Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Skyline High School Screening at the Ann Arbor Senior Center

Okay, okay... it's been too long since our last entry.  Content creation takes time, and when you're wearing ten different hats for a small non-profit, sometimes you have to set social media aside in order to focus on actually doing the stuff you blog about.  You know, that pesky "mission" thing.

The good news is that the mission of the Legacies Project has continued even as this blog has languished.  (But I promise to do better.)

Speaking of the Legacies Project mission and all the fun stuff that entails, we have a public screening of student videos based on the oral history of local seniors on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 6:00 p.m. at the Ann Arbor Senior Center.

Here's the poster.  It's free.  We'll have cookies.  Need I say more?

Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Acquisition has been acquired!

Today I'm posting pictures from the final acquisition day of the Legacies Project collaboration between the Museum of African American History and Y Arts Detroit.

As you've probably guessed, by "acquisition" we mean acquiring senior citizens’ oral histories on videotape. Generally teams of three students are assigned to a single senior.

One student is the camera operator.

Another is the audio engineer.

And the third one
conducts the interview.

We have a minimum of three acquisition sessions so students can experience all three jobs.
Y Arts Detroit had 18 age-appropriate (older than 15) students signed up for the July session of their Summer Media Arts Camp, so we were able to interview six area seniors, whom you see on this page with their teams, which were named by the students (as you'll see...):

Mary Martin, age 95, with half of the team "Ninja Pandas";

Suane Loomis, with the other half of the Ninja Pandas;

Shirley Northcross with half of A1 Productions;

David Northcross with the other half of A1 Productions;

George Ramsey with Team America;

Louise Adams with Team America (not doing jazz hands);

Louise Adams with Team America (doing jazz hands ...sorry).

This Legacies Project installation is far from over. Next the teams of students will add data tags to the video to make sure the Legacies Project archive will be fully keyword-searchable. As far as we know, we’re the first non-profit project that’s training students to add metadata tags to an oral history database. (Huge kudos and thanks to the technical and vocabulary wizards at the Ann Arbor District Library for working with us to create the new online data tagging tool!)

Then comes a huge part of any Legacies installation: The students—either working within their acquisition teams or sharing video across groups—collaborate on editing short stories from the video they shot. Project administrators and Y Arts Detroit camp counselors will help them craft good narratives with beginnings, middles and ends. Once the students have an approved cut, they’ll submit image requests to the seniors, asking for photos or artifacts (ticket stubs, posters, etc.) that will add visual interest and help tell the elders’ stories. We’ll schedule a scanning party at Museum of African American History in the next week or so to gather that media, which will also go into the online archive.

Anyone who has ever edited video knows the students have a whole lot of work ahead of them! But it’s a great group; they’ll knock it out of the park.

More photos soon!


Thursday, July 8, 2010

What an Awesome Day!

Today we began a Legacies Project installation in Detroit, MI!

First things first -- to acknowledge the organizations who are making it happen: The installation is being made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation of Southeast Michigan, and we are teamed with the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, who have recruited senior participants with amazing stories to tell, and are hosting the interviews and, later, the public screening. We found our young participants by partnering with the folks at Y Arts Detroit at the Downtown YMCA, who are running two consecutive Media Arts Camps, one in July and one in August. The Legacies Project will be part of the programming in both camps.

Today, the students got a lesson in the basics of video (shot composition, lighting, etc.), received IRB training about the ethics of research, learned how to conduct effective interviews, and went through gerontology empathy training.

But before the campers received any training, we kicked the day off with peer-to-peer interviews.

So, what's a peer-to-peer interview (besides the obvious)? It's our way of doing pre- and post-project evaluations of young participants' attitudes about aging and elders.

Many social commentators have observed that America is probably the most ageist society on the planet, and of course the students who come to Legacies are products of the larger culture. Whether they even know it or not, they may have picked up on some really horrible cues, especially from the mass media. Think about how elders are portrayed on the typical sitcom, and the ways in which they're the butt of jokes. It's a far, far cry from societies where intergenerational households are the norm, and where the wisdom of community elders is held in high esteem.

We have the students talk to each other about these feelings without the project administrators around. We get more candid answers that way. (I only poked my head in briefly to take the pics you see here.)
We haven't had a chance to review what the campers had to say yet, but we hope that when we compare their attitudes toward aging and elders today to their attitudes at the end of the project, we'll see meaningful growth. So far, we always have. We're looking forward to the process here in the D.

