In early 2020, shortly after COVID first materialized, a small community with a large university mobilized to keep everyone safe. Well before the U.S. had figured out how to deal with the threat, Healthy Davis Together made free, painless testing available across the community, instituted wastewater monitoring, initiated high-touch outreach and broad public education campaigns, and deployed strategies for keeping schools and businesses open. These actions drew on the strengths of and benefited the entire university — faculty, administrators, students — and the whole community — neighborhoods, city, county, businesses.
The strategies they implemented to take on a crisis — together — succeeded in reorienting systems and relationships for the long haul. Purple States was asked by a PR firm acting on behalf of a local funder and coalition to tell the story of this unprecedented partnership. Mini-docs on various dimensions of HDT's work were screened at a community festival, embedded on their website for use by all partners, and shared on social media and at conferences. They have been used by the stakeholders to consolidate community and university buy-in, to fuel advocacy and public awareness, and to spread the word with other communities and universities about this prototype for collective efforts to take on challenges that affect everyone.
Seven Connecticut news organizations joined forces to analyze challenges facing Connecticut's cities and investigate the relevance of solutions being pursued elsewhere. Purple States video anchors their coverage in the concerns and experiences of residents. Co-produced with Bridgeport's CT Post, the New Haven Register, the Waterbury Republican-American, and CT Mirror.
Videos accompany solutions-focused reporting on who benefits from New Haven's job growth, downtown development in Bridgeport, and brownfields redevelopment in Waterbury.
In the Cities Project, Purple States helped local newsrooms use regional focus groups and video produced with a diverse group of residents to fuel a more pragmatic, inclusive, and solutions-focused public conversation. This was also our aim in 2018, when we helped a group of New Hampshire newsrooms found the Granite State News Collaborative.
Can walls restore upward mobility? Is the American Dream big enough for everyone to share? A two-part series for Politico Magazine probes the politics of immigration through Trump and Clinton's own family histories. Neither candidate took account of what made their own family's American Dream possible, and what has changed.
Their stories illuminate what divides us as a nation, and why immigration continues to be a lightning rod. And the questions they raise remain relevant. Will the fears of Trump voters be addressed? by candidate Trump, or his rivals? by the Democratic party?
A fourteen-part series reveals how culture influences the way different communities define and pursue health. An aspiring ballerina, a transgender teen, seniors line dancing in a library parking lot, immigrant mothers in a trailer park, quilters at a community baby shower, a Lakota elder building relationships between children and horses, and 8 more.
With the Foundation, a broad-based Advisory Group, and the cultural communities themselves, Purple States produced the videos and designed and tested a distribution strategy. The stories are being used and shared by gthe Foundation to spur reflection on the role of culture, and to seed partnerships that support cultural resilience and innovation. They are proving useful for staff development, college teaching, program outreach and community-driven planning - and in a curriculum for teaching tolerance.
In another project that gave voice to a community perspective not often heard or heeded, Cynthia Farrar and Erik Clemons co-produced discussions among Black men and among Black women, about what it means to be a Black man in America. A short film — "Who Holds These Truths to be Self-Evident?" — anchored a frank Facebook Live conversation in 2020.
In 2010, Purple States began a grand experiment in global self-filming: 192 regular people in 192 countries turn a camera on their own lives. We began with Kenya, Finland, and Trinidad and Tobago. Instead of creating a stand-alone global series, we used this method to produce video with people from more than 50 countries for the U.N. Millennium Campaign, the Global Fund Advocates Network (GFAN), and Open Society Foundations (OSF).
With GFAN and member NGO's, Purple States produced six self-filmed stories and scores of video-booth testimonials by people in 50 countries who live with AIDS/HIV, TB, and Malaria.
Producing stories with the individuals and communities affected by an issue gives them a chance to be seen and heard — and to inform policy-making. The digital library of almost 200 GFAN videos has been used by advocates worldwide. The Global Fund screened stories at meetings with world leaders and presentations to US Congressmen, UK and Canadian MP's, and African Union politicians. And with OSF, Purple States trained advocates in Eastern Europe and Africa to produce videos with people with mental health problems and physical disabilities.
Four recent graduates of technical training programs test the value of a vocational credential. Technical high school
and community college courses offered them a second chance. Are they equipped to succeed in 21st Century manufacturing?
The video portraits accompanied a New York Times Business section series on vocational training. The stories were also used by the Foundation to ground discussion at a grantee convening, aired by local media and distributed by local, state, and national advocates.
