The Signal

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Thursday December 8th

Professor Lorna Johnson’s documentary ‘Seven Square Miles’ screens at Kendall Hall

<p><em><strong>(Photo Courtesy of </strong></em><a href="" target=""><em><strong>Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy</strong></em></a><em><strong>).</strong></em></p>

By Kaitlin Bavaro
Staff Writer

The College hosted a screening and discussion of the award-winning documentary “Seven Square Miles” on Sept. 28 at Kendall Hall. Lorna Johnson, a professor and dean of the School of the Arts and Communication at the College, directed the film. 

“Seven Square Miles” presents Abdul Mohammed, a man who has lived in Trenton all his life and experienced poverty. He turned to selling drugs to help support his family and in return spent much of his life incarcerated. The death of his mother, which happened while he was still in prison, helped inspire Mohammed to become an activist within the Trenton community. 

Mohammed, alongside Trenton Police detective Alexis Durlacher, and the College’s own Dr. Sandy Gibson, a professor and clinical coordinator in the Department of Counselor Education, ran the Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy program, with funding from Trenton’s Attorney General. The idea of coming up with such a program came from Gibson herself and was thus funded by the College as well. 

The purpose of the film was to give viewers insight into the Trenton community, specifically by showcasing the Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy program and the effects that it had on the Trenton community. 

The goal of the program was to provide mentorship and support for those who are at risk of recidivism or returning to prison after previously being incarcerated. 

Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy faced many challenges throughout its run, as a result of it being very small and not receiving a lot of funding. The task was gigantic, but Mohammed, Durlacher, and Gibson were able to help several individuals and their families get housing, jobs, and proper mentorship and support. 

“Seven Square Miles” gives its viewers insight into the restrictions and barriers in the criminal justice system and a different way to solve difficult problems caused by poverty and racism. Some of the people featured in the documentary were those who were clients of the program and benefited from their services.

As Durlacher said in the film, “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”

The viewing of “Seven Square Miles” was sponsored by Pelson Chair, and it was free and open to the public outside of students at the College. There were over fifty people in attendance, including many of the people who were featured in the film and their families.

The Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy program has been discontinued since filming wrapped up for “Seven Square Miles” in 2020, after the government stopped funding it. However, there is a new program in the works in Trenton that will be largely based off of the Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy program and the work that the program had completed. 

After the viewing of the film, Muhammad and his family spoke about the film and the work that he has done through Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy.

Johnson spoke about her experience creating the documentary, as well as Hawwah Momolu, a former outreach worker of Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy, who spoke about her experiences in the program and about what happened with some of the clients featured in “Seven Square Miles.” They urged to the audience the importance of helping out those suffering in Trenton and in the local communities of the College. 

The audience at the screening seemed to resonate with “Seven Square Miles” and the people featured in the documentary. 

“I found the documentary extremely impactful,” said sophomore political science major Jared Williams. “The story of Abdul and the people he worked alongside was captivating and enriching. The work that he and everyone else did for the Trenton community is remarkable and reputable. This documentary inspired me even further to attain any goals I seek and to do great for my community in the process.”

When Johnson opened the floor for questions and a discussion, many people in the audience of the documentary expressed that they were frustrated with the College, as they feel that the College could have been and could currently be doing more to help out those in the city of Trenton. Much of the audience was frustrated with the lack of help that Trenton was receiving as a whole.  

“I personally believe that the viewing of this documentary will have an effect on the [College] community because even though we are in the Ewing and Trenton community as students [of the College], many of us do not always go outside of [the College] and interact with those around us,” said junior communications major Dylan Nguyen. “People at [the College] come from many different places in New Jersey and many of them are not like Trenton, but the documentary ‘Seven Square Miles’ truly showed off what Trenton was like.” 

Nguyen emphasized that it is important for students of the College to not only have a better understanding of what the community of Trenton is like but also have knowledge of what issues they face and think about how to better serve the community.

While reflecting on her experience creating “Seven Square Miles” and becoming so connected with several members of the Trenton community, Johnson said, “There’s a lot of love in Trenton, which [we often] don’t get to see.” 

For information about the Trenton Violence Reduction Strategy, please visit the TVRS website


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