Legacy of listening

Trey Rivera interviewing Khiari Benson in 2013

Trey Rivera interviewing Khiari Benson in 2013

Devote part of the curriculum to listening.

The concept was a radical one for 4th and 1 Football Camp—a free, weeklong camp that provides football, college prep, and life skills training to at-risk teens.  After all, there was just too much to teach and never quite enough time.

When The Recollective came to 4th and 1 in 2012 to record audio interviews of our student-athletes and volunteers, they turned our fast-paced camp on its head.

Our student-athletes were solving math and verbal questions, taking diagnostic exams, honing their handshakes and interview skills, practicing yoga, and running football drills 16 hours each day. There was barely enough time for three square meals.  Would devoting some of that precious time to listening exercises be worth it? Frankly, I wasn’t sure.

Student-athlete, Heath Holt

Student-athlete, Heath Holt

The Recollective scheduled me for an audio interview with student-athlete Heath Holt, a linebacker who had been coming to camp every summer since 2010.  The Holts were a cheerful family, always among the first to show up, en masse, to drop off Heath at camp.

“Why is your family so tight-knit?” I asked during the interview. A simple question but, it occurred to me, one I had never asked in all the years I’d known the Holts.

“Well, actually, it’s because of my little brother, who was born with Spina bifida,” Heath said.  “When my younger brother passed away, our family became even closer, because we found out what we had, and we realized we should enjoy what we have when we have it.”

How was it that I didn’t know this about Heath?

Over the course of the week, The Recollective collected stories from our student-athletes about topics as wide-ranging as being raised by a single mother, surviving Hurricane Katrina, loved ones who had passed away, gun violence, and race relations.

Overcome adversity.  It was a mantra we repeated at 4th and 1, but until The Recollective began listening, we didn’t know, concretely, what “adversity” actually meant to our student-athletes.

“I play football in memory of my father,” a reserved fifteen-year-old Ralph Trey Rivera, III explained in his Recollective interview.  Trey was so quiet that he’d allowed me to call him Ralph for three days until he corrected me.  “Actually, Ralph is my dad, so everyone calls me Trey, or Big Trey,” he said.

Trey, who had watched his father collapse from a heart-attack in their kitchen when he was just nine, couldn’t think of just one favorite memory of his dad.  “Every memory is a favorite memory.”

The Recollective’s audio interview became, for Trey, a distillation of his motivations and dreams, and Trey fell in love with radio as a medium.

In 2013, Trey picked up where The Recollective left off by collecting audio interviews of his fellow student-athletes during his second year attending 4th and 1.

Trey had also spent the year thinking about how he’d struggled after his father passed away, he told me, and here’s what he was going to do about it—start his own camp, one similar to 4th and 1, but for 8-12 year-old kids.

Ralph Trey Rivera III with student athletes at Camp Strive

Ralph Trey Rivera III with student athletes at Camp Strive

“When I lost my father it was the hardest time for me,” Trey said during an audio interview we recorded in 2013.  “I didn’t care about school, I wasn’t the nicest kid, and I was always bullied. It was the hardest time in my life, because I didn’t know who I was anymore.”

As a legacy of The Recollective’s work at 4th and 1, student-athletes now sit in small groups with mentors and talk at the end of each day.  Just listen to them, I instruct our mentors.  That’s the most important thing you can do.

Or, as Trey put it:  “It’s very hard to talk about sometimes, because, you know, just as these student-athletes that I want to serve through my camp feel like there’s nobody there to listen to them and be there for them, I also feel like that sometimes.

But then, I look at my supportive family, and I look at my mentors and these people around me who are opening doors that I would not have known about if I had not gone to 4th and 1 Football Camp. It’s really an opportunity when you’ve gone through such hard things, and you go to one camp and you regain your self-confidence. You regain everything.”

HeadshotGuest blogger, Vivian Chum is Executive Director of 4th and 1 Football Camp and an attorney in Washington, DC.



Ralph Trey Rivera, Radio Rookie

Ralph Trey Rivera at 4th and 1 Football Camp in Mt. Pleasant, TX.

Ralph Trey Rivera at 4th & 1 Football Camp in Mt. Pleasant, TX.

