Northwestern University’s Journalism program will premiere a documentary this week that focuses on drug policies and their impact on the Austin community.

The film, which debuts on July 25, is one of many projects the university’s Medill School of Journalism is doing concerning the war on drugs and its impact on the West Side.

The documentary, On the Block: Saving West Ferdinand will premiere Friday as part of the Austin Talk Back Event sponsored by the Westside Writing Project and NU’s Social Justice News Nexus.

Our Block: Rescuing West Ferdinand Demo Reel from Ahmed Hamad on Vimeo.

“I knew in my head that I wanted to prove that the war on drugs was wrong and it literally messed up a lot of communities,” said filmmaker Ahmed Hamad. “It seemed like it wasn’t a war on drugs, it was the war on drugs on people.”

The mini-documentary will explore the lives of several people living in the 5200 block of West Ferdinand and how they have been affected by drugs or the war on drugs in Austin.

After conducting several interviews, Hamad said he realized that the system punished a lot of people, which affected the community. One person he interviewed, for example, has a dad who went to prison for 17 years and a mom who died when he was around 10 years old. Then the young man went to the streets.

“It was an intense experience seeing the pain the people are going through,” Hamad said. “But for me, it was so intense because I grew up around felons and all the stuff that comes with it, so I could relate.”

The West Side Writing Project will also showcase a 10-minute video documenting the history of the war on drugs and its impact on Austin. It is one of many projects that WWP is working on to improve the condition and quality of life on the West Side, said Frank Latin, the nonprofit’s executive director.

The project was taken on with the hopes of telling the stories of individuals who have been impacted by the phenomenon, he said, as well as with hopes of moving the community forward.

Latin said that, very often, people go out into the community and notice the social problems and social neglect. Instead of looking at what they see, the Westside Writing Project is focusing on what the community has been through. When looking at it from this view, Latin said they still see a very strong and stable community with a lot of resilience.

“I’m hoping that this project will generate discussion and dialogue. In tackling this issue — and discussing this issue and the impact of the war on drugs — hopefully, people will see that it’s not so much of the community’s fault, in terms of the issues and stuff that linger in our community,” Latin said. “It’s really just to highlight some of the challenges.”

After speaking to various people, Latin said he noticed that incarceration rates were a big phenomenon that caused people to spend 10 and 20 years in jail for small amounts of drugs.

“All of the stories tell the story of a community that was hit by a severe blow, but yet they are still struggling and still fighting to come out.”


More information

  • The West Side Writing Project hosts July 25, community event about the impact of the drug war on Austin. Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago Ave.
  • To learn more:; 312-498-5857