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Taylor Dumas ‘20 edits interviews to create documentary on racism

By Upstate Institute on September 9, 2019

Submitted by Taylor Dumas ’20, one of 30 students doing community-based research this summer as a Fellow in the Upstate Institute Summer Field School.

Taylor Dumas at the offices of Mountain Lake PBS this summer.

This summer I have worked as a video editing intern at Mountain Lake PBS. Based in Plattsburgh, New York, Mountain Lake PBS services an audience of over 4 million in New York, Vermont, Quebec and Ontario with high-quality digital media content in pursuit of its mission to “inspire and enrich people and communities through meaningful storytelling, entertainment, education and public engagement.” They do so through the production of The Mountain Lake Journal, the station’s weekly newscast, and through well-respected documentaries such as ARTS IN EXILE: Tibetan Treasures in Small Town America and ON HOME GROUND: Life after Service.  Although the station has a reach spanning across a wide area, its primary audience is composed of those living in what is referred to as the North Country region of New York.

Since 2018, the production team at Mountain Lake PBS has been working on a documentary about racism in the North Country. Through the Upstate Institute, I was afforded the opportunity to work directly with Associate Producer Michael Hansen, who, in addition to spearheading this documentary, recently won a New England Regional Emmy for his piece A Vietnam Vet’s Love of Photography. Thematically, this documentary covers a wide range of topics including local and national histories of race relations and racism, personal experiences of racism, the U.S. prison system, and the relationship between race and space. The goal of this documentary is to dispel notions that racism is a thing of the past and to shed light on its persistence in our own backyards. To do so, the documentary contrasts the beauty of the Adirondacks with the ugliness of the racism that remains present in many facets.

Since the start of production, Mr. Hansen has conducted over a dozen multi-hour interviews with historians, artists, activists, and students who have studied or personally experienced racism in the Adirondacks. Given the scale of this project, a great deal of work is needed to transform the hours of interview footage and b-roll into a polished and compelling documentary. As such, the task that occupied the majority of my time at Mountain Lake PBS was to edit these interviews and combine the multitude of individual voices into captivating thematic sections. In order to complete my editing duties, I learned Adobe Premiere Pro, a nonlinear video editing program that is used by many professional filmmakers. While occasionally receiving guidance and feedback on my work, I was granted a considerable amount of freedom to make creative decisions in regards to the content and style of my edits. This freedom allowed me a great deal of room to improve my skills as an editor while simultaneously building my confidence as a storyteller. In addition to editing, I was able to gain invaluable experience in the various aspects of the production process by going on shoots, conducting interviews, operating professional video cameras, and learning technical skills such as how to light a subject.  Furthermore, I was able to connect with people working across numerous departments, including production, marketing, and underwriting.

As a Peace and Conflict Studies major and an intended Film and Media and African Studies double-minor, working on this documentary amalgamated my interests in ways I could not have conceived. Coming into this summer, it was my hope to gain professional work experience in video production and to figure out if this is a path that I would like to pursue after graduation. Since taking a TV production class in high school, media production has always been something that I enjoy as a hobby but never truly considered it as a viable career path. However, my time at Mountain Lake PBS has shown me the range of possibilities within this field, but also helped me develop some of the skills that will be integral to my success in this field in the immediate future.

I am very fortunate for this to have been my second time working as a Field School Fellow. Working as a Fellow at the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees (MVRCR) in Utica, NY during the summer of 2017 exposed me to the beauty of the Upstate region and to the important work being done by nonprofits like the MVRCR. After learning about the opportunity to again serve as a Field School Fellow in the Adirondacks with Mountain Lake PBS, I knew I could not pass up the chance. Thanks to the Upstate Institute, I have been able to do meaningful work with two not-for-profit community organizations that I had not even known existed. Not only have these two experiences increased my connection to the Upstate region, but it has also taught me that one does not need to look far in order to make a difference. I will be forever grateful for the experiences and memories that I have gained through this fellowship!

Before they can even begin their work, public health workers need to have a strong sense of the issues that are facing their community. One of the most important tools local health departments use to gather this data is the Community Health Assessment. A Community Health Assessment (CHA) is a highly collaborative process designed to bring together community stakeholders, health networks, providers, public officials, non-profit organizations, and everyday citizens, to evaluate the state of health within their community. This information is then used to create a Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), designed to leverage the community’s strengths to better address ongoing health challenges. This summer, MCDOH conducted a county wide phone survey and several focus groups with community members to hear directly from Madison County residents. I was responsible for creating all materials necessary for the focus groups including the discussion guide, question line, and facilitator training, at the direction of the Madison County CHA steering committee. I will also be facilitating a focus group within my own community in Hamilton, NY, and help compile and analyze the resulting data.

Gathering data, however, is only the first step for the Madison County Department of Health. Once they have identified a problem, they then need to leverage the information, medical research, and state policies in order to solve it. Often this means reaching out to the public directly through public information campaigns, like the lead poisoning prevention program that I helped update this summer. Children need to be tested for lead in their blood at age 1 and 2 to screen for blood lead poisoning because lead poisoning, especially in young children, can lead to permanent health and developmental problems including stunted growth and impaired cognitive abilities. However, it can sometimes be difficult for parents to take their young children to get their blood drawn. Often the experience can be traumatic for both the child and parent, and it can be even more difficult for families that don’t have access to reliable transportation or an unpredictable work schedule. This summer, I worked to identify some of the barriers that prevent parents from taking their child to get tested and then address them. This included reaching out to local blood draw locations to inquire about making their facilities “child-friendly” and helping lab technicians get trained in pediatric phlebotomy. I also created new materials that speak to parent’s fears, help them prepare for the challenges of taking a toddler to get blood drawn, and remind them to get their child tested at age 1 and 2.

As a student at Colgate University studying Political Science and Biochemistry I have devoted my time to learning more about public health and healthcare policy. This summer at the Madison County Department of Health has provided me with tremendous insight into how public health law gets translated into action. One of my favorite projects this summer involved updating the Department of Health’s internal lead policies to adhere to the recent changes to regulations surrounding childhood lead poisoning passed by the New York State legislature. After spending all of my time in school studying abstract theories of law and governance, it never occurred to me to wonder about how these laws turn into real world action. But now, after this hands-on experience at my local health department, I am more knowledgeable about the public policy process and I am better prepared for the day when I too can change our laws for the better.

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