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Thanks for visiting this news blog, a collection of original reporting and writing by Leanora Minai, former St. Petersburg Times (Tampa Bay Times) reporter, during field work for her short documentary film about mothers who lost their sons to gun homicide in Durham, North Carolina.

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Saturday
Jan192013

2012 Year in Review and a Look Ahead to 2013

My short documentary, "The Mothers," is about the impact of gun murder. It screened at the Carrboro Film Festival in November 2012. I'm standing with other filmmakers here during a Q&A.With 2013 getting into full swing, I’d like to look back at the highlights of 2012 and share some personal and professional plans for the coming year.

I’m extremely grateful and pleased with the reception of my short documentary, “The Mothers,” which I finished in May 2012. The film is about the impact of gun murder. I followed two mothers from the Parents of Murdered Children chapter in Durham and made the film as part of earning a certificate in Documentary Arts from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke.

After the film premiered, I traveled to Arizona, where “The Mothers” was screened during the Parents of Murdered Children national conference. The film was also among 33 films shown during the 7th annual Carrboro Film Festival.

In addition to screenings, I was a guest on WUNC’s The State of Things with host Frank Stasio and appeared on Tarheel Talk, a FOX 50 TV program focused on community issues in North Carolina.

Like my journalism work, making the film was uniquely rewarding. It made a difference in the lives of Diane Jones and Mina Hampton, the main mothers in the film, and that filled my heart.

Mina’s daughter, Charlotte Hampton, posted a comment on my website as I filmed and wrote updates about the story on this blog:

“This is not a topic that everyone will read, and some who read will not understand. Leanora, you are so brave and so deeply caring to even attempt it. Thank you for letting us know we are not forgotten, and that our loved ones will live on through us and your efforts to bring these stories to others.”Mina Hampton, left, and Diane Jones, right, co-leaders of the Parents of Murdered Children chapter in Durham presented me with this framed portrait of a mother embracing her child.

Just before Christmas, the Parents of Murdered Children chapter in Durham presented me with a framed portrait of a mother embracing her child. As much as I appreciate the gratitude, the greatest gift for me has been the opportunity to get to know this group and learn from the strength, perseverance and love they’ve cultivated in the midst of debilitating grief.

With the short documentary finished, friends, family and peers are asking, “What’s next?”

Truthfully, I’m not sure yet. I’m considering expanding the film but would like to form a team to work with me. If you’re interested in working on a project that will change lives, and you are skilled at shooting video or adept at editing, let’s talk.

In the meantime, I plan to make “The Mothers” available on my website in the coming months. I also hope to host a few community screenings in the coming year.

As I consider next steps for the film, I’ll be getting settled in Durham. Late last summer, I sold my house in North Raleigh and moved to Durham, finally ending a seven-year work commute. For now, I’m living in downtown Durham while I search for a house to buy. Most of my stuff is in storage, but I’m so excited to be a Durham resident. I love living in this city. My drive to work is six minutes, not even close to the nearly hour-long drive home I had after work. Now, I walk to restaurants, theater and other cultural venues.

This November will mark my ninth year as a Duke employee. I’ve got some unique opportunities this year. Specifically, I was selected to participate in the Duke Leadership Academy, a yearlong program to nurture the next generation of leaders at Duke. I’m honored to be part of the fourth class and look forward to learning from my peers.

When I launched this blog in late 2011, it mainly served as a home to post updates about my documentary film and my original news stories about underreported crime in Durham. I enjoyed practicing journalism again (I’m a former newspaper reporter.) I felt proud of reporting stories like the “2011 Year in Review: Homicides in Durham.”

I don’t think I’ll ever shake my crime reporter persona, but I’m going to take some time to think about the next iteration of this blog. I welcome your insights or suggestions.

Thank you for your support in 2012, and I wish you all the best in the coming year.

Wednesday
Nov072012

WUNC, Tarheel Talk Feature Durham Murder Documentary

Mina Hampton, left, Frank Stasio, host of The State of Things, and Leanora Minai in WUNC's studio in Durham.Since my short documentary, "The Mothers," premiered in May, radio and TV programs dedicated to raising awareness about issues of concern in North Carolina have invited me and the mothers in my film on their programs to talk about the impact of murder.

On Sept. 25, the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, I was a guest on WUNC’s The State of Things with host Frank Stasio. Mina Hampton, co-leader of the Parents of Murdered Children chapter in Durham and a mother featured in my documentary, joined us in the studio at the American Tobacco Campus for the live radio program. (There's also an audio recording of the show).

