Family Pictures USA


LOCAL: Southwest Florida | Family Pictures USA

Family Pictures USA revisits Southwest Florida for a heartfelt reunion between series host Thomas Allen Harris and the local people profiled in his new PBS series. Harris sits down with some of the cast members to discover what new and surprising connections have been made in the community. Produced by WGCU.

AIRED: August 13, 2019 | 0:26:46

- Coming up next on Family Pictures Local.

- So what do you remember

about this particular day? - Well, besides

being my father, he was my best friend,

or he would talk to me, and we were very close.

(camera shutter clicks) - I think that

we have to understand

that family isn't just blood at times.

It's really about reaching out

and helping others when they're in need.

- Have you guys met before? - We never have.

- But you're cousins,

you're distant cousins. - And actually,

I brought a picture.

You know, we're connected, we'd never met.

(bright uptempo music)

- Support for this program

is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,

a private corporation funded by the American people,

and Oasis Senior Advisors.

- Oasis Senior Advisors is a free service

providing experienced, professional help

in finding the right senior living community.

(upbeat music)

(audience cheering) (audience clapping)

- Welcome to Family Pictures USA Local

in Southwest Florida, where we tell local stories

through the lens of the family album.

Today, we invited folks we met

at our photo-sharing events to the studio.

We have a beautiful live audience

with even more stories and photos to share.

Let's first meet the Gonzalez family from LaBelle, Florida.

Four generations came to our photo-sharing event

in Immokalee, let's take a look.

(camera shutter clicks)

- Growing up, we would go to my grandparents house

a lot, and we would have like barbecues.

My uncle Leon was so good at making fajitas.

His fajitas were the best,

and the guys would end up playing cards

and not a lot of the other cousins my age

got to see that, because everybody gets older

and they have their own families.

But that time is so precious to me,

to even remember that's what family is.

We love each other, we get together normally

and regularly, and now it's just so much harder

to do those things 'cause they're so big.

(camera shutter clicks)

- How is this a Southwest Florida story?

- Well, this was in Southwest Florida.

Where was that local wedding?

- At Cape Coral. - Cape Coral.

- In Cape Coral.

And all of us live here now.

There were times when some of us moved to Texas

and everybody came back. - Y'all came back.

- So we all live within 40 miles of each other

in Southwest Florida.

So LaBelle, Immokalee, Fort Myers,

the Cape, we've stayed close. - Felda.

- Felda, so when I talk about my family,

I realize how lucky I am that we all live so close.

(camera shutter clicks)

- Bianca and Leon, welcome.

How are you guys doing?

- We're doing great. - Great, good.

- Thank you for having us.

- So what led you to decide to bring your family

to the family community photo sharing event?

- I found out about it through some friends

that were told about it from PBS,

and I thought that it would be a great opportunity

for all of my family to get together,

and revisit these photos, 'cause we don't always

have a chance to hear the story from my grandfather.

And so many of us went to Immokalee

to share the pictures and hear what my grandpa

had to say about them.

- And were there any surprises

in terms of passing the stories down in the photographs?

- There's quite a few. (chuckles)

- Were there any surprises

when we saw the pictures in Immokalee?

- Yeah, because I haven't seen 'em in a long time.

- Well, let's actually look at the photograph

and maybe this is from Seguin.

- Yeah, that's my grandfather on my mother's side.

And that's my grandmother on my mother's side.

And that's one of the youngest,

that's my mother's sister, Rosa.

- And why are these photographs important?

- Well, because it's her family, that's very important.

My family's important to me.

- And when you share them with your oldest granddaughter,

what do you get from this, Bianca,

when you see these photographs?

- I feel pride.

I mean back then in Seguin, Texas,

my grandfather was one of the first Mexican-Americans

that settled there.

My grandmother, my great grandmother,

my grandpa's mom, was one of the first Mexican-Americans

to graduate from the high school there.

And my grandfather owned a general store.

And so not very many families had opportunity

to even have their pictures taken.

- Your grandfather, when he came across,

he didn't came as an illegal alien,

I mean, he had a passport.

It cost him $6 at the time. (laughs)

When he was 19 years old, he came over.

He came legally with a passport.

- Yeah. - Oh, I see.