Tomorrow we put our participating seniors through an orientation, and on Monday our campers and our elders meet for the first time.

We'll keep you posted!


Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Legacies Project - Origins Pt. 4

Geez, how long does an origin story take? This is turning into the Star Wars prequels. Last one, I promise.

It became clear that valuable, first-person accounts of history are conveniently gathered in elder communities. It was also clear that the more stories gathered the better, since, over time, content overlap would evolve that would facilitate deep dives—archiving a single story about, say, a speakeasy during Prohibition is great; archiving hundreds of speakeasy stories would create a bona fide historical and academic resource.

The final piece of the puzzle was to figure out how to get all those stories videotaped without breaking the bank. Because (a) broadcast-quality video is expensive to produce, and (b) if we're gonna bother capturing these stories on video at all, it ought to be broadcast-quality—it would be great for project awareness to do television specials based on the elders' stories, and a powerful incentive to participants to do good work knowing it might wind up on TV.

So there's the challenge: Anyone doing the work is going to want to be compensated, and a non-profit project could never raise and sustain enough money to pay so many camera operators.

But what if you could pay those camera-people with something other than money?

Is there a group that routinely works for less than professional-level compensation? That's already accustomed to working internships or doing work-study for the experience, networking benefits and to beef up resumes and applications? That needs to accrue credits and/or community service hours? That would be eager to learn video production and editing skills so their Facebook pages and YouTube channels would be awesome?


But here's the deal: We weren't going to look at students as "free labor." So we have put a huge emphasis on imparting skills that are in high demand among young people, and useful and valuable in the real world. So young people who participate in the Legacies Project get a lot of training. How to operate a video camera. How to frame and light a shot. How to conduct an interview. Institutional Review Board training in the ethics and methods of conducting academic research. And the basics of non-destructive, non-linear digital video editing.

The bonus? Using young people to interview old people introduces the many benefits of intergenerational programming. There's a bunch of 'em. Let's talk about that next time.

Thanks for reading!

Jimmy Rhoades
Co-Founder, The Legacies Project

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Legacies Project - Origins Pt. 3

We're launching this blog with the origin story of the Legacies Project. Parts one and two were about the transformational experience of hearing new and more meaningful stories from my Dad while he was dying.

Dad had a good death—he had hospice care, and died at home surrounded by family. Just a few years later his sister—my Aunt Marie—had a bad death, enduring an agonizing decline in a nursing home.

Now, in the years since Aunt Marie passed, I've learned a lot about elder care—it's a continuum ranging from assisted living to skilled nursing to long term care to blah blah blah... It's all true, but it's inside baseball. I think most people think what I remember thinking at the time—that there are two kinds of nursing homes: the nice ones that you probably had to be rich to get into, and the ones that scared the bejeezus out of you.

And it's not like people in the business don't get it. They know long term care environments push people's buttons. It's a place most people don't go unless they have to—when a relative goes there, or when you yourself are admitted. And a nursing home certainly throws your own mortality in your face. Big hitters in the industry understand the challenges better than anyone, such as eldercare visionary Dr. Bill Thomas, who has described the "three plagues" of nursing homes: boredom, helplessness and loneliness.

Those are exactly what I witnessed at Aunt Marie's facility.

I was living in Chicago at the time, and would visit whenever I was in town. On the way to her room, the hallway would be lined with women in wheelchairs, who would literally reach out, grab my arm and ask if I could just talk to them for five minutes. I'd always stop to chat. It sometimes took 40 minutes just to get to my aunt's room! The stories from the hallway were by turns, dramatic, hilarious, charming, harrowing, and, sure, sometimes boring. But I'll take a clunker or two as payment for all the good ones. And it was evident at the time (and supported by research later on) that there was great therapeutic value for the elders in having their stories heard.

Aunt Marie went into long term care when she had a stroke. She had lost her language capacity—she tried to speak, but what came out was unintelligible. Her mind was sharp, and it was incredibly frustrating to her. We looked at photo albums, and as she made noises instead of words, I wished I had heard more of her stories while she was still able to tell them. And I valued the stories I heard every visit on the way to her room.

It was another light bulb moment: clearly, nursing homes are where community elders are gathered; they're repositories of great stories and valuable first-person accounts of history. After talking to my Dad, I had wondered how to cast a wide net to gather narratives, both for simple efficiency, and to achieve the kind of content overlap that would make such an archive valuable to historians, researchers... and anyone who likes good stories. In nursing homes—and by extension wherever groups of elders are found... at community centers, churches, VFW Halls and the like—we have a treasure trove of stories already gathered in one place. Get an army of video cameras to the places where the elders are, and you've struck gold.

