CommunityVoice_Project_HomeThe Community Voice Project produces short documentaries and digital stories that capture the voices of DC community storytellers too often unseen and unheard. The creative ethos of CVP is that of collaboration, rather than extraction, in which trained AU filmmakers work closely with community members to express the storyteller’s authentic voice in recounting their lived experience in Washington, DC.

Over the years, CVP has produced nearly 100 short films in collaboration with more than 30 community organizations. These stories have brought voice and visibility to underserved communities while providing students and DC storytellers with a transformative, yet practical experience.

Community Voice Project is directed by Laura Waters Hinson, an award-winning filmmaker and professor within the Film and Media Arts Division at the American University School of Communication. The project is a program of the Center for Media and Social Impact, and was founded by professor Nina Shapiro-Perl.

Community Voice Fellows Program

Facilitators Training Master Class

The Community Voice Project works with local community partners in a program that trains highly skilled storytellers to become Digital Storytelling Facilitators. During Master Class sessions in Digital Storytelling, facilitated by American University’s Film & Media Arts division within the School of Communication, selected students train to become facilitators in the art and method of digital storytelling in the community. Over the course of 10 months, these students — the Community Voice Project Fellows — work with Washington, D.C. residents who are facing change. By participating in this project, students and community members collaborate and learn from each other.

Community Voice Fellows

Community Voice Project Videos

2018 Fellows' Community Stories

Connie’s love for food led her to open Plenty to Eat, a food pantry for those in need in the DC community. She shares her love of food with her daughter who wants to grow up just like her mother, feeding not only her family but also her community. For more information please visit,

This film is about soon to be 2nd Lieutenant Nicole Boddie a woman of color striving to lead in the United States Air Force. This film includes themes of Black excellence, Black Girl Magic and exemplifies Building a Legacy, Strength through Diversity.

A mothers love is a short documentary in partnership with nonprofit organization DC127 and American University’s Center for Media and Social Impact. The film introduces Tiarra Glover, an Anacostian mother of 3 who escaped domestic violence through strength, perseverance, and love (and the amazing help of DC127) for the future and safety of her family. For more information please visit,

Ms. Morgan’s Garden is told in collaboration with lifelong Washingtonian Barbara D. Morgan and produced in partnership with the Anacostia Community Museum. A discussion about gardening is placed in the context of Ms. Morgan’s history within her community east of the Anacostia River. For more information please visit,

On top of working at One Common Unity, Princess Best is a motivational speaker and performer who focuses on the development of young girls and women. This film tells the story of how she became the empowering “HipHopMomma Princess Best.” For more information please visit,

Wendy Vasquez is a film that speaks the truth about immigration and of a woman who is no different and no less. She is driven by art and family which pushes her to live a life in an entirely new country not by choice but for survival. For more information please visit,

Studio Elan is more than just a hair salon– it's a space that owner Cleashay uses to give back to her community, through fundraising, advocacy for artists, and by creating a safe space for community members. For more information please visit,

Dany Green is a mosaic artist living and working in Washington, DC. I Am An Artist documents Dany as she enters a new phase of her career, reflecting upon her work, her identity, and what comes next.

Another Opinion profiles Thelma Jones, a breast cancer survivor and community advocate. In following her journey as a woman of color who stood up for her own wellbeing, this film focuses on how her experience informs the important work that she is doing to protect vulnerable communities in Southwest DC. For more information please visit,

2017 Fellows' Community Stories

Alton M. Jones in collaboration with Kayla Lattimore & Destiny Owens

Reverend Plummer in collaboration with A'Montay Giddings-Watson

Zora Martin Felton, Emerita in collaboration with Diana Eaton

Anastasia Johnson in collaboration with Michael Kuba

2016: Stories of Strength

One DC

These films were made in partnership with ONE DC, an organization that aims to exercise political strength to create and preserve racial and economic equity in Shaw and the District. It seeks to create a community in DC that is equitable for all.

Elijah Joy in collaboration with Elisha Brown.

Claire Cooke in collaboration with Reagan Kolakowski & Rita Zanin.

Yasmina Mrabet in collaboration with Marek Cabrera & Sophia Myszkowski.

William Merrifield in collaboration with Geniro Dingle & Caroline Hanson.

DC Doors

These films were made in partnership with DC Doors, a grassroots initiative that provides housing to the homeless immigrant population in the District of Columbia. It seeks to accomplish this goal by providing transitional and permanent housing and comprehensive supportive services in a culturally competent and sensitive manner to families and single females.

