Over the past academic year, history teacher Rhonan Mokriski and his students at a high school in Salisbury, Ct have been pursuing a project-based learning course in public history focused on uncovering the lives of free and enslaved African American families in northwestern Connecticut. This blog chronicles that journey.

By Clarence Nurse ’22 & Conor O’Neil ’21

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Clarence Nurse ’22

Because of horrific events like the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and many others, we’ve learned this year that there has been a lot of interest in this history. One of the big themes of this course is to uncover the hard Black history of our country in order to understand our past better and help build a better future.  

This trimester we were approached by a media company who was interested in doing a story about our work. They asked the class to do a “sizzle reel” to help them decide if they wanted to produce a story. Mr. Mokriski explained the offer. I was immediately on board with this project.  

A sizzle reel is a brief (preferably around 90 seconds) trailer video to pitch an idea like a movie or tv show, to a larger group like a new company to pick up. I started doing research on successful reels, noting what aspects of the videos really drew me in, and plotted about how I could accurately convey how interesting and important our class is on video. Once I had a vision and a solid couple pages of notes, I grabbed a camera and got to work. My classmate, Conor, was the editor and by my side throughout the entire process.  

Caleb May ’21 zooming with Cesar Family Descendent and Historian, Katherine Overton

For the next two weeks, we would grab classmates and had them expound on what they were working on, how they were doing research, or just about anything they could say about the class for a couple minutes each. We’d also go around the library taking candid shots (B reel) of my classmates discussing, working, and researching. When we felt the footage was sufficient, we uploaded it to the computer.  

Then Conor started editing. I sat by his side just in case there was footage that needed to be reshot – which there frequently was. Then Conor worked his magic  

Turning in this video wasn’t like turning in any other assignment in school. It doesn’t even feel like an assignment. This work was fun, it’s important, and it’s something that I want to keep exploring. As a matter of fact, later today we’ll be premiering it to a group at the Norfolk Congregational Church and I can say that while there’s a bit of nerves, I’m super excited. As a black man, doing this work resonates with me in a way that I’ve never felt in school, and it sure feels good.  

Conor O’Neil ’21

This trimester I was presented with the opportunity to help film and edit a class sizzle reel. I was very excited at the prospect of doing this because I was already very familiar with iMovie and I really enjoyed making highlight tapes for sporting events. I saw this project as opportunity to do something more serious and important than a highlight tape. I wanted to expand my cinematography knowledge on adobe premiere as well as capturing my own shots rather than using others. I learned how to properly take interviews of students and teachers. Everything from how to set up the camera to how to cut seven minutes of talking (almost always good information too) down to the best 20 seconds. I learned how to use the basics of adobe premiere. Prior to this project I only used iMovie, on Premier I could be much more precise with just about everything. It allowed me to cut clips and adjust volume to exactly how I wanted it to be. Another skill I learned (or at least now understand) is the importance of the organization piece of it all. I’ve never worked on a film project with this much media before. Hours of filming were done for this project and for me to keep track of what I had and where it was became essential. Another part of this project that I really like is the fact that I got to learn about most of the students other projects and got to hear them describe what they are doing in their own words. Which is pretty cool. With the help of Clarence Nurse, Dr. Johnson, and Mr. Mokriski, I believe I created a very great sizzle reel that I am proud of.

Without further ado, let us know what you think after watching.

#AtlanticBlackBox #SearchingForSlavery

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