On Valentine’s Day 2018, Carlitos Rodriguez tucked his camera into his school bag. He was planning to film a video about “love, support, friendship, and goodness” for his vlog.
Instead, he captured the terror in his friends’ faces as they desperately tried to stay safe during a mass shooting that left 17 students and faculty dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
We know that we have to take more than our sadness and pain from these experiences and make something more out of it, something positive.
Heartbroken and shocked, Rodriguez and his friends comforted each other by sharing their stories and feelings about that terrible day. But as the media blasted story after story focused on the shooting and the shooter, Rodriguez noticed that stories from those devastated by the gun violence were missing from the narrative.
With some urging from his mom, the self-taught filmmaker created Stories Untold, a program that lets those left behind share their stories through video. He started by interviewing and filming people in his community about how the Parkland shooting impacted them personally. The project quickly snowballed into an effort to share stories about the effects of gun violence across the nation.
Recently, the 19-year-old learned that Stories Untold won the top prize in the education category of T-Mobile's Changemaker Challenge. “I was just out of words and breath,” says Rodriguez. “I’m so thankful to be a part of the Changemaker Challenge and be able to expand the work we do with Untold Stories.”
2019 T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge winners announcement (Source: T-Mobile)
EdSurge sat down with Rodriguez to learn more about why he created Stories Untold, how he hopes to support those affected by gun violence, and how winning the T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge will help him expand his work.
EdSurge: How do you hope to support those who experience gun violence through Stories Untold?
Rodriguez: Stories Untold is for anyone who has experienced gun violence in America. We reach out to communities who have gone through mass shootings or experience everyday gun violence to support them in sharing their stories. For example, recently, we went to Oakland, California, where I interviewed six different people who were directly and indirectly affected by gun violence. A lot of times, people reach out to us as well.
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We do our best to help both students and adults talk about what’s on their mind and share what they need and want to share. And because Stories Untold is led by gun violence survivors, people that have experienced this trauma, we understand what the person we’re interviewing has felt. We know that we have to take more than our sadness and pain from these experiences and make something more out of it, something positive. We can use our stories to have an impact and really be a catalyst for change for one person and even a million people.
What kind of change do you want to create?
It’s not just sharing our stories of pain. It’s more about how we can share our pain and turn it into positive action, hope, and strength. It’s about how we can support one another. And that’s what Stories Untold is.
I want our stories to go around the globe and for other stories about injustice and trauma—not only those about gun violence—to be shared on the platform. I think my generation, as the next generation coming up, needs to learn how to accept each other’s differences. We need to learn how to have conversations, not arguments. We need to support one another instead of pushing each other down, and I think our stories can help.
How do the stories you share impact both the storyteller and the listeners?
My dear friend, Anthony, was shot five times while barricading a classroom door to protect students during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman. There was some media coverage, but he spent over eight weeks in the hospital, and the media quickly moved on. I felt like his story was going untold. So the week before Stories Untold launched, we recorded a little video sharing who he is. He simply said that his name is Anthony, and his story deserves to be heard. People all over the country reached out and gave him the support he needed—cards, letters, words of encouragement, recognition for being the hero that he is.
Anthony Borges recovers after being shot at school (Source: Stories Untold)
That emotional and moral support helped him recover emotionally from those incredible, terrible gunshot wounds and the trauma he experienced. That’s one of the stories that inspired me to keep going. It showed me the power that storytelling has and how it impacted Anthony and those who heard his story.
It’s not just sharing our stories of pain. It’s more about how we can share our pain and turn it into positive action, hope, and strength.
As a winner, you’re invited to the Changemaker Lab in February. What do you hope to learn there?
I’m excited and thankful for the mentorship and funding support! I’m working on growing more funds, expanding our team, being a more consistent leader, and connecting with the other Changemaker Challenge winners will be so helpful in those areas. It will be an opportunity to see how we can collaborate with other winners on our work, gain mentorship, advice and hear different perspectives on how we can improve Stories Untold and how we can expand to reach more people.Carlitos learning that he is a category winner for the Changemaker Challenge (Source: T-Mobile)
We’re getting ready for the anniversary of Parkland, which is coming up in February. And there are still many, many voices of students, teachers, janitors, survivors, faculty—even policemen, parents and siblings that haven’t been heard in my community. We’re focusing on preparing something for the anniversary, but I also want to focus on how to share these stories with more people.
You can follow Stories Untold on Twitter @StoriesUntoldUS and follow all 30 of the Changemaker Challenge winners at T-Mobile's website.