In collaboration with Hancie Stokes & Annea Hapciu.

In collaboration Shereen Abdel-Nabi & Enrique Huaiquil

2015: Stories of Strength

Twelve Years that Shook and Shaped Washington: 1963-1975

Change was in the air, some of it unsettling and threatening. Against a national background of Lyndon Johnson’s “great society,” anti-war protests, black power, feminism, and emerging gay rights, the Anacostia Community Museum’s exhibition focuses on events, people and challenges that transformed the city between 1963 and 1975. These six films were made in association with the exhibition.

Then a student at Howard University in 1967, Dera Tompkins describes the takeover of Howard University as a life-changing moment when she realized “We could DO something! And we did!” In collaboration with Davis Shoulders & Alexa Johnson.

Calling himself “an engineer who does art,” Uzikee has been creating public art in Washington for over forty years – art that challenges convention, insisting by example that his people “have something to say.” In collaboration with David Reische.

A student leader at the Howard University recalls the transformative moment when students took over the Administration building, “putting everything on the line… When you come out of that… you’re a changed person.” In collaboration with Joe Tamayo & Alex Lacson.

From the March on Washington to the riots following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Rosalind Styles recalls her transformation into a lifelong activist dedicated to progressive change in her neighborhood. In collaboration with Tabria Lee-Noonan.

Roach Brown was sentenced to life for murder at twenty. In solitary confinement, he discovered his inner voice that called him to write a play for, about and performed by prisoners. Roach has carried his message of non-violence to prisons and schools across the country. In collaboration with Kelsey Hasmonek.

Born and raised in Washington, DC, Cecilia’s father, a Master Sargent in the Buffalo Soldier’s Regiment, instilled in her the importance of education, the need for social justice and the right to protest when times demanded it. In collaboration with Holly Wiencek & Kyriakos Iliadis.


A film made in partnership with Ayuda, a local organization that serves immigrants in the Washington, DC area by providing legal, social, and language access services.

Escaping from a life of violence in her native Guatemala was only the beginning of her torturous journey to freedom. In collaboration with Kelci Reiss & Meiqing Guan.


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Student Voices

By my senior year at AU, I was already in love with anthropology, but the documentary storytelling class offered a new framework for thinking about the task of anthropologists, who are at their basis collectors of stories. It heightened my awareness of the importance of asking questions about people's lives in any setting, as that is the most intimate way to learn about another human being and also the world. The class also provided me with tools that I use in my work as an international youth educator, in which my goal is to encourage children to ask questions and tell their own stories.

- Kara Newhouse,
BA, Anthropology

The Documentary Storytelling class is the reason I am at American University. After taking the class, I am more convinced than ever that there is a way to use the power of the story as a tool to humanize "the other." This power, I believe, exists not only for the story-listener, but also the story-teller. The class allowed me the space, training, and the opportunity to do just that in my project.

- Charlene Shovic
MA, Public Anthropology

In the past year I have become extremely interested in photography and film as tools for storytelling and social change. I was expecting to contribute to my group's film, as an anthropologist -- using my interviewing and proposal skills, building a storyline, meeting individuals and helping them tell their story. But I was also assisting with setting up the shoot, positioning the camera, scouting locations, creating the storyline, piecing video clips together and helping with transitions. Taking "Documentary Storytelling" has been a wonderful experience!

- Viktoria Ivanova,
Junior, BA in Anthropology

Activists like Paco Fabian (from Good Jobs Nation) and Robin Carnos (from Warriors at Ease) work to reverse the loss of humanity. Although their methods look as externally different as soldiers and fast food workers, they similarly empower the people they work with to reclaim their dignity and sense of personal wholeness.

- Curt Devine,
BA, International Media, AU '14

Dr. Shapiro-Perl has an amazing knack for bringing a student's vision and cause to life on the screen. She has the skills, passion, training and the faith that things will work out even when the chances of that happening seem slim. She tells it like it is, providing helpful feedback, critical direction in the creative process and the calm determination to ensure that students succeed in their projects. She's a gifted teacher, careful listener and skillful facilitator -- without which this course would not be what it is!

- Christina Arnold
MA 2010, Public Administration

The documentary storytelling class was the perfect opportunity to combine my different interests into one project. It allowed me to develop new skills and work with a lot of amazing people, all for a good cause. The film...let me work on something fun and creative while knowing it would have a positive impact on the real world. It is the kind of project that gives you back everything you put into it.