The next question was: Where to find an army to hold those video cameras? And that'll be our next entry.

Was anyone else ever scared to death on their first visits to a so-called "nursing home?" (I use that term less now that people in the elder care industry have educated me. And let me be clear: I have been in some AWESOME, caring, compassionate, friendly and upbeat long term care facilities since that first nervous experience.) As always, the comments section below is for your stories and feedback.

Thanks for sharing,

Jimmy Rhoades
The Legacies Project

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Legacies Project - Origins Pt. 2

My previous post was about getting to know Dad when he was dying by asking about his life in a deeper way. My efforts were rewarded with some awesome stories.

Dad had gone into the army after serving an apprenticeship (amazing in itself; who serves apprenticeships anymore?) to be a dental technician -- basically the guys who make oral hardware for dentists: crowns, bridges, dentures, etc. The army wasn't big on nuance. Even though Dad didn't go to college, they told him that in the Army, he was a dentist.

Dad wound up in New Guinea doing dentistry, including oral surgeries. As the situation worsened, his superiors figured oral surgery was close enough to regular surgery, and had Dad doing procedures like removing shrapnel and closing up for other doctors. A young guy trained to make dentures working in wounded soldiers' torsos! Unreal.

I asked him if he ever lost a patient. He said he lost a young man, and was distraught. His commanding officer gave him the rest of the day off and a fifth of gin. He told Dad to go get drunk and report for duty in the morning. And that's what he did.

Usually medical outfits were left alone, but one night Dad's camp was overrun. The medics scattered. Dad hopped onto the back of a passing jeep, and jumped into some bushes at the top of a hill overlooking the camp. He watched all night. Finally, at dawn, reinforcements came to restore order.

Dad said that as he made his way down the hill, he saw all his buddies from the camp emerging from bushes, climbing down trees, popping out from behind rocks. They had all done what he did -- scrambled for cover and watched all night.

That's when it hit me: What if, in addition to Dad's account of this night in New Guinea, I could find two or three -- or even ten or twelve -- other men who had witnessed the same event? You could really shake out something close to the truth of what happened. But how could you ever cast a wide enough net that, over time, you could achieve that kind of valuable content overlap? The gears had started turning.

Half of the answer came to me when my favorite aunt died just a few years after Dad did. I'll tell you about that next time. Meanwhile, in the comments below, I'd love to hear other people's stories, and whether or not anyone has ever sought out multiple accounts of a single event from long ago. Did you get a group together, or talk to people individually? How similar -- or different -- were the various stories?

Thanks for sharing,

Jimmy Rhoades
Co-Founder, The Legacies Project

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Legacies Project - Origins Pt. 1

Francis Rhoades died in 1993. He was my Dad. It was a good death, as deaths go. He had been on the cancer roller coaster for a while, making gains and ceding ground. But when it got to his liver, we were told it would spread quickly, and it did.

Somewhere in there we were told he had between six months and a year before we'd lose him. He lasted smack in the middle of that range, nine months. I was 23 years old when Dad got sick, 25 when we got the six-months-to-a-year timeline, 26 when he passed. I'm not proud of it, but I spent most of those first 25 years avoiding the guy.

See, my Dad was bigger than life, at least to me. He was large, loud, quick to laugh and quick to anger. Unless you wanted to get smacked with a fire-and-brimstone tirade you avoided certain topics -- politics, religion, sex, drugs and rock and roll. The idea was to keep it light. "How about those Tigers?" Or get him telling one of the same ten stories we heard all our lives that would make him laugh so hard his eyes got swallowed up by his cheeks, leaving little creases that seeped giddy tears down his face. Sure, we knew the stories by heart, but it was safe territory, and I was keen on keeping our interactions safe.

But then cancer put our relationship on a clock. This was my last chance to get to know this guy who had dominated my life for as long as I could remember.

While I didn't know it at the time, what I embarked on over the next several visits was an ad hoc life review or oral history. And the stories were amazing.

I'll share some of those stories in another post. In the meantime, I'd be interested to hear if others have had similar experiences with their own parents or grandparents. It's odd how sometimes death, when it's not sudden or unexpected, is a kind of gift. Cancer brought my Dad and me closer. Anyone else?

Jimmy Rhoades
The Legacies Project