ECU student awarded for photo documentary

Video from Miller’s award-winning project to raise awareness about intolerance and discrimination describes the struggle of an undocumented student trying to acquire a college education.

By Melanie Jock
ECU News Services

East Carolina University junior Chantel Miller earned a national award June 25 for a photo documentary created to raise awareness of discrimination.

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Chantel Miller

Miller, an anthropology major from Wilmington, was selected as one of ten winners from hundreds of nominees for the USA Network’s Characters Unite Award, which celebrates individual efforts to combat hate and intolerance. She was the only college student selected.

This year’s winners “deserve to be recognized for their tireless work in fighting hate and discrimination and promoting acceptance in their communities,” said Bridget Baker, president of NBC Universal TV Networks Distribution. “Along with our distribution partners, we salute these winners on the incredible efforts they lead,” Baker said.

Inspired by friends’ experiences, Miller’s winning documentary relies primarily on camera work to share stories of individuals who have faced hate and discrimination. Project IM2, which means “I matter too,” addresses difficulties friends have endured while trying to acquire an education.

The project introduction, “The American Dream,” illustrates the efforts of a high school honors graduate made ineligible for financial aid. With her face concealed, the student speaks on video about her experiences.

“Nobody really knows the struggles that come with being an outsider,” the student said. Following an exceptional high school career, the college-bound student won “close to $100,000 in scholarships.” Although accepted “at some of the best schools in the state,” the student is now attending community college and working two jobs to pay tuition.

This student’s experience is “just one example of the educational injustice I intend to fight,” Miller said. “If someone has worked hard enough to get to where they are, they should have equal opportunity.”

The award includes a $5,000 grant, which Miller plans to donate toward a scholarship fund. She also hopes to raise money through sales of her art to fund scholarships for those in need. She and fellow ECU students Evelyn Inestroza, Gorsha Pierre-Louis and Angelica Velasquez are working to create a nonprofit organization, which they hope to have up and running by the end of 2012.

“That is when we will really begin to help others,” Miller said.

“It is my belief that education is the key to a successful life,” Miller said.  “If we constantly preach that education is so important, then it should not be this hard to obtain.”

Miller said she was shocked when she learned of the award. “I didn’t believe it when they told me I was a finalist in late April. I sort of dismissed it because I did not think I was going to win at all, but I was certainly proven wrong!”

Details on the IM2 project are available at http://projectim2.tumblr.com/, https://www.facebook.com/ProjectIM2 and www.projectim2.webstarts.com.

More information about the Characters Unite Award is at http://www.charactersunite.com/about/overview.