For the last 10 years, Delainia Haug and Laura Lanik have co-taught a rigorous documentary-making class at South High in Minneapolis with a singular mission: to guide students in their quest to find their particular voices as filmmakers. Called “Voices,” the class is designed to empower seniors to gain a deeper understanding of the art and power of storytelling, citizen journalism and documentary filmmaking through hands-on, technical experience. The class is equally focused on helping students discover their own perspectives on social justice issues, how to challenge the status quo and how personal storytelling deepens understanding about our shared past, present and future.

But this year was by far the most challenging one for Haug and Lanik – as well as for the students. The COVID-19 pandemic presented numerous challenges for collaboration as students and staff were required to teach and learn remotely from home for most of the year.

“It was a hard time to show up, and these students did more than show up. They had to actively engage in their learning,” said “Voices” teacher Delainia Haug.

The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 and the subsequent uprising against police brutality hit very close to home for South High students and staff who live in the neighborhood surrounding 38th and Chicago, adding sparks to the fire of emotion during an already challenging year.

But the events of the last year also provided cathartic opportunities to document and preserve history. And their work highlights a rich mix of perspectives on challenging topics such as community policing, gentrification and redlining, policing in schools, and the disproportionate impact of minor drug charges on people of color.

As these four films reveal, South High students found their voices.

Each of these films is a production of the South High School Minneapolis VOICES class with support from The Minnesota Youth Story Squad at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities PBS and the Shavlik Family Foundation.

Pot to Prison: the Criminal Punishment System

Pot to Prison: the Criminal Punishment System looks at the disproportionate impact of minor drug charges on people of color. The documentary features a variety of local perspectives and was created by student filmmakers Leo Peterson, Lilly Wunderlich, Freya Hauer and Maya Edmonds.

SRO’s and Minneapolis Public Schools

SRO’s and Minneapolis Public Schools examines how student activists feel let down by their school district’s response to their request to remove police from their schools. The documentary features a variety of local perspectives and was created by student filmmakers Olivia Sather and Sundus Ahmed.

Southside Shine

Southside Shine provides deeper understanding about the history of redlining in South Minneapolis neighborhoods and how they are changing today due to gentrification. The documentary features a variety of local perspectives and was created by student filmmakers Anton Jahn-Vavrus, Pablo Giebink Valbuena, Ilyas Bouzouina and Will Domeier.

Freedom Fighters

Freedom Fighters highlights a group of Minneapolis residents who are trying to reimagine community safety. The documentary features a variety of local perspectives and was created by student filmmakers Helene Francis and Simon Hoffmann.

Editor’s Note: The South High Voices students and teachers, in collaboration with Project Success, are hosting an in-person showcase of their films at the Walker Art Center on June 3. Visit the South High School page for more details.

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This story is part of the digital storytelling project Racism Unveiled, which is funded by grants from the Otto Bremer Trust, HealthPartners and the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation.

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