Shaban Athuman, an undergraduate student from Western Kentucky University, won the NPPF Still & Multimedia Scholarship.
The first twelve years of my life, I was able to learn four languages. As a freshman in College I was accepted to participate in the New York Times Portfolio Review. Later, I helped led the College Heights Herald photo staff for a year as an Assistant Photo Editor and a Photo Editor. During those two semesters we were recognized by the College Media Association Pinnacle Awards for having the Best Newspaper Photo Page/Spread category for a collection of images summarizing the 2016-17 school year. For two summers, I’ve held internships at newspapers; the first was the Gallup Independent, where I learned how to create my own assignments and connect with a community. Last summer, at the Richmond Times Dispatch, I learned to work with a team of dedicated storytellers and developed a love the newsroom. This summer, though I am not exactly sure what I will learn, I am thrilled to be an intern for the Denver Post.
As a refugee and first generation American, I feel compelled to tell stories of people with similar paths. I hope to work on a long term project that focuses on survivors of the Burundian genocide, a war that made my father an orphan and made my parents refugees. From Gallup and Richmond, I’ve learned that I can be enamored with communities many miles apart, so I know this passion can translate into faithful community journalism. I especially want to focus on people who have been displaced, whether this leads me to freelance or to be rooted in a single community as a staff photographer.
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After the life-long dream of becoming a professional football player didn’t pan out, he pursued another desired career path – firefighting. Now working as a firefighter for the past two years at the Bowling Green Fire Department, Stafford tries to live up to the example set by his brother Jason Johnson, who died a month before he got hired for the job.
Project role: I filmed and edited the project.
John Dau was 17 when he learned the alphabet and how to count, using his finger as a pencil in the sand under a tree at a refugee camp in Kenya. By that age, Dau — one of the Lost Boys of Sudan — had survived civil war, disease, famine and more violence than most people could imagine. He had sold his clothes for food, survived a crocodile-infested river, lived on wild fruits and reptiles, listened for the sound of frogs to find water, and found carcasses to eat by looking for vultures circling overhead.
As Denise Luke walks a narrow bridge toward her home, a school bus stops and the door pops open.
“Bon jour! Ça va?” the driver shouts.
She turns around to see who it is and then responds, “Ça va bien!”
The door closes and the bus pulls away. “See, I told you everyone loves me!” Denise says with a laugh.
Although Denise is far away from her native land, she has found community here. People know her from school, from volunteer work, from her singing and from her gardening — especially her hot peppers.
“Those peppers almost killed me,” says Matt Reeves, system manager at Community Recycling Center, where Denise volunteers. “We love having her here. She brings us over fresh vegetable from her garden.”
Nine years ago, Denise uprooted her family and moved to the United States. Despite having only a fourth grade-level education, the day after she arrived in Lexington, she enrolled in an adult education class at Bluegrass Community and Technical College.
She came to America in 2008, almost three years after her husband, Anku Djassayor, was poisoned in a refugee camp. She says he was the person who helped her “embrace cosmetology.” He also was the person who helped escaped their native Togo with her as war erupted, took her to Ghana and helped her finish her last year of school.
As a girl, Denise says she was spoiled. “My mom had a housewife who helped her,” she explains. “I did nothing growing up.”
After she found the love of her life, she says he told her: “If I die or if something happens I want somebody to marry you and that person will say, ‘I have a good lady,’ so he trained me like the military.”
When that day came, she was ready, but she says she couldn’t love another man.
After six years in Lexington, Denise decided to move to Morehead to be closer to her second son, a Morehead State University student. She enrolled in the Rowan campus of Maysville Community and Technical College to finish her cosmetology degree. She worked two jobs to support her four sons and volunteered at the recycling center.
“She is a very joyous person to be around,” says William Collin Alexander, a manager at the center. “She’s very vocal, she likes to sing a lot and I wasn’t practically used to that.”
“Everybody welcomed me here,” Denise says. “When I have a health issue and I didn’t finish a semester, everyone asked about me, everybody wants me to succeed. That enthusiasm helped me. This semester, no matter how much my health will (be bad) I will never be down.”
Denise is a licensed cosmetologist and wants to open her own hair salon someday.
“I said if you want to do that, you need to take the correct steps,” William says. “I want to be here for you if you need advice.”
At age 50, Denise attends classes with students less than half her age. Two of her children also attend Morehead now: Emmanuel, 21, and Vaillant, 19.
“We get old but education will never get old,” Denise says. “That’s why we need to rush our time, because the time will come and you will never be able to study. That’s the reason why I say I know my career, I know my skill I need to move on and learn the language.”
William understands her struggle.
“There’s an obvious language barrier, but I’ve made sure that the only way to overcome that struggle is to just keep trying. I’ve reiterated that to her, and I think it means a lot to her that I’ve done that.”
“She’s funny, inspirational, I think everyone deserves someone like that in their life and I am happy to have Denise in mine.”