What started as a story between friends became a movie, and that movie spawned the creation of a documentary film company.
Nicole Florence and Maria Ansley, a pair of 50-somethings, have been friends for years.
Florence, 53, is a physician at Memorial Wellness Center and Ansley, 52, is a medical photographer at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine. The pair have worked together on numerous projects and swapped stories about their families.
One day, Nikki told Maria how her sister, Tracey Meares, was cheated out of being the first Black valedictorian at Springfield High School back in the 1980s.
"I'm a white girl who grew up in Lincoln and I had never given any thought to things like that happening in the 1980s. To me, it was something that would have happened in the 1960s," Ansley said.
Ansley films surgeries for the medical school and had never considered creating a documentary before. But she believed that with Florence she could document an injustice committed almost 40 years ago and perhaps set things right.
No Title for Tracey was shown last spring at the Hoogland Center for the Arts during a ceremony in which Meares was declared valedictorian. Moreover, the documentary captured national attention from newspapers and television networks.
With this initial success, the pair started talking about forming a company and producing more documentaries – with a particular focus on injustices.
One of the topics they are considering is an examination of the Springfield voting rights lawsuit, which changed Springfield's form of government in the mid-1980s and made the city council better reflect the city's racial diversity.
Florence said this type of journalism is not all that different from what she does as a physician. She noted that when she examines patients she asks questions and listens to their stories, much the same as when a journalist questions a source.
"I think we all need human connections and I think when you do these types of interviews or documentaries, it's a way to connect," she said.
Previously, Florence interviewed a variety of "ordinary" people and posted their videos on YouTube for a program she called "Shine."
"The premise of 'Shine' was just to look at ordinary people who experienced something extraordinary," she said. "It is really very interesting having this diverse group of people tell their stories. And it was very therapeutic for them in a way. But it also was therapeutic for me."
Among the stories she has explored is a woman who donated a kidney to her father and a couple struggling with addiction.
"I had a couple who appeared to be kind of the American white dream. But the dad was a heroin addict. And she was a nutritionist and probably borderline eating disorder codependent. But if you looked at them, they looked like they had the white picket fence and they were this perfect couple."
Both Ansley and Florence are keeping their day jobs. But starting Longshot Productions and creating documentaries is a way of reinventing themselves as they enter new periods in their lives.
"I feel like I'm in a better space, professionally and spiritually and emotionally, where I felt like I was in the right place to be able to do this the way it needed to be done." Florence said. "For 20 years, I've been in primary care. The reason why I gravitated towards that is because I love to sit and talk to people and listen to their stories. That's what we do. We interview people and we listen. This was just another way to do that."
Scott Reeder, a staff writer for ReGeneration can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.