In the summer of 2012, the Recollective went to 4th & 1 Football Camps in East Lansing, Michigan and Mt. Pleasant, Texas to teach workshops on photography and radio as well as interview the student athletes; one of those student athletes was Ralph Trey Rivera (Trey). Trey loved radio and was game to be interviewed and he asked lots of questions about radio. In the summer of 2013, Trey took over our work at the camp in Texas, and learned how to record and edit interviews with his peers. He edited a short piece from his recordings and has posted several stories on Cowbird. He even recorded an interview with the camp’s Executive Director, Vivian Chum, about his dream of creating his own non-profit.  Trey’s radio work at 4th & 1 caught the attention of the folks at Radio Diaries (some of the master’s of the art of radio, documentary). Trey was chosen out of over 800 submissions, as a semi-finalist in their Teenage Diaries Project. We are all wishing him the best as he pursues his dreams! So from the Recollective Radio Rookie desk, here’s Ralph Trey Rivera:

The Recollective: How did you first get interested in radio? What about radio excited you?

Trey: My first radio experience was at a camp called 4th & 1.  I was interested how they were able to take the stories of the campers like myself and communicate them to an audience.  It was exciting because you could speak to different groups of people and learn about them and each story was a new adventure for me.

The Recollective’s Top Ten of 2012

It’s been a busy year for The Recollective and, in the spirit of annual countdowns posted by just about everyone on the eve of each new year, I thought it would be great to celebrate some of the group’s 2012 highlights!

Langston Hughes in 1939 (Library of Congress)

Langston Hughes in 1939 (Library of Congress)

1) Carl kicked off a year of great audio projects on February 15 with a gorgeous hour-long documentary about Langston Hughes.  Hosted by WQXR host, Terrance McKnight,  I, Too, Sing America dives into the songs, cantatas, musicals and librettos that flowed from Hughes’ pen.  You can hear Carl’s audio craftsmanship right here.

2) In April, Morning Edition aired two stories about African immigrants in China produced by our very own Nina Porzucki.  You can hear the first story here and the second story here.  Nina was able to travel to China to produce these stories thanks to support from the John Alexander Project.

3) On May 25, just one month before the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the majority of the Affordable Care Act, we launched the Health & Justice Project in collaboration with Jericho Road Family Practice and Jericho Road Ministries.  We produced an audio-documentary series exploring some of the disparities in our healthcare system as experienced by medical professionals, volunteers and patients in Buffalo, NY.  You can hear those stories here.

Share your story about healthcare in America with Health & Justice Project

Share your story about healthcare with Health & Justice Project (Screenshot from Causes.com)

In an effort to pair those powerful stories with strategic action, we then partnered with Causes.com, a free online platform that provides easy-to-use tools for driving change.  The Health & Justice Project page on Causes.com serves as a social media hub where stories can be shared along with petitions, pledges and resources about healthcare reform.  HJ&P now has over 200 members from across the country with over a dozen stories posted and more to come in 2013!

4) From May 31 – June 2 The Recollective attended the 2012 Christian Community Health Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee.  We presented the stories recorded in Buffalo and interviewed medical professionals from around the country about the healthcare challenges facing their communities.  We produced four stories from those interviews with the help of Hans Glick who returned to Buffalo and continues to produce great stories like this one:


5) Whitney went back to school and furthered her formal food education after receiving a scholarship from Good Food Jobs to study Vermont’s local food systems.  She went to Sterling College where she learned all kinds of cool things about Vermont’s local food system and even learned how to butcher a pig!  You can check out the audio slideshow she produced for a Good Food Jobs gathering right here.

Chat piles in Treece, Kansas

Chat piles in Treece, Kansas

6) In June, Chaela and Nina received a grant from the Kansas Humanities Council to produce a documentary project about Treece, Kansas.   Treece was a heavy supplier of lead and zinc ore during the World War I and World War II.  After the 1970s, ore production declined rapidly along with the population, turning the once thriving city into an environmental ghost town.  In 2010 Treece was bought out by the Environmental Protection Agency due to the enormous amount of lead pollution.  To hear this story stay tuned to Kansas Public Radio in 2013.

7) We spent part of our summer at the 4th & 1 Summer Football Camps in Mt.

Screen shot from Cowbird

“I play football in memory of my father.” (Screen shot from Cowbird.com)

Pleasant, Texas and East Lansing, Michigan.  A couple of the stories we recorded from Mt. Pleasant appeared on Cowbird and our audio postcard from East Lansing appeared on Huffington Post

8) This October,  Chaela and her sister Zannah, went to Santa Ana del Valle, Mexico where they produced this lovely piece on the the tradition of rug making in the small town just east of Oaxaca.  You can check out the story and maybe purchase one of the beautifully intricate rugs on the website for Traditions Cafe & World Folk Art.

