David Johnson has a passion for giving a voice to the voiceless around the world.
Johnson is the founder of Silent Images – a nonprofit that uses still images and video footage to provide a voice for those silenced by persecution, oppression and poverty. Through his work with Silent Images, Johnson has traveled the world, filming and photographing people facing a plethora of hardships. But you don’t have to leave the country to find poverty and oppression, the Matthews resident said. Both can be found here at home.
“Sometimes we forget that there’s needs right at our doorstep,” Johnson said. That’s why Silent Images doesn’t focus strictly on international issues; it reaches out to local individuals, as well. Silent Images recently released
“Get Off Our Donkey,” a DVD series illuminating seven areas of “injustice” in the Charlotte area. Topics include homelessness, high school dropouts, human trafficking, refugees, prisoners, the elderly and abortion.
“These are several areas we thought were often misunderstood or ignored issues,” Johnson said.
The name of the DVD was inspired by the Biblical story of the Good Samaritan – someone who “got off his donkey, stopped and helped the hurting man on the street,” Johnson said. “It’s really challenging the city to say, ‘Hey, how do we serve where we are?’
“… The Good Samaritan is a good example of someone who served exactly where he was. So it’s (asking), ‘How can we serve others right here on the streets of Charlotte?’”
Johnson began work on the DVD in December 2012 and spent eight months researching, interviewing and filming. He reached out to organizations he’d previously worked with and, through those organizations, met individuals who agreed to tell their story.
The most challenging aspect of the film, Johnson said, was getting access to the stories. Earning individuals’ trust and getting them to open up during the interview was tough at times, he said.
“We interviewed refugees in political asylum. People want to kill them. They fled for a reason,” Johnson said. “But we changed names, didn’t show faces. We did a lot of things to protect the identity of the people.”
In spite of the challenges, meeting the people and hearing their stories was the best part of doing the film, Johnson said.
“Just meeting the people is always my favorite part of doing any project,” he said. “Just really seeing and understanding we’re giving a lot of people a voice in this city.”
The next step, Johnson said, is seeing how people react to the film. Silent Images is encouraging churches, schools, small groups and individuals to show the film and raise awareness among the community about these issues.
The organization also has developed an accompanying curriculum to help viewers further understand the material.
“I hope it will educate their minds and motivate their heart to do something,” Johnson said. “We didn’t want to (simply make) cool videos. We want to give (viewers) very tangible things they can do to make a difference. We want the city to respond.”
Johnson is currently working on “The Dakota Project” – an endeavor focused on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. The Native American community is the “poorest county in America” and a “forgotten place,” he said.
During a trip to the reservation last month, Johnson witnessed the extreme poverty and oppression within the community as he captured still images and video footage.
“It was heartbreaking. I’ve seen poverty all over the world, but to see poverty in your own world and to see it at that level, it’s just really difficult,” Johnson said. “When you walk onto a reservation and see the result of broken treaties and violence, somehow we have to rectify the situation … reconcile and assist them in moving forward. It’s not just the hard stuff; it’s the hope.”
Silent Images will release the first in a two-part series of DVDs focused on the reservation in October. Johnson plans to return to the reservation during the winter to capture footage for the second film, which is slated for a spring 2014 release.
“The winter on the reservation is worse. There’s a dreary, hopeless feeling,” Johnson said. “I wanted to be able to see and capture that.”
Find more information about “Get Off Your Donkey” and The Dakota Project at Silent Images’ website, www.silentimages.org.