Overtown inspires journalism master’s student

Stretch Ledford, a professor in the School of Communication, sets up one of his kiosks at the Meat Market in Overtown. The name of the project is Overtown Inside-Out and that he has 4 kiosk that he's gonna place on a laundry shop, grocery shop, a restaurant and a barber shop. Courtesy Daniela Santamarina.
SHOW AND TELL: Charles Ledford installs a kiosk filled with his videos about Overtown in the neighborhood's Meat Market. Courtesy Daniela Santamarina.

When he stumbled on a double shooting scene in Overtown recently, graduate student Charles “Stretch” Ledford instinctively pulled out his iPhone and began shooting video, until a police officer walked up and tried to snatch it away. Ledford stood his ground and held on to his phone.
“What happened is just part of being a journalist,” Ledford said.
“Stretch,” the nickname his college friends gave the 6-foot-4-inch Ledford, is finishing his master’s degree in multimedia journalism at the School of Communication.  For his final project, he is using a camera to chronicle the life of impoverished residents in Overtown, a neighborhood in downtown Miami.
“It is really crucial for people who are working in a community, who want to learn about a community or want to report about a community to be as much as part of that community as possible,” said Ledford, who also lives in Overtown.
Many of his new neighbors appreciate him being there.
“I think what he’s doing is a wonderful thing for the Overtown community,” said local resident  and photographer Jovan “Bonna” Lamb.
Although some people might consider Overtown a high-crime area, Ledford says he hasn’t encountered any problems with residents.
“I just can say the only harassment I’ve got is from the Miami Police Department,” said Ledford, who uploaded his confrontation video to YouTube and is considering filing a complaint against the officer who tried to confiscate his phone.
Ledford, 48, was born in Ashville, N.C. and graduated with a double degree in journalism and psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1985.
After graduating, he went on to work as a newspaper photographer and later a freelancer for several years. He recently returned to school to complete his master’s degree in order to teach. At UM, he learned about photo elicitation, the process of showing pictures to a focus group and observing their reactions.
“As a photojournalist, I generally put my work out for people to see and I don’t get a lot of feedback from them,” he said. “I thought it was very interesting to purposely present my work specifically to people who are the subjects of the pictures and find out what they see.”
Ledford’s project involves shooting life in Overtown and showing the videos to the community at touch-screen kiosks. Viewers are then asked for feedback and recorded by a camera in the kiosk.
After graduating, Ledford plans to teach at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
“He’s a very hands-on professor and he expects a lot from his students,” said sophomore Cayla Nimmo, one of his current students. “He celebrates triumphs and he motivates and push [us] forward.”

Daniela Santamarina may be contacted dsantamarina@themiamihurricane.com.