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From Film to Public Health

When I entered my fourth year of college at the University of California, Santa Cruz, I was expecting to graduate in the spring and begin searching for opportunities that would kick start my career as a filmmaker. At the time, I had spent the first three years of my education studying Film Production and Digital Media. The camera is a such a powerful tool that can bring people together despite cultural or language barriers, and I wanted to become a professional story teller using all elements of film. The only problem was that during undergrad, wanting to be a filmmaker didn’t feel like it was enough. I knew I wanted to share meaningful stories, but what kind? And about whom?

That fall, I decided to take on another major. One that I believed would help me narrow in on the kind of stories that would shape my film style. I decided to declare Community Studies as my second major, which is often defined by its focus on social justice and its distinctive pedagogy integrating classroom learning and extended field study. One of the requirements of the major is to embark on a six-month field study. Given my background in film, the RYSE Youth Center in Richmond, CA was recommended to me because their Media, Arts, and Culture department was responsible for producing powerful art and creative projects via music videos, spoken word, theater, and short films. I was sold! When I was accepted as an intern, I was asked to host videography workshops that taught young people all aspects of film production. The hope was that, by doing so, these young people would learn how to share their stories through film. They had creative freedom to use the camera however they wanted, as long as they were the ones in control. It was really empowering.

Naturally, I found myself getting more and more involved in the organization’s Community Health department since a lot of the stories the young people wanted to tell, involved (you guessed it) trauma that they’ve experienced. I didn’t know it at the time, but RYSE is a trauma-informed youth center that operates under the guiding principles of trauma-informed care. The work that the organization does, from their healing practices, music videos, and community events, to problem solving as a staff, is rooted in addressing and healing from trauma.

I started my internship focused on film, but I ended it with a new interest… one that I am currently pursuing. Today, I am in my final year at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University where I’ll graduate with my Master of Public Health degree in Spring 2021. The most important realization I had while interning for RYSE is that trauma has the power to disrupt the health and well-being of generations, and all it needs is one person to take effect. I’ve also realized that because I have an understanding of trauma and, in particular, trauma-informed care, I am in a better position to support others and, hopefully, prevent re-traumatization. I often feel the difference in how I manage conflict in my life. I am a lot more patient and understanding when it comes to disagreement or hurtful actions or words. I ask more questions and listen to what it is said (and not said). I make a conscious effort to separate action from character and tend to say/believe things like, “that person did a bad thing” versus, “that’s a bad person.” And most importantly, I ask what others need instead of assuming.

Learning about trauma has taught me that everyone is in need, but how we all communicate this will vary tremendously. So, whether it’s someone being straightforward and explicitly saying, “I need…” or someone lashing out, using a trauma-informed approach helps us maintain the same level of compassion in either situation and reap the same results: understanding and healing… Two outcomes that are very much possible when we have the right intentions and are willing to learn as much as we are to teach.