The story we’ve chosen this month, “The Fight for Sugar Hill,” centers on an itinerant pastor’s efforts to help the residents of a dead-end housing project in Texas’ richest county. Dallas Morning News reporter Paul Meyer and photographer Melanie Burford take readers through three years filled with teen pregnancies, imprisonment, eviction, and death, narrating Pastor Rock’s quixotic struggle against uncaring property management, burned-out law enforcement, and the residents’ fear and inaction.
The series tends toward simple language, which yields up some memorable images—shot-out floodlights and potholed parking lots. Yet the best characterization emerges through the subjects’ own words, such as when Pastor Rock says he knows God has the answers, “But for some reason, he hasn’t shared those with me.”
Melanie Burford’s stellar photos for the project run as a slide show over a version of “His Eye Is on the Sparrow,” sung by one of the single mothers from Sugar Hill. The lyrics of hope and faith play against a visual landscape of despair. Moving in and out of opposition to the audio, the pictures also humanize the story’s characters.
We appreciated the judicious use of multimedia elements in the online package. But we regretted the absence of material outlining the history of the Sugar Hill complex and comparing key aspects of its residents to people in surrounding counties—material that appeared in the print edition.
The series occasionally has the feel of a ride-along, spun out as a chronology rather than a drama shaped by its teller. Still, when we hear the vocals and see a photo of the singer being recorded in her apartment while her son holds a toy gun to his head, the disparate elements of the series do combine to create a powerful narrative, the kind that can emerge only through long-term commitment to projects like “The Fight for Sugar Hill.”
Read “The Fight for Sugar Hill,” by Paul Meyer