- So you were born here on this side?

- Yeah, I was born in Seguin,

and then the pay scale over there was very low.

So it was better in Florida,

so we came to Florida in 1951.

- And your family's grown tremendously

since you moved here. - Oh yes.

- So how many grandchildren,

great grandchildren. - Oh my God.

- Do you have?

- If I count great grandkids and great grandkids,

it's about 70.

- 70, whoa!

(audience applauds)

- [Woman] Eight children.

- So Bianca, so you are the oldest granddaughter.

When you look at these photographs that get passed down,

what do you learn from them,

and what do you think is important to pass down

to the next generation with them?

- This picture that we're looking at now

is one of my favorite pictures.

My mom is the young lady sitting on the car.

And it's one of my favorite pictures

because it shows family.

They drove far to see each other, they love each other.

And my grandmother had her mother-in-law

and her mom, together, to visit.

- She's the oldest granddaughter,

but not the oldest grandson.

The oldest grandson is 41.

- I see.

- Second oldest is 40, and she's the third one.

- Okay. - My favorite.

(audience laughs)

- Are we gonna be able to air that?

- Yes! - I don't wanna,

I don't wanna cause

this family friction. - You should air that.

- Yeah. (laughs)

- He should probably say it again.

- (laughing) Okay, so Bianca's definitely your favorite.

- Well, she lived with us a long time.

She stayed with us because we love her

and she loved my parents.

- So what do you remember about this particular day?

- Well besides being my father, he was my best friend,

or he would talk to me, and we were very close, very close.

He was born in 1903.

I was born in 1935.

He had all kinds of jobs my father.

He was in the Mexican Revolution.

- Wow.

- And the revolution started in 1910,

he was a young fellow, and then he, at 14,

he was tall, he was big,

so he enlisted in the army.

- Then of course, I like seeing my grandpa

talk about his dad being his best friend.

- Why? - That makes

my heart feel good.

- He had all kinds of jobs.

He even had the best job in the Ford Motor Company

as a laborer.

He was a tool and die maker.

And that was the best paying job at Ford Motor Company.

They went on a tour on the factory

and he was looking at what they paid,

and he seen tool and die maker was the highest paid.

So he applied for that job and he got it.

- Wow. (laughs)

- I mean, he didn't know nothing about tool and die making.

- But he learned on the job, huh?

- He learned the job. - Okay. (laughs)

Well thank you.

I'm glad we had this last photograph

of, you know? - I love that photograph.

- Yeah, it's a beautiful photograph.

(audience applauds)

Up next, we meet an incredible young woman

who has redefined what she calls family.

(camera shutter clicking) - This is my sister,

who I have power of attorney over.

She inspires me, she makes me courageous,

she makes me make the right choices

that I probably wouldn't have made

in my 20-year-old brain, (laughs)

and makes me rethink how I do things

because I know she's watching.

And she brings things up

that she didn't like that I did. (laughs)

And she corrects me, and she builds me up,

and I'm forever grateful for her and this photo.

(camera shutter clicks) This is my family.

This is the most complete family I've ever had.

They are a rock.

They are a foundation for my sister and I,

that if we do fail we know

that we can come running back home.

(camera shutter clicks)

- Tell me about this photograph.

Who's in this image?

- It's, from what I know, it's me. (laughs)

That was, I was born in Haiti,

and that picture was taken in Haiti.

I believe I had to be about six months old at that time.

- And you now live in Naples,

so did you move from Haiti to Naples?

- No, (laughs) it's a long story. (laughs)

I moved from Haiti to Bahamas when I was two,

and to America when I was four.

We lived in West Palm, and I believe in the third grade

I moved to Fort Myers.

And my mom had my sister while we were there in 2001.

She was about 8 1/2 years younger than me.

And then we lived in Fort Myers,

and then we moved to the Cape Coral area,

and my mom was deported in 2005.

- Your mom was deported? - Yes.

- And left the country? - Yes.

- She was forced to leave.

- Yeah, in 2005.

So at the time, she was married to my stepfather,

and so my stepfather eventually moved us to Clewiston.

And my stepfather, he was very young when he took us on.

I believe he was 29 when he kinda took me and my sister on,

and I give him credit for that,

for keeping us together.