Another Gates Foundation-funded series on a related theme appeared on USA TODAY in 2010. Degrees of Difficulty featured five college students who don't fit the traditional image. But their journeys reflect the experience of most college students in America. They filmed their own stories and took them to policymakers in Washington.
Purple States and DCTV set out to document the realities of life after prison by filming a cross-section of people for up to a year after their release. More than 3 million people viewed the resulting multimedia, short-and-long-form documentary coverage, produced by the New York Times and Frontline.
New York Times articles, video segments, and social media features explored the variety of factors that influence the trajectories of returning citizens. As states seek to reduce the number of people in prison, the challenges of reentry illuminated by these stories remain acute.
Frontline's broadcast, Life on Parole, follows four people as they navigate the challenges of finding work, staying sober, and parenting — all while under intense state supervision. Unprecedented footage of their interactions with parole officers exposes the conflicting demands that compromise successful reentry: parole as surveillance, and parole as support.
Life on Parole was cited in the 2019 duPont-Columbia Golden Baton Award to Frontline, and received the National Council on Crime and Delinquency's 2018 Media for a Just Society Award.
The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven funded IMRP to help formerly incarcerated individuals use the films as an advocacy tool. IMRP also held held screenings and discussions at conferences, colleges, and community meetings around the state and developed a screening guide.
With Kellogg Foundation support, Purple States carried out an assessment with Media Cloud and the CT Institute for Municipal and Regional Policy (IMRP) that affirmed the potential of documentary journalism to inform public understanding and policy discussions, online and on the ground. IMRP held screenings and discussions at conferences, colleges, and community meetings around the state.
To cover politics, Purple States brings different perspectives into the same virtual space, and reframes polarizing issues in terms of their significance in people's lives.
During and after the 2008 election, five purple couples revealed their secrets to a successful red/blue union. Their self-filmed explorations of love across the political divide aired with Wall Street Journal Live reporting of the 2009 inauguration of Obama — and remains powerfully relevant today. Broadcast on WSJ's YouTube channel, as a news video on wsj.com, and in its OffDuty Inauguration Special.
In the run-up to the 2016 election, the story of a red/blue couple in a purple state accompanied TIME Magazine reporting on research that suggested the majority of Americans are not as divided as political rhetoric and media portrayals imply.
In 2008, Purple States covered the election with five ordinary Americans from different places and backgrounds. A multi-part series of op-ed videos complemented New York Times and Washington Post coverage.
A communications firm commissioned this series to explore the value of a foundation's investment in a statewide curriculum designed to prepare students for careers. The videos follow four ordinary teenagers at an unusual high school. They're learning math and science — and how to be engineers and biomedical professionals. Linked Learning and its partners distributed and screened the stories to reveal the impact of their strategy on student lives and prospects.
Other examples of storytelling that brings to life the value of a nonprofit's work include self-filmed stories of trainee phlebotomists at ConnCAT, whose mission is to open pathways to opportunity. And the ACT Foundation commissioned Purple States to tell the stories of the Working Learner Advisory Council, to show what's at stake in the Foundation's quest to build a national learning economy.
In 2019, Purple States and Data Haven worked with local health departments and community organizations to develop a powerful advocacy tool. Short documentary films and video clips produced with residents of three Connecticut communities integrated data with personal stories to reveal the mix of social and economic factors that drive stubborn health disparities, and lead to dramatic differences in life expectancy: 20 years statewide, and almost 15 years within the borders of a single city.
We started filming, and then COVID hit. So we turned to residents of the communities most at risk because of long standing inequities, and asked them to document the life-expectancy-disparity story that was playing out in their own lives, in real time. A four-part series of video diaries filmed by residents of New Haven and Hartford aired on the Connecticut Mirror with Data Haven op-eds that used health equity data to draw out the broader policy implications of the pandemic’s disparate toll.
As the virus abates, and measures to mitigate its impact end, both the COVID and the broader life-expectancy stories are a reminder that a return to 'normal' does not serve everyone equally. In the words of one featured resident and advocate, Myra Smith: "We don’t need a crisis like COVID to tell us that people are hungry in these communities. You know the numbers. You have the data."
Local partners included: the North Hartford Triple Aim Collaborative; the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut; the New Haven Health Department; the Valley Community Foundation; and the Naugatuck Valley Health District.
What would it take to dismantle this alignment between zip code and wellbeing? Purple States is developing a video series with Open Communities Alliance to explore this question, through stories of housing choice. How do entrenched patterns of segregation and disinvestment affect the ability of families at all income levels to live in communities where they can thrive?