More than 50 incoming Northern Kentucky University students shot videos, took photographs and documented their unique, personal stories throughout 2020.
This first-year experience pilot project, Humans of Greater Cincinnati, is a collaboration between the university’s Honors College and NKU R.O.C.K.S. Each student received an iPad to capture life during the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice protests and election cycle.
“The most powerful aspect of this project is that it sheds light on the diversity of the human experience of our university's students—international students leaving their home countries to come here, students protesting in the Black Lives Matter movement, students losing parents and loved ones to the virus, first-generation students during their first year of college,” says Jim Buss, dean of the Honors College. “You get the very fabric of NKU’s student population through these stories.”
The long-term goal is that students will learn the fundamentals of community-based learning and connect with their local communities. During fall semester, students were focused on telling their own personal stories through a photojournalism lens. The next stage, which takes place during spring semester, will center on telling community stories with a focus on neighborhoods in Covington, Newport and Over-the-Rhine.
“The intention is much larger than just putting stories on Instagram and Facebook. The idea is to get students to tell their own stories, connect to the community and connect their entire academic experience to the needs of the community,” Buss says. “Hopefully they will want to stay in this area, be employed in this area and change these communities for the better.”
“I gained different perspectives on life because of college. College has been teaching me that I can achieve things bigger than myself and make a difference for others. I’ve been hit with reality checks that made me realize that I can be more than what I want to be. I’ve connected with others during this project who had great stories and overcame obstacles that led them to be here at NKU with me."
“I remember the days when I would go to this coffee shop after school to study or just simply hang out with friends while grabbing coffee. As a teenager, I have had the funniest stories and the best memories I could possibly have in this town. I will never forget the impact these local places have had on my life and my perception of Richmond."
“Seeing so many people's stories through photos, comparing our experiences and connecting without physical events or even knowing the names of others in just raw human connection is amazing.”
"Honestly, I’ve never taken much of an interest in having my hands in piles of manure and peat moss, but this spring and summer felt different. In the midst of the coronavirus, I needed my hands in a good metaphor and a garden is a good, if obvious, metaphor for all the good that can come out of the dung."
“My family planned to go west during the summer of 2020 before my freshman year of college. Unfortunately, we lost my brother and my mother before we could make my trip. But my dad and I continued. Three weeks before we leave, I have surgery. Five days before, I am put into the hospital with bowel obstruction. I am discharged a day after we planned to start driving. We take off that second. On the first night, we break down at midnight. The tow truck is called, we fix the truck, and we continue the drive. This is where I come from. Being able to find joy in small towns that weren't on the route. Adapting to every bump in the way and finding the good in the ugly.”
“A couple of weeks after quarantine started, everything seemed to clump together. Days became weeks, weeks became months. For a while I was pretty bummed out—a combination of sad, mad and all the other basic negative human emotions. As I look back on this summer, one big thing that sticks out. No matter how I was feeling that day, I went to bed always thinking about tomorrow.”
“Growing up as an African American in a predominantly white community can be more challenging than some would think. In a school like mine, most people didn’t understand the concept of institutional racism, and I became very frustrated with my peers because I felt silenced. This feeling started to change once I metMrs. Ella Campbell, one of only two black teachers at my school. I am forever grateful for her impact on my life and how she has influenced the person I’ve become today."
Director, NKU R.O.C.K.S.
“My photo represented my place of peace during the midst of a storm in my life. My life has shifted over this year with the double pandemics of COVID-19 and racial unrest. This year, my family experienced a significant loss of my last living grandparent and a few other loved ones who have altered so many parts of our lives. It seemed as if out of nowhere, life changed in a blink of an eye. The photo presented the one calming space that just allowed me to breathe.”
“Ever since the summer of freshman year, I have been working here at Lake Waynoka as a lifeguard. This summer has been a bit different. Due to COVID-19, we were unable to train new guards. The few returning guards had to pick up the slack, so this has been where I’ve spent most my summer. Though it wasn’t my original plan, when I saw this beautiful rainbow, I knew I had to use that as my picture. In many cultures, rainbows are a symbol of change and new beginnings. I think that we can all agree that 2020 has brought on quite a bit of change."
Vista Leader, NKU R.O.C.K.S.
“Graduating in the middle of the pandemic and while recovering from a major loss was hard. I was grateful that I had overcome big obstacles to get where I was and that I was closer to my dream to be in the medical field one day, However, I was saddened by not walking on stage with family present and having to figure out the next steps in such an uncertain time. I realized it was about time to take care of myself and that it was okay to take it one day at the time. Journaling, reading helpful books, getting help, making my favorite breakfast meals, and making time to color, all these were safe places for me to feel and recover.”