Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Each summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora. The next project is tentatively planned for Northern Uganda in 2018.
There has never been a definitive, defining moment in my life where I thought, “Yes, this is it. This is why I want to be a lawyer.” I’ve just always sort of known.
Although we had been prepared for what happens during Operation Streamline, I still felt a familiar feeling of excitement when I entered the courthouse. I find law and the idea of justice to be intriguing because visiting courts is like taking a peak into my future.
When I entered Operation Streamline, however, I felt shame. There were about 60 captured migrants in chains and headphones. They were quiet and they looked scared. Despite how angry I felt when I saw the chained people, that anger didn’t compare to what I felt when I saw their lawyers. They looked carefree and comfortable. They were standing around casually chatting with each other and laughing while their clients sat alone. These were the people I was supposed to look up to?
Now, the moderator in me has to be fair; I have no idea what the lawyers said to the clients before entering the courtroom. They could have been kind and compassionate, I don’t know. What I do know is that if I were in a new country, surrounded by a language that I didn’t understand and waiting to hear my fate, I wouldn’t want the person who was supposed to be fighting for me to look like they were on a lunch break.
My inner optimist would like to believe that these lawyers are good people. They are defending one of the most vulnerable populations, after all. But I want the migrants to feel respected. I want the process, despite it’s regularity, to be respectable.
Although the whole Operation Streamline process, not just the attorneys, disturbed me. I don’t want it to scare me away from my chose career path; I want it to inspire me to be better.
I guess you could say that it was my definitive, defining moment.
As we wrapped up our experience in Nogales, I couldn’t help but feel wholeness in my heart after hearing the stories of various individuals but also living amongst those who have lived a life of anguish yet still remained full of hope. However, the complexity of this issue left me with questions unanswered because while the solution to migration lies within humanizing those who suffer, the end to this issue could take much longer for the rest of the population to realize.
Our journey to Nogales was never meant to solve migration. The migrants we walked with and lived alongside with allowed us to see that in even the hardest circumstances, each individual should be treated with dignity, a right that cannot be taken away from them no matter what a government thinks is acceptable punishment. After hearing heartbreaking personal stories and understanding a migrant’s fate called out into a federal courtroom, I know that there is injustice in our society in the treatment of those who suffer. I know because I have seen the effects this inequality has on others and how it has become ingrained into our society.
Dr. O’Keefe made a point in his lecture during our trip that really opened my eyes to what it means to stand in solidarity with others. This is by no means as eloquent as it was when I first heard it, but I’ll try to explain it as accurately as possible. Dr. O’Keefe explained that after his first experience working with marginalized communities, what was once knowledge on the subject that may have been known mentally before being immersed in the community moves and settles in the heart and becomes a much more personal issue after being awakened and made aware of the realities that others may suffer.
It is societal nature to desire to categorize one another and put each other into little boxes that fit us with others who may be like us. Sadly, it’s instinct to want to push rich people to one side and the impoverished to the other, those with fairer skin to one side and those with darker skin to the other, those with brilliant minds and those who were not given those opportunities lie on different sides of the spectrum. We’re so caught up in wanting to organize our lives one way or another that we lose sight of the unity of humanity. No matter what characteristics or life experience we have in common or differ from one another, we all have a purpose on this earth. Some of us may know this reason and may be living out this purpose while others may be searching for what they were destined to do and who they were destined to become, but it’s up to each of us to recognize that a human life, with all of its faults and perfections, is a gift no matter what.