smell no cocaine linger
or mildew clingin’ to my doorsteps, huh?
Gotta protest, raid the government,
shake their pockets
and make them fix these projects, huh?
’Cause if not here, then where?
Where do we go next?
’Cause left is cemetery,
Barbed-wired hearts
Unchained metal gates like a welcome place for the tear apart
Open doors for the match and spark where
Everything dies slowly,
on schedule.
But until tomorrow
Before my thoughts will manifest kingdom
And we feast in abundance of wealth
We’ll break bread,
share what leftover scraps we have
and find communion in our struggle.

This is tomorrow.

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