Student spends summer documenting poverty on East Coast

Inspiration sent sophomore Nathan Flanagan-Frankl on a journey to the east coast searching for insight into American poverty and how it’s effecting young people

Nathan Flanagan-Frankl is not a stranger to financial problems.

With inspiration from challenges in his own life and the interviews gathered over the summer, he plans to create a documentary called “We Are The Ones.” Flanagan-Frankl has not finished the film and has yet to come up with a marketing plan or have it produced.

The documentary is named after a quote, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” that President Barack Obama used in one of his campaign speeches.

“After seeing my documentary, I want people to realize that they have a significant voice – one that can change society,” Flanagan-Frankl said. “Poverty is all around us. We see it in the person standing on the street corner and even in our next door neighbor. Most of the time we don’t even realize.”

After Flanagan-Frankl’s father lost his job as a recruiter in Chicago, his family was forced to relocate from its prominent neighborhood into a smaller home it could afford. This prompted the sophomore film production major to spend his summer traveling across the East Coast documenting cases of poverty.

Work on the film began last spring when Flanagan-Frankl approached his Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brother, Dylan Cox, with the idea of taking a road trip over the summer.

Cox, a sophomore business major, agreed to join Flanagan-Frankl on his journey.

“I’m not a film student so I’ve never done anything like this before,” Cox said. “It was definitely an eye-opening experience.”

The duo traveled through New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Lexington, Va., Louisville, Ky. and Chicago interviewing groups of people who have been affected by poverty and the unstable economy. They also interviewed individuals from organizations like the Boys & Girls Club of America and dosomething.org.

“We really wanted to get down to the nitty-gritty with these people – answering questions like why is there poverty in the United States and what can we do about it,” Flanagan-Frankl said.

What Flanagan-Frankl found is that the discussion of poverty and its effect on society has been swept under the rug in America. Over the summer, Flanagan-Frankl met an unemployed woman on the streets of New York handing out pamphlets.

“She was very uneducated. I don’t think she even finished high school,” Flanagan-Frankl said. “She told me that she was trying to make money to provide for her family.”

He said several people he interviewed for his documentary defied the stereotypes of homelessness.

“She looked just like anyone else,” Flanagan-Frankl said. “Her clothing wasn’t nice, but if you saw her at Starbucks you wouldn’t know that she couldn’t afford it.”

In creating the documentary, Flanagan-Frankl partnered with Steve Liss, the executive director of a nonprofit organization called In Our Own Backyard, a campaign by photojournalists to reduce poverty in America through donations and volunteer work. Liss provided guidance and a small amount of funding for the project.

Liss said that people need to start talking about poverty before they can do anything to change it.

“Our organization is concerned about poverty and the lack of discussion about it,” Liss said. “Mainstream media has done an abysmal job informing people about poverty.”

Assistant Professor Sally Rubin teaches Flanagan-Frankl in her community voices class, which focuses on creating documentaries about social issues. The class is extremely competitive – Rubin admits by application only. Rubin said Flanagan-Frankl has the ablility to connect with people on a very personal level and make them feel comfortable.

“Nathan has the warmest heart. The second I met him, I saw it,” Rubin said. “He’s the kind of person that will excel in documentary making.”

Flanagan-Frankl eventually hopes to use his experiences with Invisible Children, a movement that seeks an end to the use of child soldiers in Uganda, and “We Are The Ones” to create his own non-profit organization promoting youth empowerment and activism to fight against social challenges like poverty.

Leave a Comment