AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — In November of 2021, Panhandle PBS won a regional Emmy for its documentary series “Living While Black.” Now, MyHighPlains.com has a behind-the-scenes look at the messages they hope to share.
Senior producer of “Living While Black,” Karen Welch, said the idea for the documentary came after the Panhandle PBS staff were sent home to work at the start of 2020.
“We were trying to find our way with, you know, Zoom and everything else and then George Floyd, the murder of George Floyd happened,” said Welch. “And we began to discuss, How can we react to this? We were seeing the posts of our friends and neighbors, about how they were so deeply affected by it and we wanted to hear from them. It was time to listen.”
Not starting a dialogue, but listening to the experiences of Black and bi-racial Amarilloans.
Welch said it started with 35 hours of interviews with more than 20 locals and experts across the country.
“It’s amazing the selection of the individuals that they had to speak because I think everybody had different versions of the same experiences and that was good to chronicle,” said Claudia Stuart, a documentary participant.
Stuart, a community activist and much more, was the first full-time, African-American female faculty member at West Texas A&M University when she was hired in 1996.
Stuart shared her experience as a student at WT.
“At the time, I was just putting one foot in front of the other and just walking forward and doing every day the same thing,” said Stuart, in an interview with MyHighPlains.com. “But when I saw that doors were closed in my face organizations, we’re not allowing African-Americans to join, then I knew that I was going to have a problem…”
She said hearing other people’s stories and putting yourself in their shoes is a good start.
“We kind of like our life the way it is, of course. A lot of that’s tied up in privilege. Well, when you take away all the privilege, and we take away all the amenities that you have in life that other people don’t have in life, and you’re consciously thinking about that, you know, it’s unequal and you know, it’s unfair,” said Stuart. “That’s what we got to change and unless you can put yourself in somebody’s shoes and realize that at the very core, you’re not going to be able to even want to make changes.”
Another participant, R.J. Soleyjacks, a local elementary school principal, recounted a terrifying experience while visiting his wife’s family in Wheeler. He shared the story in the documentary and in this interview.
“I also got to see again, the good and bad, ugly of West Texas,” Soleyjacks said, recounting that day. “I was almost shot and killed in Wheeler for riding a four-wheeler in a field with my father in law…”
In addition to personal stories, the documentary series dives into several other topics, including current and historical movements for change. Plus—how to move from protest to progress.
“These specials also help push that progress forward because then people will begin to understand, ‘Well, why does that part of the town need this? Why do we need to spend more money there? Why do we have to, you know, do things with that infrastructure when I need help with my infrastructure here?’ and it’s being able to begin to open those type of conversations and get people to listen, with an open heart,” Soleyjacks continued.
Stuart is also an author. Watch the video below to hear her read an original poem called “Mean Streets.”