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The Power of Storytelling to Respond to Hate Crimes

Sam Ford

I’ve been proud to know Nick Gilyard as my student at Western Kentucky University and as former intern extraordinaire and now coworker here at Peppercomm. But, most of all, he has been a friend and colleague for me these past few years, since our first encounter.

Back in March, Nick was the victim of a hate crime in Bowling Green, KY. He decided to respond to what happened to him by defying the cruel words of his assailants, ending the semester as the most decorated member of our forensics team, presenting his capstone research project as a popular culture studies major, and presenting his PR capstone project—on how to better connect WKU students to the downtown Bowling Green area—to WKU’s campus president, Dr. Gary Ransdell.

But he also decided to use the incident as a moment to speak out and to help draw the attention of Bowling Green—and others around the country—on the racism that persists in the culture and the damaging effects it has on victims. He brought his story to the WKU College Heights Herald, where student journalists Michael McKay and Brian Powers decided to use Nick’s incident as a vehicle to tell the larger story of just how underreported hate crimes are.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gilyard wrote a poem shortly after the incident happened, capturing the flood of emotions he felt as the victim of this crime. He partnered with Powers, one of the student journalists mentioned above, to make a powerful video of Gilyard’s piece.

Innovation as a buzzword gets applied to things that are anything but. In my mind, though, what Nick and Brian have done here fits what we ought to be labeling as innovation. Here, the victim of a crime and the journalist telling his story  have partnered to find the most compelling way possible to capture what journalism should do: put you in the shoes of someone else’s experience to help you empathize with them and see the world from a different perspective.

I applaud Nick and Brian’s efforts, despite the cruelty that inspired this project. And, if you find the video worthy, I hope you’ll help spread these two students’ work far and wide.