Journalism Students Win First Place at NATAS with The Black 14: Healing Hearts and Feeding Souls
Last year, BYU journalism students filmed and produced a documentary about the Black 14 to share their message of forgiveness and healing. Since then, news sites and universities across the country have been sharing the story of the BYU documentary about the Black 14. Recently, the documentary gained prominence once again as it took first place at the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS) Student Awards.
The National Student Production Awards is the student equivalent of an Emmy award, according to Melissa Gibbs, the BYU News Lab Director. In addition to NATAS, the documentary also received an honorable mention at the Gracie Awards and placed at the Society of Professional Journalists Awards.
The documentary tells the story of 14 University of Wyoming football players. Each was kicked off their team after asking to wear black armbands in their game against BYU to protest The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ racial policy in 1969. More than 50 years later, the Black 14 has made amends with the Church and has worked to fight against food insecurity.
“The Black 14 is about a group of men who pushed past adversity to make the best of the worst situation. They were able to right past wrongs to build the world up as a whole,” said Elisabeth Ahlstrom, a School of Communications alum who helped produce the documentary as part of her undergraduate work.
As part of her experience with the documentary, Ahlstrom traveled with Melissa Gibbs and Alan Neves across the country to film and conduct interviews. She worked alongside fellow journalism alum Abigail Gunderson to script the documentary, transcribe the interviews, and edit the footage.
Gunderson recalled an inspiring moment when two members of the Black 14 came to Provo to be honored at a BYU football game. John Griffin approached Gunderson and Ahlstrom to thank them for telling his story. “Seeing that it mattered and what we had worked on was impactful to someone other than us was just incredible,” Gunderson said.
Through all the awards and recognition the documentary has received, the students who produced it are impacted first and foremost by the heart of the story. “That’s probably why the documentary has been recognized and awarded — the students did a really good job of keeping the story authentic,” said Gibbs. Each student pulled out a different theme from the documentary they helped create.
Current student Carly Wasserlein, who helped with videography, found spiritual meaning in the documentary. “The Book of Mormon says that God will consecrate our afflictions for our gain, and I think that the Black 14 is a perfect example of that. Those men were handed a completely unfair situation, one that would have turned many people bitter and angry, and they ended up using it to better the communities in which they live. Even though not all of those men were religious, they’re amazing examples of Christ,” Wasserlein said.
For Gunderson, the Black 14 told a story of empathy and expanding perspective. “What happened to the Black 14 in 1969 hurts,” Gunderson said. “You can’t help but listen to them tell their stories and feel that tug on your heartstrings. I can’t exactly empathize with what they went through, but I can still try and understand how that experience made them who they are and see how I can change my own behavior and the way I see the world because of the things I learned from them.”
Ahlstrom described two ways the Black 14 are changing the world, and the same two things the documentary hoped to share with its audience. “First, racism is harmful and it lasts. These men still have to live with the reality of what people’s racist decisions caused in the 60’s. There’s also food insecurity. There are people who struggle through no fault of their own, whose circumstances have put them in a position where they need a little extra help. We can change the world just by providing small help.”
We can change the world just by providing small help.
“We’re thankful to the Black 14 for allowing us to tell their story,” Gibbs said. “They trusted students from the institution where they were wronged. They were gracious to open that door for us. We’re so thankful to them.”