Later that evening after the radio show, "The Mothers" screened during the Parents of Murdered Children remembrance ceremony at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Durham with about 100 community members and leaders in attendance.

Tarheel Talk Host Sonya Harris, left, Diane Jones, Leanora Minai and Mina Hampton on the FOX 50 set in Raleigh.And about two weeks ago, on Oct. 23, Tarheel Talk, a TV program focused on community issues in North Carolina, had me, Mina and Diane Jones, another mother featured in my film, on the program. Diane serves with Mina as co-leader of Parents of Murdered Children chapter in Durham. 

The Tarheel Talk interview with show host Sonya Williams will air at 6:30 a.m. Nov. 18 on FOX 50. (Set the DVRs!)

I sincerely appreciate the invitations to talk about the film, but most of all, I am happy that the mothers have the opportunity to tell their stories.

Please contact me if you're interested in arranging a screening for your group or community.

Monday
Aug202012

Highlights from Durham Documentary Screening at National Parents of Murdered Children Conference

Diane Jones, left, and Mina Hampton, right, two mothers featured in the film, "The Mothers," receive applause after the screening in Phoenix.

I recently traveled to Arizona to show my short documentary to parents and family members whose loved ones were murdered.

About 350 people, including two of the Durham, N.C., mothers in my film, gathered in Phoenix Aug. 9-12 for the 26th annual Parents of Murdered Children national conference.

The conference featured keynote speakers and about 40 workshops, from “A Mother’s Grief” and “Cold Cases & Overview of Homicide Investigation” to “Ask the Medical Examiner” and “When Your Child’s Lifestyle is Judged.”

“It shows the world that our loved ones will never be forgotten,” said Dan Levey, the organization’s executive director, as he stood before wood plaques, each bearing the names, dates of birth, and dates of death of several thousand murder victims. The plaques were unveiled to attendees on the first night of the conference during a ceremony facilitated by members of a police honor guard.

My film, “The Mothers,” is a 10-minute documentary about a group of Durham, N.C., mothers who support each other through grief and healing after their child’s murder. It was shown Aug. 9 during the training workshop for leaders of Parents of Murdered Children support group chapters across the country.

The reaction from the audience of about 100 was positive and affirming. “We have a story to be told,” said Levey, whose brother, Howard, was murdered in 1996. During a question-and-answer session after the film, audience members asked why I made the film. One individual said it was a “brave choice” to cover murder as a topic.

I learned things, too. Some family members of homicide victims find the expression of sympathy, “I’m sorry for your loss,” almost offensive. One woman said friends and family of homicide victims don’t “lose” anyone. “They were ‘taken’ from us,” she said.

Closure, which was covered in my film, was another important point. A woman in the audience noted, “there’s never closure. What you learn to do is live with the pain.”

The highlight moment for me came when two of the mothers featured in my film – Diane Jones and Mina Hampton, the co-leaders of the Durham, N.C., chapter – stood and received a round of applause from their chapter leader peers from across the country.

Diane Jones, left, me, and Mina Hampton during the conference.Here are highlights from some workshops I attended:

A Mother’s Grief (Part 1)

Beckie Miller, the 2012 conference co-chair, led Part 1 of this workshop. Her son, Brian, was robbed and shot to death in Phoenix in 1991. For nearly 20 years, she has led the Phoenix chapter of Parents of Murdered Children with 1,500 members. She said there’s never justice and the pain never ends. “It does get easier, but it’s never easy,” she said. She stressed the importance of coping skills like honoring a child by finding a cause and referenced John Walsh as an example. “There’s always something you can do to give yourself a way to endure,” Miller said.

Neuroscience of Trauma and the Brain

Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, a professor at Arizona State University who specializes in counseling those affected by traumatic losses like the death of a child, talked about the effects of traumatic experiences on the brain. She suggested working toward a “calm and centered” brain and offered ways to help repair damage from trauma by practicing yoga, meditating or performing service. “Any time you do something nice for someone else, you’re doing something nice for yourself,” she said. How does Cacciatore practice mindfulness? She hikes barefoot once or twice a week.

When Your Child’s Lifestyle is Judged

Gayle Moffitt and Mary Elledge led this workshop to help parents struggling with their loved ones being blamed for their murder because of a lifestyle. Moffitt’s daughter, Diana, was a prostitute when she was murdered in 1987. Her case remains unsolved. Examples of some other lifestyles cited during the workshop included being in a gang or living homeless. “That person had people who loved them, and who are we to judge?” Elledge asked. “…The person responsible is the person who committed the crime.”

(Editor's Note: I paid my own conference, travel and lodging fees.)