Journalist at the University of Tennessee and the work I've done

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Update on Clean Up Day!

Clean up day on Sunday, November 9th was a success!

We collected about 14 bags of trash in two hours.

A big thank you to those who came out: Sammie Herold, Justin Matthews, and Madison Roberts!

Also, none of this would have been possible without the supplies generously donated to us by Keep Knoxville Beautiful.

Thank you all for making my Community Action Project come to life. Next clean up will take place on Sunday, December 14th!


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I’ve lived in the Fort Sanders neighborhood for about two and a half years now. What started out as a convenient place to live turned into an undying passion for my home. Over the past two years I’ve recognized several aspects about the Fort that need improving.

The most obvious problem is the piles of trash that accumulate on lawns, sidewalks, and gutters. That aspect alone seems to depreciate the standard of living in the neighborhood. Since there is already old beer bottles lying on the ground, it isn’t a problem to throw yours down, right? Thus the cycle continues. Trash breeds more trash. Apathy breeds more apathy.

I want to change this.

Part of the Leadership Knoxville Scholars curriculum is a Community Action Project (CAP). Essentially, every scholar must come up with a plan to positively impact the community in some way. The possibilities of CAP’s are endless. My friend, Ryan Brown, created the Food Recovery Network as his CAP. He collects food from various events, such as UT Football games, that would have been thrown out. Then he relocates it to someone in need. It isn’t just Ryan, either, it’s a whole organization. Another friend and fellow scholar, Blake Roller, will hold a history fair for elementary students in Knoxville. He wants to teach them about the rich history of Knoxville, and he’s a total expert on it.

My passion for the Fort is the fuel to my CAP. Organizing a trash clean up has been a goal of mine for over a year now. But between two jobs, school, and life I haven’t had much energy to pour into a brand new project.

Finally I’ve teamed up with the Fort Sanders Neighborhood Association to get my CAP started. Sunday, October 26th the Association hosted a Fort Sanders Homecoming event with chili and music. About 30 people from the community met up at James Agee Park. While enjoying free food, we looked over plans to install several trash receptacles on various corners in the neighborhood. Overall, it was a good time and the Mayor even showed up.

Personally, I would love to have more of these events. The Association and I have talked about a couple different ideas. There will definitely be some community get-togethers in the future.

However, right now, I’d really love to tackle the most obvious problem. This Sunday, November 9th from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. we’re hosting a trash clean up! We’ll tackle the areas between James Agee and 11th street. Anyone is welcome to come out, and feel free to sign up if you’d like to! We’re getting trash bags and gloves from Keep Knoxville Beautiful.

I don’t just want to make the Fort a cleaner place. I want people to invest in the community like I want to. I want students and members of the community to work together. I want a community! Sure, it won’t be easy to change the mindset that people have toward the Fort. But one day, everyone will see it as I do. It is a significant, beautiful, historical gem. And it deserves to be treated that way.

Our next clean up will be on Sunday, December 14th from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m.

Email me if you have an questions, ideas, or concerns! rblake5@vols.utk.edu

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Addiction in 2014

My heart sank as I watched it crash onto the concrete sidewalk. Hoping for the best, preparing for the worst, I picked it up…and my fears came to fruition.

I had shattered my iPhone screen.

That was in July of this year. My phone attempted to commit technological suicide by forcefully jumping to its death. After some inspection I realized that my iPhone 4 (remember that, it’s important!) was still usable. Although it had lost its gleaming Apple luster.

A couple of weeks ago I began experiencing trouble with the screen. On occasion, when I’d touch the screen it wouldn’t register. I tried to shake it off. Not a big deal. However, as time went on, I lost more and more screen sensitivity. First, I couldn’t use the top row of the keyboard. I turned my phone from side to side until I could use all of the keys I needed in order to communicate. Then I couldn’t text at all. I couldn’t open a lot of programs. Finally it gave out.

I can no longer unlock my phone. If someone calls me, I can answer. But that’s it.

If you own a smart phone (and chances are you do) you realize how much not having a fully functioning phone screws with your normal routine. Honestly, it’s kind of like quitting an addiction. Every day I’d get more and more agitated that I couldn’t talk to my friends whenever I wanted. I couldn’t check twitter while waiting for class to start. I couldn’t look at my bank statement before I went shopping. I couldn’t get directions anywhere. I couldn’t look at snapchats. I couldn’t find out where the bus was. I couldn’t check my email, like I typically do between classes.

It’s been awful.

This experience opened my eyes to what addiction looks like in 2014. My generation works so hard to make the world more eco-friendly and to stop tobacco sales. But we all ignore our own technological dependency.

People DIE because they can’t wait to check their text messages while driving.

It is exceptionally rare to see someone walking to or from class without using their phone in some way. Think about it. Whether you’re listening to music, talking on the phone, texting, playing a game, tweeting, the list goes on and on and on.

This blows my mind. We are so wrapped up in our own little world that we miss everything going on around us. Including the cars swerving around you while you’re texting as you cross the street.

We do so much to improve our world. It is absolutely ridiculous that we can’t put down our devices for more than five minutes. We’re addiction to consumption. We gorge ourselves on information without taking a moment to critically think about what we’re consuming. Our brain eats up so much trash. Think of it like eating pizza for every meal. Technically you’re getting all of the food groups. But what you’re consuming is not good for you.

Jan Winburn, CNN Digital Editor, spoke to my JEM 499 class. Her talk was insightful to say the least. Ms. Winburn encouraged us to think independently of mainstream news sources. She pointed out that news is becoming a commodity. It used to be that our goal, as a journalist, was to get the story out first. Well, with our insatiable appetite for media has made it possible for anyone to “break the story” now. Ms. Winburn suggested that journalist think about the quality of their work, rather than the immediacy of it. Know how to ask the right questions. Have quality conversations with your audience. Because, as Ms. Winburn pointed out, news is much more of a conversation with your audience than ever before.

Now I’m challenging you. Try to go one week only using your phone to call people. Read the newspaper, watch the evening news, and check out your favorite sites on your computer. But don’t use your phone for anything except calling others. Let me know how long you last and what you experience during the challenge.