9) On November 19 we produced two stories for Narratively, a recently launched digital magazine focusing on quirky, idiosyncratic and untold tales of New York City. We went behind the scenes at New York City’s fine dining establishments to find out what waiters, waitresses and bartenders think about their patrons — grilling a trio of restaurant staffers about what it’s really like waiting tables and tending bar. Janine, Jacob and Jenna (not their real names) spill the beans about horny customers, picky eaters and bad tippers.  Both stories were featured on Digg, Gothamist and the New York Magazine Blog!

National launch of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.

Jeremy preparing for the national launch of StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. (photo courtesy of José Castillo)

10) In December, yours truly coordinated the national launch event for StoryCorps’ Military Voices Initiative.  The initiative was launched to record and preserve the stories of post-9/11 service members, veterans and their families.  You can learn more about MVI on the StoryCorps website.

We’d like to thank our friends, families, clients and organizational partners for supporting us and making our second year a busy and productive one.  We can’t wait to share more stories with you in 2013.
Happy New Year!

The Stars at Night Are Big and Bright

4th and 1!!!!

Deep in the heart of Texas there is a little football camp that could and did. It’s Friday and it hardly seems possible that an entire week has passed. The student athletes played their final scrimmage this morning. It was a perfect morning for some football, not too hot, not too muggy just blue skies and fat cumulus clouds. Afterwards as is football tradition the students all “took a knee” and Coach Ryan gave them one final pep talk. Then to the amazement of the counselors and coaches a few students spoke up.  They thanked each other for the week, they called each other brothers and they left Chaela and I in a puddle.   Tonight is the final banquet. We put together a quick little audio postcard from the week. Take a listen:

Bright eyes, full hearts, can’t lose,

Chaela & Nina

Gridiron Griot: Part II

Last week we checked in with Vivian Chum, the Executive Director of 4th & 1 Football Camp.  You can read the first part of our interview with her here.

Executive Director Vivian Chum on the field in Mt. Pleasant, Texas

The Recollective:  What is the inspiration for the football camps?

Vivian:  Our founder Daron Roberts really had an incredible vision. As a football coach, he saw how he could reach student-athletes and be a mentor to them. He wanted to use sports as a way to reach young student-athletes from his community and to help them in other facets of their lives.

Daron and I were in the same year at Harvard Law School. In fact, we were on the same floor in the same dorm our first year. We are both minorities from small towns in Texas, and we immediately identified with one another at HLS.

When you’re a minority educated in the public school system in small towns in Texas, and you end up at an institution like Harvard, you do get a clear sense that there is a lot of stuff that your classmates picked up as kids that you’ve had to teach yourself later in life.

Coming up with this camp was so natural. Here’s one example of this natural process we went through to build our curriculum: I didn’t pick up on proper dinner etiquette until college. In my home, we use chopsticks. We figured that this was something students should know. It would serve them well. So, we threw in a dinner etiquette class.

Windsor or half Windsor? Texas Camp Director Alfonso Longoria helps the teen athletes get interview-ready

We just thought of everything we wish we had known before going to college, and we threw it into the camp. That is why the camp is so full of practical knowledge from interview skills and networking to how to wear a suit to how to sew on a button that has popped off. I mean, if a button comes loose on your suit jacket five minutes before an important presentation, you’re going to have to put it back on yourself.

The small town communities that we grew up in were relatively isolated. We never had the benefit of SAT or ACT Kaplan Review classes that many of our fellow college classmates had taken. In Mount Pleasant, the closest Kaplan Review course is located two-and-a-half hours away.   What parent has the ability to drive their child two-and-a-half hours each way every week to take a Kaplan Review class? I mean, that’s a total of five hours of driving in a single day. So Daron and I thought, let’s just bring the teachers, the classes, the course review materials, and the practice exams to our student-athletes’ communities. That’s part of the reason why, in the span of just five days, our students take two diagnostic exams under real test-taking conditions. I’m proud to say that a few of our Texas students who have come to our camp every summer since we began it in 2010 will have taken the SAT six times (for free) by the time they sit for the real thing

The Recollective:  How does the 4th and 1 Football Camp differ from other sports related summer camps for teen athletes?

Vivian:  We call 4th and 1 a football camp, because we aim to reach student-athletes by bonding with them through a shared love of football. That’s why football coaches sit in on and even participate in the academics, business, life skills, and yoga classes we offer. And it’s also why you’ll see our SAT and ACT teachers assisting the coaches on the football field. We very deliberately build the connection between excellence in sports and excellence in academics and life.

