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Stories of Surviving & Thriving in America's Public Housing

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HEARD captures the inspiring stories of five people who grew up in “the projects,” surviving and thriving in spite of, and often because of, the challenges they've had to overcome. Now they’re giving back to their home communities, trying to make a better life for those who come behind.

News reports of America’s urban housing projects focus on violence, gangs and drugs. To most Americans, public housing and urban poverty are “issues” that remain out of sight and out of mind. In this film, the issues take on human faces. We get to know people who live in public housing communities, and hear them tell their own stories of surviving and thriving.

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Featured Stories

Von Johnson

Von Johnson spent his late teens and 20s in and out of jail on drug distribution convictions. It was in jail he turned his life around. Now a successful barber, he’s living his dream career and trying to give back to his community.

T. J. Thompson

T. J. Thompson experienced success in football as a youth and in high school. His skill on the field got him into college. But it was short-lived. He found his purpose, though, as a father, a mentor and by writing a book about his life.

Cotina Brake

Cotina Brake was a mother at age 15. She spent her late teen years and 20s “just living” with no thought of long-term goals. In her 30s she began to take advantage of programs to lift her out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. That led her to a career and homeownership.

Demonte Cosby

Demonte Cosby started getting into trouble as his mom worked double shifts and saved money to move their family out of the projects. This led him to enroll in the Richmond Cycling Corp’s Legacy Academy, where his new skills as a cyclist earned him a full scholarship to Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. He's now a member of their nationally ranked cycling team.

Gwendolyn Harris

Gwendolyn Harris is a lifelong resident of Richmond’s public housing communities. A current resident of Creighton Court, she spends her time as an advocate and mentor for other residents in transition.



Belltower Pictures is a Richmond, Virginia based non-profit focused on producing, promoting and distributing high quality films, television and web projects. Belltower’s priorities are telling great stories that have a positive impact on people's lives; training and encouraging the next generation of filmmakers and bringing together people from diverse backgrounds, working together and making a positive difference in the world.