Meet Moses Shumow: ivoh fellow capturing untold stories in Liberty City, Miami
Image from forthcoming book, “Fragmented Miami: News, neoliberalism, and contested urban space,” co-authored with Dr. Robert Gutsche. One chapter is on the digital infrastructure in Liberty City and the difficulties organizers face as they try to get more people online. Photos by Moses Shumow. Layout by Robert Gutsche.
Moses Shumow lives what he teaches and teaches what he experiences as an educator and filmmaker. As an assistant professor of digital media in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Florida International University, Shumow encourages his students to think beyond the classroom walls and take a more holistic approach to covering community narratives in Miami.
Last year Shumow led Broadcast & Digital Media Studies students to pursue a project focused on collecting untold stories of Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. Liberty Square Rising, the website created to document the project, features an interactive map, photos and oral histories. “This is not just a story about public housing—at its core are issues of poverty, violence, race, access to education and jobs, and social justice. The redevelopment is only the beginning of the journey for the historic neighborhood in the core of Liberty City,” states the project’s site.
As an ivoh fellow, Shumow is expanding the work he started with his students to create a documentary entitled, “Liberty Square Rising: Hope, Resistance and Resilience in Miami’s Urban Core.” The documentary will feature a wide range of voices from current and former residents of the Liberty Square Housing Development, one of the oldest public housing projects in the country. The film will move beyond the media narratives of crime and violence to tell honest and untold stories of Liberty Square.
We recently asked Shumow about how the Restorative Narrative genre and ivoh fellowship have influenced his work as an educator and filmmaker.
Gloria Muñoz: What initially drew you to ivoh’s Restorative Narrative fellowship?
Moses Shumow: Although my first career was in documentary filmmaking, much of my work as an academic has centered around critiques of the media and dominant narratives that I see as harmful or problematic. So I found it refreshing to encounter a group like ivoh that was trying to come up with an alternative — here was a concerted effort to not only question what impact reporting can have on traumatized communities, but to envision a different approach to storytelling; one centered not around tragedy and chaos, but around healing, hope and resilience. Because I had been spending time in Liberty City, a Miami community that has seen decades of struggle and whose residents are confronted with the residue of long-lasting trauma nearly every day, this seemed like a great opportunity to explore the possibilities for Restorative Narratives within my own work.
Muñoz: Tell us about your story and where you’re at in your reporting process.
Shumow: I’m producing a documentary that tells the story of the Liberty Square Housing Development, which was built in 1937 and is one of the oldest public housing projects in the country and the first segregated project, built specifically for Miami’s black residents at the time. Over the years, as a result of neglect and disinvestment, it has become a place where tragedy and violence are all too familiar, in stark contrast to the hopes and dreams of the working-class black community in Miami that it used to represent.
In 2015, the housing project was targeted by Miami-Dade County for razing and redevelopment. Under this plan, the entire project will be torn down and new, mixed-use housing — meaning both public, subsidized and market rate units — will be built in its place. Because I have been working in the community for several years, I became interested in both capturing the important history of this community, telling the stories of the people who live there now, and bearing witness as change looming on the horizon.
I have completed most of the primary interviews for the documentary and am currently editing the initial footage into a rough version of the film. There are still several events that I am planning to film — including the first ever Liberty Square Family Reunion in early June — and I’m working on developing a character, a young single-mother living in Liberty Square, who will be an important part of showing day-to-day life in the community.
Reporter Nadege Green, who grew up in the area and covers Liberty City and Liberty Square for WLRN Radio, the local NPR affiliate, discusses the power of language to shape the way we think about people and places in the news. It’s an important part of reflecting on the power of the media and the need for building the Restorative Narrative genre as an alternative. Produced by Moses Shumow; Directed by Walter Rivera; Video by Walter Rivera and Jack Muldavin; Sound by Diego Saldaña-Rojas.
Muñoz: How is the fellowship helping you develop and tell this story?
Shumow: Aside from using the Restorative Narrative as a guiding principle in my work and how I am approaching this story, I have found working with the other Restorative Narrative fellows incredibly helpful. I’m inspired by the work that they’re doing and it pushes me to strive for similar levels of commitment in my own efforts. I feel that as a group, we are really trying to find new and innovative ways to tell stories of trauma and hardship; the feedback I receive from them and the dialogue in which we have engaged over the past few months have been tremendous.
Muñoz: What have you learned so far about Restorative Narrative?
Shumow: That it’s harder than it sounds! Not to make light of the effort, but it’s so easy to fall back into familiar narratives when reporting on difficult subjects.
I have often found myself questioning my own approach as I try to tell the story of Liberty Square: Am I keeping the lives of my subjects in focus, and staying true to their voices and stories? How can I avoid the pitfall of focusing on struggle, poverty and violence at the expense of seeking out moments of resistance and resilience? Who is my audience and how can I make this a story that has both impact and contributes a perspective that has either never been heard or was drowned out in the sensational reporting that came before?
I think the Restorative Narrative holds much promise as a genre and form of storytelling, but I also think it requires a level of commitment and self-awareness on the part of the storyteller that makes the effort challenging and a constant work in progress.
Muñoz: What advice do you have for other media practitioners who want to tell Restorative Narratives?
Shumow: Stay committed. Believe in your story and your ability to tell it. Constantly question your approach and why you have chosen it. Be true to both the narrative you are crafting and the people or communities whose story you are telling.
ivoh’s fellowship provides a group of media practitioners with a stipend to spend six months telling Restorative Narratives in various communities. This is the second year ivoh has held the fellowship.
Related: How a journalism class took a more holistic approach to covering community narratives in Miami | Transforming news of violence into stories of resilience | ivoh fellows help create guiding questions for media practitioners wanting to pursue Restorative Narratives | Meet Dan Archer, 2016 Restorative Narrative fellow and a pioneer of Virtual Reality journalism | Meet Heidi Shin, 2016 Restorative Narrative fellow and multi-media journalist sharing the stories of refugees | Meet Christa Hillstrom, 2016 Restorative Narrative fellow and journalist learning about recovery from a joint-lock ninja in Fargo