Credit: CIR

Last week marked the one-year anniversary of the Off/Page Project, The Center for Investigative Reporting’s collaboration with San Francisco literary nonprofit Youth Speaks. Representing the intersection of youth voice and civic engagement, Off/Page integrates the analytical lens of investigative journalism with youth-centered storytelling.

Off/Page director José Vadi has spent the past year managing a project that’s produced a 30-minute original documentary, 20 town halls at the Brave New Voices poetry festival (the global youth poetry event and competition produced annually by Youth Speaks), five online videos, three short films and a one-act play.

Julia B. Chan: Take us back to this time last year – tell us a bit about how you got a project like Off/Page off the ground.

José Vadi: Off/Page launched on Aug. 7, 2013, at last year’s Brave New Voices festival in Chicago. During the event, we premiered our website and released “Whispers From the Field,” a short film produced in English and Spanish featuring 19-year-old artist Monica Mendoza performing a poem inspired by CIR’s Rape in the Fields investigation. The video was featured by The Daily Beast, Mashable and Colorlines.

Whispers From The Field (Off/Page Project)

If America's fields could speak, what stories would they tell? That's the question that poet Monica Mendoza asks in the Off/Page Project's inaugural video, "Whispers from the Field." Speaking from the perspective of the field, Mendoza talks about the high price migrant women pay to put food on their families' tables.

We also released a Behind the Off/Page Project video on launch day. And as that film reached new audiences online, on the ground at BNV, we curated 10 town halls on five different topics at the University of Chicago.

Chan: So you’re a poet among journalists. What’s it like working in the CIR newsroom?

Vadi: It’s pretty amazing watching investigations develop in real time at CIR. Through Off/Page, we’re able to put poets and journalists in the same room at different points of an investigation. We joined several key CIR investigations, most notably the Subsidized Squalor investigation which looked into failures of the Richmond, California’s public housing authority. We took three poets from Richmond into the field with CIR reporter Amy Julia Harris to interview sources, tour the Hacienda and Nevin (Plaza) housing complexes, and put them side by side with Harris as she investigated the story. This access is rare.

Poets turn reporters to tell story of vulnerable citizens

It took months of digging through documents and interviewing sources for journalists at the Center for Investigative Reporting to flesh out myriad troubles at the housing authority in Richmond, Calif. But this investigation had a twist: three young poets from Richmond teamed up as part of the Off/Page Project to help report the reality for residents living in decrepit conditions.

The experience resulted in the short film “This is Home,” filmed at the Hacienda complex, which was released in conjunction with the investigation online and in print with the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED and CIR.

"This is Home" (Off/Page Project)

The Off/Page Project presents its latest short film, "This is Home," produced in conjunction with The Center for Investigative Reporting's new report on failures of Richmond, Calif.'s housing authority. Off/Page recruited three Richmond poets — Deandre Evans, William Hartfield-Peoples and Donte Clark — to work with CIR reporter Amy Julia Harris in the Hacienda and Nevin Plaza housing projects, interviewing sources and walking through dilapidated, mold-infested buildings during her investigation.

Chan: “This is Home” was also expanded into a play through StoryWorks, CIR’s collaboration with Tides Theatre. How did this come about?

Vadi: It was a quick turnaround. When we finished producing the film “This is Home,” an idea was born with the folks at Tides, and the next thing we knew the play ran for five nights – all within seven weeks! Our poets from Richmond had seen previous installments of StoryWorks productions and pretty much jumped right into the process. We also recruited a fourth poet, Tassiana Willis, for the play. Jennifer Welch, Tides’ producing artistic director, co-directed the production and provided an amazing space and crew to make this happen. The play was performed in front of sold-out crowds and was covered by the San Francisco Chronicle and KALW. A live theatrical film of the play will be released later this year.

Behind the Scenes of "This is Home" (StoryWorks Goes Off/Page)

Go behind the scenes of the one-act play "This is Home," a collaboration between the Off/Page Project and Tides Theatre's StoryWorks collaboration with The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR). Learn what happens when two groundbreaking collaborations join forces to explore the intersection of live performance and hard-hitting journalism at Tides Theatre produced in March 2014.

Chan: Off/Page is a program for young poets and journalists alike – how do you reach young people?

Vadi: Off/Page has used social media as a means to educate, engage and impact young people. In celebration of April’s National Poetry Month, we provided writing prompts through Instagram, challenging young people to write a poem every day for 30 days. This was inspired by an earlier campaign in January honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. through the hashtag #MLKSpokes (which was featured on Mashable).

Chan: You recently returned from the 2014 Brave New Voices festival in Philadelphia. What went down?

Vadi: We had a great time in Philadelphia, and I feel like Off/Page had a strong presence throughout the festival. For the second consecutive year, we curated 10 town halls – this year at Temple University. We also screened “This is Home” and our documentary “Broken City Poets” to a capacity crowd at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg theater. Five hundred copies of CIR’s graphic novel on juvenile solitary confinement, “The Box,” were also produced and distributed to all BNV participants. We also left some copies with our friends at Philly Youth Poetry Movement to distribute to local youth throughout the school year.

In the last two years, through the festival, we’ve engaged over 500 young people on issues related to gender-based identity, economy, immigration, bullying and armed violence.

In the coming year, Off/Page aims to expand its activities nationally and continue to develop work related to CIR’s investigation on juvenile solitary confinement. If you haven’t already, follow Off/Page on Twitter and Instagram.

Julia B. Chan worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until June, 2017. Julia B. Chan is a producer and the digital editor for Reveal's national public radio program. She’s the voice of Reveal online and manages the production and curation of digital story assets that are sent to more than 200 stations across the country. Previously, Chan helped The Center for Investigative Reporting launch YouTube’s first investigative news channel, The I Files, and led engagement strategies – online and off – for multimedia projects. She oversaw communications, worked to better connect CIR’s work with a bigger audience and developed creative content and collaborations to garner conversation and impact.

Before joining CIR, Chan worked as a Web editor and reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. She managed the newspaper’s digital strategy and orchestrated its first foray into social media and online engagement. A rare San Francisco native, she studied broadcasting at San Francisco State University, focusing on audio production and recording. Chan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

José Vadi is the project director of the Off/Page Project, a collaboration between The Center for Investigative Reporting and Youth Speaks. Since the age of 19, José has served as a poet mentor for Youth Speaks, the nation’s leading literary nonprofit. A two-time National Poetry Slam champion, José has coached several college and youth slam poetry teams to national competitions, including the 2008 and 2010 Bay Area Youth Speaks teams featured in the HBO documentary series, Brave New Voices. He was the recipient of the San Francisco Foundation’s Shenson Performing Arts Award for his debut play, A Eulogy for Threeproduced at Intersection for the Arts under the curation of Marc Bamuthi-Joseph’s Living Word Festival. Since 2010, José has served as the editor and curriculum developer of The Bigger Picture, an anti-diabetes multimedia campaign sponsored by UC San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations.