Documenting the Badlands

by tuftsigl
Jun 12
Madeleine Pelton is an international relations major in the class of 2016 and interning with Solutions Journal this summer.
When I began this internship, I was under the impression I would be working and writing on my own, in a cafe, or in my house, with one to two weekly checkins with my boss. However, after my first meeting with Christina Asquith, an acclaimed journalist and author, I realized this internship would be much more hands on, and much more interesting. 
Christina laid out options for my internship, reiterating the importance of internships in which students actually learn valuable skill sets for future employment opportunities. Amongst the options she laid out, one caught my eye and ended up being the focus of my summer thus far. 
When Christina was a couple years out of college, she moved to Philadelphia for a year to teach middle school in the Philadelphia Badlands, the crime, violence and drug infested 1.5 square mile neighborhood just north of the city center. While teaching at Julio de Burgos middle school, she developed some important and lasting relationships with her young students, one of which, Vanessa, invited Christina to her wedding three months ago. Christina attended her wedding and agreed to film the ceremony and the celebration for the newly weds. Vanessa’s life had changed dramatically since Christina had taught her in middle school, yet at the same time, Vanessa’s assumed trajectory was clearly laid out during middle school, given the nature of her upbringing, her family, and the neighborhood she lived in. 
During my first meeting with Christina, we discussed making a short (5-7 minute) documentary on Vanessa’s life. We had intimate access to Vanessa and her family, we would film the neighborhood she grew up in, and we would explore the feelings of hope Vanessa has for the future. My next steps are now to research everything about Vanessa’s neighborhood and aspects of Vanessa’s life. I am gathering information on the thriving drug trade in North Philly, especially on Kensington Street, the dark street that runs under the L line, that is famous for its prostitutes, junkies, and drug dealers. Due to Vanessa’s involvement in an Evangelical, reformist church called “In the Light,” I will research the Evangelical movement in poor, urban areas in America. I will also look at the heated and continuous debate between the city and Philadelphia citizens over the failing public school system, one that Christina is all to familiar with, having served as an untrained teacher for a year.
The research will lead up to a weekend-long trip to Philadelphia where I will serve as Christina’s assistant interviewing and shooting for the film.