Camp Director Kaleb Thornhill leads an impromptu “dance workshop” at the Michigan camp

We also recognize that athletics is a source of many important lessons about leadership, competition, determination, practice, and teamwork. In the classroom, we expand on those lessons. For example, just as the students practice and practice on the field so that on game day, they are at their best, we show students that by practicing and practicing on standardized test, they will improve and, on the day they finally sit for the exam, will be at their best.  We also build on the idea of teamwork, because above all, we hope that our students will make a positive impact on their communities. I would be so proud to see our student-athletes come back to their communities one day to make a difference in their own ways.

Here’s a glimpse of the Michigan camp back in 2011.

Gridiron Griot

This July The Recollective will be packing up our recorders and heading to two high school football camps!  To be honest, we know nothing about high school football (or college or professional football for that matter).  Nina’s and Jeremy’s high school experience was more like Glee than Friday Night Lights.  Chaela chose her school’s  avant-garde art club over cheer leading, and Whitney was too busy obsessing over Silverchair and Fawlty Towers to attend any of the games at her high school.  So why would a group of nerdy radio producers be spending a couple of weeks with high school jocks in Mt. Pleasant, Texas and East Lansing, Michigan?    Well, because 4th & 1, the organization behind the camps, invited us to do a storytelling project with teen athletes and camp mentors as part of this year’s jam-packed curriculum.   We talked with 4th & 1 Executive Director Vivian Chum to learn more about the origin and mission of this unique program.

The Recollective:  Who is served by the football camps?

Vivian:  4th & 1 serves high school student-athletes from groups that are underrepresented on college campuses.  Our student-athletes may be, for example, first-generation college hopefuls, members of ethnic or racial minority groups, from economically-disadvantaged households, or from single-parent homes.  This year, 100 student-athletes will attend 4th & 1.

One thing that’s a key to the success of 4th & 1 is that all of our students already come to camp with what I believe to be the most important factors to their success—heart, dedication, big dreams, and determination. You have to want to go to college and to succeed pretty bad to sign up for a camp that has you working from six a.m. to ten p.m. every day, taking two diagnostic exams, and studying for the SAT or ACT three hours a day in the middle of your summer vacation.  What our students bring with them to camp—that dedication, determination, and heart—you can’t teach.

Vivian leading an interview skills class

The Recollective:  Why did you choose Mt. Pleasant, Texas and East Lansing, Michigan as the sites for the football camps?

Vivian:  Mt. Pleasant and East Lansing are the hometowns of founder Daron Roberts and Camp Director Kaleb Thornhill, respectively. When founder Daron Roberts dreamed up this camp in 2010, his goal was to give back to Mount Pleasant, the East Texas community that he had grown up in. The “return home” model worked incredibly well. Daron and his family have deep roots in Mt. Pleasant, and as you can expect there was an outpouring of support for the camp in his hometown. We concluded that, should we expand the camp to other locations, we would only do so in collaboration with other leaders in the NFL who had demonstrated academic excellence, understood and believed in our mission, came from low-income communities, and wished to build a camp in the communities in which they’d grown up.

Kaleb coaching on the field

Director of Player Development for the Miami Dolphins Kaleb Thornhill fit the bill.  He heard about what we were doing in Texas, and he just got so excited. He expressed a desire to bring 4th & 1 to East Lansing where he had grown up. Kaleb was exactly the kind of leader we were looking to partner with. I mean, he is such a believer in education that while working full-time for the Dolphins, he is concurrently getting his MBA. You can imagine the hours that you end up putting in as a director in the NFL. Now imagine going home after a full day to hit the books. That is dedication.

Kaleb was educated in the public school system in East Lansing and from the start we could sense that he had an innate understanding of how to serve the next generation of student-athletes in his home community.  Even better, Kaleb had attended and been a football player at Michigan State University, not far from East Lansing, and that is why MSU hosts our Michigan camp today.

Which brings me to a related point—We are adamant about hosting our camps on college campuses, so that our students get a concrete idea of college life.  We aim to make college a concrete goal rather than a pipe dream, and we figured that you can’t get more concrete than actually being on a college campus, living in a college dorm, eating dorm food.  Also, since many of our student-athletes will be the first in their immediate families to attend college, we want to take the fear factor out of going to college.

Check out this great short video about the Texas camp by Jun Chang and tune in next week for the second part of our interview with Vivian Chum.