When Irma hit at the beginning of September 2017, it flattened the islands.
“It was like an atomic bomb had just dropped,” Bailey said.
Then, 13 days later, while many in Bailey’s community were still living under makeshift tarp roofs, the island was hit by Maria, another Category 5 storm. When it arrived, he said, crashes and screams could be heard for the entirety of the 16 hours the hurricane hovered over the island.
But as much as the documentary was about the hurricanes, it was also about Bailey, his identity as a Virgin Islander and the community where he grew up. Sitting on a neighbor’s porch, he and a friend discussed the aftermath and rebuilding. Outside the house he grew up in, Bailey and his brother talked about saving their wheelchair-bound father when the storm tore the roof off.
After the screening, Bailey led a discussion at the Deer Park Tavern, where he responded to questions about living in a U.S. territory, surviving the hurricane and the aftermath. He criticized the mainland’s response, saying that politicians and the media alike used the disaster to further their own agendas.
As a former writer for Time magazine, Newsweek and the Miami Herald, Bailey spoke to young journalists at the event about avoiding using tragedy for their benefit, and finding and telling stories that the rest of the world is ignoring.
He advised journalism students that instead of approaching a situation with a story in mind, they should spend time in the communities they cover and allow residents to tell their stories.
Most importantly, Bailey said, journalists today should try to fight the rush to pander to audiences by focusing on stories they love and believe in. If written authentically, he explained, there will be readership for any article written “from the heart.”