New documentary shows how War on Drugs has affected one Austin block

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The husband of an Austin pastor addicted to drugs for almost 20 years and is struggling to break his habit.

A 29-year-old man who’s been to jail eight times since the age of 23.

A man who once served 17 years in jail for drugs now a productive citizen.

These are three of more than dozen stories featured in a new documentary on how the War on Drugs has affected one block in Austin.

“On the Block: Saving West Ferdinand” will premiere 6 p.m. July 25 at Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center, 5820 W. Chicago. It’s sponsored by the Westside Writing Project and Social Justice News Nexus, a Northwestern University journalism project.

“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 documentary focuses on the 5200 block of West Ferdinand Street.

“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 show a 10-minute video that documents the history of the War on Drugs and its impact on Austin. It is one of several projects WWP is working on to improve the condition and quality of life on the West side, said Frank Latin, executive director of the West Side Writing Project.

The project was taken on in hopes of telling the stories of individuals, and the aim is to help the community move forward, he said.

Very often people notice the social problems and social neglect of Austin, Latin said. 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, one sees a strong and stable community that has a lot of resilience.

“I’m hoping that this project will generate discussion and dialogue,” Latin said.

Each of the stories depicted in Hamad’s documentary “tell the story of a community that was hit by a severe blow, but yet they are still struggling and still fighting,” he said.

“The War onf Drugs: The Impact on Austin past, present and future” will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. July 25.



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