Conversations from the Open Road is a program that brings together high school students and journalists to travel, listen to stories, engage in tough conversations, and transform their experiences into digital media. Here are a few testimonies from students, and the parents of students, who have gone through this program:

 

Kassandra Morse, CFTOR 2014 – Student

There really isn’t a way to describe Conversations from the Open Road that would fully encompass everything it is and everything it stands for. As soon as I heard about it, I knew right away it was something I wanted to do. I had read a quote a few years ago, I don’t know who it was by, but it amounted to basically “be a traveler, not a tourist.” The trips I’d been on since I was a child had been very canned—sticking to the beaten track, only communicating with other tourists—it wasn’t really what I thought traveling could be.

The trip to Detroit with CFTOR, however, was exactly what I thought traveling meant. A small group of people, a goal in mind, no maps in hand, letting spontaneity and word-of-mouth lead us on to the next discovery. The beaten tracks of Detroit were ignored in favor of the side streets with urban gardens, and the other tourists were politely ignored in favor of the people whose city it really was. We didn’t take pictures of the water protest from a distance—we joined the crowd and held picket signs in the air with everyone who had their water turned off by the city. We didn’t drive slowly past the abandoned car plants, heads sticking out the windows—we learned why the companies and factories had shut down, and what the future might look like for the buildings and for the city itself.

It was an incredible week of interviews and exploration. Those interviews, one of the most important parts of the CFTOR journey, inspired us, challenged us, and created an image of the city that no tourist could ever hope to see. We stopped in urban gardens to learn about the communities that are grown through mutual love of food and friends; we talked to Yusef Shakur, an ex-gang member who now works to promote knowledge and understanding in his neighborhood. We learned about artists and how they create brighter futures and healthy communication with their projects.

The voices of those people came together in the group’s multimedia projects, each one exploring an aspect of the city that we felt particularly strongly about. My radio documentary explored the many ways community is being built in the city, and all the places where people step up to help other people—sometimes complete strangers—when they’re in need.

In Detroit, I learned about the struggles the people go through every day to keep their houses, their access to water, their access to school. Seeing the struggles first-hand brought me a new level of understanding—the chaos that the media loves to report is being lived every day—not by poor, faceless individuals, but by families and people just like anyone else. But instead of leaving the city, they are reaching out to one another, creating networks of support that span the city and beyond.”

 

Hawa Adam, Burlington High School, 2018 – Student

I was expecting CFTOR to be a casual school trip to learn and grow from each other. Really, it turned out to be this amazing opportunity for me to have some honest and thought-provoking conversations with my peers and random strangers. For the first time, I didn’t have to speak up for certain communities, I just had to talk about myself and figure out issues that I was personally grappling with. Then I got to transform those conversations with myself and with others into an art form I’ve never used: filmmaking. I’m very humbled by this experience.

CFTOR is a program for the next generation. It’s about them meeting people and having raw conversations about topics that are necessary and that our world is afraid to address. It’s important that the youth are leading these conversations because they are all that will be left of this world and it only makes sense for them to know who, what, and how is its currently being occupied.

I think this experience made me more self-aware about things in my life and community which I believe is the best education. But on top of that, I got to learn a new skill: documentary film-making. This was a challenge for me but it was very rewarding in the end. I think I’ll be using this new skill in my future.

The most valuable thing about the program was the documentaries. I think although it’s the toughest part, it’s crucial because how else would we preserve such incredible conversations.

 

Sharon Crites, 2017 – Parent

From beginning to end, the CFTOR program has provided a series of priceless experiences for my daughter.

The road trip itself provided an invaluable social and cultural journey.  The challenging subject her group tackled provided exposure to a complex and intimidating topic.  She was challenged to develop her own mature and empathetic viewpoint after absorbing a variety of perspectives from the interviews they held.  The resulting film project allowed her to distill her thoughts into a package that could help inform and influence viewers.  And the film festival showings were a great exercise in putting her work on display and defending her viewpoint to the public.

This was an educational and life-broadening experience that pushed through the boundaries of my child’s previous experience in many different ways.  I believe that all participants in the program grow in knowledge, maturity, and social awareness from their experiences.

 

Visit the Conversations from the Open Roads website to read the full testimonials, and more, and to learn how to apply.