- Casey Nitsch
MA 2011, Philosophy and Social Policy

Since I have been working in anthropology for a few years, I am very aware of the power we hold as researchers studying vulnerable populations. In interviewing the subject of our film, I was aware that (Chris) has the power to tell his story, but not the power to portray his story. The trust he has put in us is amazing to think about.

- Samantha Adamson,
Masters student in Public Anthropology

I feel very lucky to have been born and raised in the United States and am forever grateful to my parents who started a new life in a different country where they didn't understand the language.

I feel it is my responsibility to help those who were not as lucky as I was. It has taken a while to figure out how to do this, but I am beginning to understand that storytelling is a very strong tool which can be used to help others. I studied writing because I wanted to tell my stories and now, as I study video, I want to tell others' stories.

- Jazmin Garcia,
Masters student in Film and Video

Documentary Storytelling combines the efforts of anthropologists, sociologists and filmmakers, providing a unique opportunity to help a section of our community without a voice. Dr. Shapiro-Perl has created a course that encourages dialogue between students from different disciplines, giving me feedback, questions and thoughts that I would never have experienced among film students alone.

- Alex Morrison
MFA 2010, Film & Electronic Media

Nina's class presented a perfect opportunity to follow a meaningful, real life project from start to finish, working with a client throughout. Nina's approach engages the heart in both the interview and in client relations, which expanded my filmmaking toolkit in a meaningful way. Working with cultural anthropology graduate students was stimulating and, again, gave me a new frame of reference for this important work.

- Lois Lipman
MFA, Film & Media Arts

It is strange but I feel like this class has made me into more of a person. I find myself being more real with people. I listen rather than talk. We all struggle. No one is alone in suffering. This class is one of the best at American and it should be a requirement. I am glad I could experience it before I left for the real world.

- Elaina Kimes,
Film and Media Arts 2015

The digital story format seems to be a great tool in dismantling preconceived notions and that is very exciting. ...As Lambert describes it, "the digital story is a visual folk song sung to keep the stories of humans alive and in circulation." Above all, I most enjoyed having a class that was not about the technical producing, but about being alive.

- Teighe Thornson,
graduate student, Film & Media Arts

When we listen to community members' stories of the roots, love, beauty and home that they have, find, and feel in Southeast, it does more than simply contest the dominant images of Southeast as a "dangerous ghetto." It allows for a reimagining of this part of the city - its past and its future.

- Sean Furmage,
PhD candidate Anthropology

Partner Organizations

While the Anacostia Community Museum worked with one of the artists particularly closely, Charles "Coco" Bayron, visiting him a number of times and conducting an oral history interview, it was not until he had the opportunity to author his own story that he directly connected his art of tattooing to a critical need to the preserving family memory and identity in the face of ongoing loss.

- Sharon Reinckens,
Deputy Director,
Smithsonian Anacostia Community

Working with Dr. Shapiro-Perl and her students was a remarkable experience, and provided M.O.M.I.E's with a unique, supportive space, to celebrate our families and reinforce the powerful stories they carry. Reinforcing and celebrating identity through the teaching, sharing, and presentation of current and past history is at the heart of M.O.M.I.E's work. This digital storytelling project with parents was tremendous because it connected our children and youth with their family history and allowed them to literally take something concrete away with them that can be passed for generations to come!

- Chitra Subramanian,
Executive Director,

The partnership with the Smith Center was a natural fit. The students were professional, respectful, and eager to learn about cancer and work with our cancer patients. Friendships were built, lessons were shared, and the project culminated with four amazing deep and professional digital stories that have had and will have a lasting impression on our community and the individuals involved.

- Kiersten Gallagher,
Cancer Support Program Director,
Smith Center for Healing and the Arts

List of Organizations Partnering with CVP

FROM THE FOUNDERnina_shapiro-perl_2

“In a world of uncertainty, insecurity, anonymity, and mean-spiritedness, our partner organizations create safe places where healing and connectedness become the norm rather than the exception. My students’ films provide these community organizations with new ways of communicating their work using media they might otherwise not afford, while providing students with documentary filmmaking experience in the real world. It’s a rich partnership in the truest sense of the word.”

– Nina Shapiro-Perl, Creative Director, Community Voice Project