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Covering protests through photos allowed me to uplift community voices -30-

Chelsea Westman stands for a portrait. (Anika Chakrabarti/Photo editor)

By Chelsea Westman

June 4, 2022 10:17 p.m.

I often ask myself, “What legacy will I leave behind?” The follow-up question can’t help but nudge its way in the back of my conscience: “Am I making the right decisions with the course of my life?”

Growing up as a low-income, first-generation transfer student perpetuated my drive to succeed and beat the odds of becoming just another number in the system.

I never realized my legacy would call my name through the guidance of a mentor. It all started at my community college, a place where I felt truly at home. I never had a traditional high school experience, and I feared the same patterns would repeat themselves throughout my college journey.

My passion became known to me through my idol Tracie Savage, a well-known broadcast journalist in the 90s who covered both the O.J. Simpson and Heidi Fleiss trials. She saw the storyteller in me from the minute I walked into her classroom, and she motivated me to write for Los Angeles Pierce College’s newspaper, The Roundup.

Within my two years at Pierce College’s media arts department, I wrote several stories, became the editor in chief of the campus magazine, The Bull, and found my ultimate passion – photojournalism.

I faced the hurdles of uncertainty, and they still creep into my consciousness to this day, but everything happens for a reason, and my reason brought me to UCLA’s Daily Bruin.

I was accepted as a Photo intern my first quarter at UCLA, fall 2020. Little did I know that I would have an extra layer of difficulty navigating my time as a student journalist because of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite my entire junior year being a fully remote experience, this did not stop me from getting as involved as I could with The Bruin and harnessing my craft.

My first year as an intern and contributor tested my threshold, as I covered topics ranging from Joe Biden winning the 2020 presidential election to the forced displacement of people experiencing homelessness in Echo Park Lake.

My coverage at Echo Park tested my strengths and everything I’ve learned so far as a journalist. During the protests, LAPD officers shot multiple rounds of lethal munitions into the crowds of protesters who came to support the community within Echo Park Lake. I was also extremely close to being that arrested that night, as police trapped 182 protestors in their kettle line from different directions.

Being that close to being arrested and injured made me recognize the risks at stake in my career. It also furthered the passion in my heart to serve the public and commit myself to storytelling.

I will never forget one of my first photo galleries I took upon myself and with a colleague in my section. We pitched the idea of covering the protests in front of LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s home organized by the Black Lives Matter LA activists.

Both my colleague and I ended up covering the protests for three consecutive days, and the gallery won best photo series from the California College Media Association.

Although I had not written as much as I had hoped to while at The Bruin, I published a few articles that made me proud. I had the opportunity to interview two UCLA prestigious alumni that were selected for the 2021-2022 White House Fellows program.

I contributed to this year’s printed Hispanic Heritage Month package and published an article on Latina student leaders pushing the University of California to provide more resources for Latino students.

I revisited Echo Park one year later and wrote a news article about a report on the displacement’s aftermath by the UCLA Luskin Institute on Inequality and Democracy.

Protests are a strong suit in my coverage, as nothing fills me with more excitement and a rush to document my surroundings and elevate the voices around me.

I contributed to a photo gallery of demonstrators gathering at the General Consulate of Israel to protest increased violence in Palestine during the attacks on Gaza.

Most recently, I visited LA City Hall to cover the abortion rally organized by the Women’s March Foundation. In recent weeks, the leaked draft of the Supreme Court possibly overturning Roe v. Wade spurred national outcry. My photographs were published within days of the event, and each protest I cover reminds me of why I love doing what I do.

These moments will be documented throughout history, and my clippings at The Bruin are just the beginning to the precious archives that house special moments in time.

As I get closer to walking the stage and calling myself a UCLA alumnus, I feel a newfound sense of drive to use my craft to bring a wider awareness to the world and raise public consciousness through my storytelling.

These moments will live forever with me.

Westman was a Photo and News contributor 2020-2021, Opinion columnist 2020-2021, editorial board member 2021-2022 and Photo staff 2021-2022.

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