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21 Mar 2016

New Web Series Tackles Gun Violence, Infertility, Abuse and Healing

I'm Still Standing is a new documentary series on YouTube that features some raw, emotional stories from women who have been able to move past traumatic experiences.

We spoke to the creator Jem Jackson as well as one of the five women featured in season one about what we can all learn from listening to each other's stories. 

What got you thinking about doing a series like this?

The I’m Still Standing documentary series idea really started when I decided to implement 3 simple steps in my life: pray, listen, obey- and in that order. Sounds simple, but it was a challenge at first to put what I knew I was being led to do into action. A lot of different fears and anxieties came up.

On the other hand, my bread and butter is working as a Social Worker and Counsellor - so the idea of a documentary series that would be used to inspire hope wasn’t that far removed from what I was already doing. Almost daily I speak to clients who feel that they are completely alone in their struggles and feel that there is no way out- I’m Still Standing shows them and all of us that there is hope despite how bad our situations may seem.

How did you select the five women who would be featured?

That’s a great question. None of the guests were chosen in a ‘conventional’ way. All of them were selected in a manner that I can only describe as divine intervention. One of the guests, author and life coach Andrée Nicole and I met on Twitter and made an awesome connection; she eventually shared her unbelievable I’m Still Standing story with me. Another guest, fashion designer Paulette Cleghorn is the cousin of a very close family friend. She has never shared her story publicly and is extremely busy all year long showing designs around the world. It was amazing that we managed to line up our schedules and meet in New York to record her interview.

Tell us about the stories in this series.

The stories in this series are all very real, raw and unique. All 5 guests really opened up about one of the hardest, most vulnerable times in their lives.

In episode 1.2, fashion designer Paulette shares how the violent death of her father and immediate separation from her family has affected her life. In episode 1.3, Marcella delves into her 4+ year experience of infertility treatments and how she kept hope alive despite constant disappointment. In episode 1.4, Talia opened up about being in an abusive relationship and how she went from being completely isolated in the situation to ending the cycle of abuse. In episode 1.5 Andrée addresses how life as an author helped her heal from emotional and physical injuries resulting from a near tragic, two collision car accident. In the season finale that is coming up on March 31st, you will see Shereen Ashman visit the location where she was a victim of gun violence and discuss the 15 year healing journey that she has been on since then.

What surprised you about the whole process of getting these women to tell their stories?

It was really surprising to witness how healing the process was for the guests- we started the series with the intention of inspiring hope in the lives of viewers, but many of the guests said the process was a huge step in their own process of healing.

I was also surprised at how open the women were, they were so willing to share and be raw with us and the viewers.

What was the most emotional moment for you?

It’s hard to pick just one, there were many emotional moments for me. One moment in particular that really stood out was when we actually went to the building where one of the guests- Shereen had been shot. It was the first time she had been back herself since the incident, and it was an extremely surreal experience.

What’s in store for season 2?

I’m really excited for season 2! Once season 1 is done, we will be holding a ‘submit your story’ campaign to add to season 2’s arsenal. My husband and I are expecting our first baby in May, so of course the baby will be our #1 priority! In between seasons we want to keep up the momentum by posting online features of the stories that have been submitted thus far.


Shereen Ashman:

The episode will air March 31st as the finale of the series, but can you give us an idea of what people can expect to hear from your story?
I see my experience as a survivor of gun violence as a three part story. In the series I share the story of what happened to me the night I got shot coupled with the remnants of trauma that I continue to deal with. It’s a candid reflection. Also, I visit the location where the incident happened, quite significant for me since I spent almost 15 years avoiding the site and on the rare occasion that I had to drive past, I would speed up.

I remember talking to you a few years ago about what happened when you got shot. And you were adamant about not wanting to share the story publicly. What changed for you?
It’s a combination of wanting to own and release this one story in my life coupled with a deep desire for optimal holistic health. In retrospect, it took a year to heal physically, and I’ve been able to speak to the physical trauma more openly. But it’s been 14 years of a far slower and sometimes extremely difficult emotional and mental healing process, one that would frustrate me and it’s still on going. It feels like you’re stuck in a kind of cyclical survival mode, I was just trying to keep my head above water so to speak.

But now, I’m at a point in my healing where I want to move past surviving and I’m willing to try things that literally scare the heck out of me. A part of that is to own, share and release the story. Only time will tell if this step is most effective, but I feel it’s time to take that risk. My foundation is to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Are you nervous about the episode airing?
I am scared shitless. It’s quite a naked experience. I’ve been private about the depths of this struggle, only privy to a select few people in my personal and professional life. This feels like I’m outing myself. Of course, there are concerns around how sharing this story more publicly will impact other areas of my life, family, career, reputation and the list goes on. I feel like I’m taking my courtship with vulnerability to a whole new height. I try to stay light about it, but in my quiet moments I do wonder where this will take me. Who isn’t afraid of the unknown?

What do you hope anyone watching your story will come away with?
I hope it normalizes the healing journey for someone who like myself was frustrated with the seemingly glacier speed of healing. That it can take a long time; it’s ongoing and cyclical. And that this is normal and ok. Perhaps sharing my story will spark hope in someone and a desire to also move past surviving to thriving on their own terms. I hope to connect and celebrate life.

Click here to watch episodes of I'm Still Standing

Read 3724 times Last modified on Monday, 21 March 2016 13:08
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Camille Dundas

Camille Dundas is the co-founder and editor in chief of Canada’s leading Black Canadian online magazine, ByBlacks.com. She has won two national ethnic media press awards and a commendation from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Prior to that, Camille spent 10 years as a TV news reporter and producer, working on national shows for both CTV and CBC.