And he didn't really know how to take care of two girls

or to really take care of himself.

And so we lived in that trailer,

and we were very poor.

We rarely had any food at times.

As I said, there were holes in the floor

and we didn't have AC in that trailer

the whole time we lived there,

we lived there for about three years.

And I think the first year and a half, or two years,

we didn't have hot running water.

We had to boil water and wash ourselves with it.

And so after I graduated,

he worked at Domino's part time during the weekends,

so that wasn't enough to support us.

And so the lights would go off

about two to three times a year,

and I just counted on it.

It was just something that happened.

And one day the lights went off,

and I just, I felt like I heard a voice

that said, "You're getting outta here today."

And I had a mentor, her name was Miss Jackson,

and she had promised us an AC

for me and my sister's room.

And I called her, and I said, "Hey, I think God just told me

"that I'm getting outta here today,

"and I don't need that AC anymore."

And she's like, "What, what are you talking about?"

And I'm like, "I'm getting outta here today." (laughs)

And so me and Kayla, I'd been at her house one day,

and she was like, she was like, "Mom, if Wotts

"ever needs a place to stay, could she come here?"

And she's like, "Yeah, people come and stay with us

"all the time, you can come."

I always say she never knew

what she was getting into at that time.

Sarah and Emily meet each other for the first time

that day. - Sarah's,

your younger sister. - Yeah.

The two in the picture. - And Emily, I see.

- And they became sisters from that point on.

We ended up staying with the Millers,

who are my white family.

Months later he's like, "You guys can stay in the house

"as long as you want."

There was a lot of emotions involved,

because at one point it was like,

are you sure this is what you want,

because my whole family is at risk

for taking you guys on,

because of everything that's happening.

But he was like, "We're here for you."

And that was an, that was a pivotal moment in my life

because as we were getting

all these threatening phone calls

from my stepfamily and all that,

he pulled me aside and he said,

"You don't let anybody talk to you that way."

And that stuck with me.

It stuck with me in my relationships,

it stuck with me in my work,

it stuck with me in my peers around me,

in terms of how I respect myself

and how they respect me.

And so, they've been an important influence in our life,

and they've been our rock

and our foundation in a way.

And what I say about Sarah and Emily

is that they kinda glued this family together.

They're two weeks apart, and from the moment they met,

they've been inseparable.

This picture of what our family is,

when you look at the two of them,

I think it's so cool, and I'm so grateful

for our family here.

So that's the rest of our extended family

with my mom, and her mom, and the grandparents

on graduation day.

I think that we have to understand

that family isn't just blood at times,

it's really about reaching out

and helping others when they're in need.

And I like to spread that message

in terms of being generous.

And it doesn't have to be money,

it just has to be time, mentorship,

and pushing people to their potential

because I would never be where I am today

without the people like my parents,

who have poured into me and invested in me,

and I'm super proud of that.

- And what are you doing today for work?

You're in some ways giving it back.

So just tell us, yeah. - Yeah, so I work

for the Pace Center for Girls.

I'm the special projects coordinator.

I've been there for almost 2 1/2 years now.

And the Pace Center for Girls

is a nonprofit school for girls at risk

of going into the juvenile justice system.

They faced a lot of the obstacles that I have,

such as abuse, mental illness, the truancy,

and the failing grades.

And so we're a holistic program

that offers mental health counseling,

as well as helping them to get caught up

on their schoolwork.

And so I feel like this is a fruition

of what I felt like God was leading me to, my purpose.

And I feel like this is what I was meant to do.

Wotts Mercy, you're inspiring, and your story is.

Thank you so much.

(audience applauds)

- If you live in Southwest Florida,

you probably have heard of swamp cabbage.

Seth Ford is a person who introduced it to us.

Watch this. (camera shutter clicks)

- This is my great grandfather, Jeff Thomas,

Jefferson Davis Thomas, that was his name.

Him cooking and preparing swamp cabbage

somewhere in South Florida.

He was always outside making swamp cabbage,

and swamp cabbage is something

that has been very close to my family.

(camera shutter clicks) - The tree that grows here,

that you cut the heart out of,

and you cut it up and you cook it with tomatoes,

and onions, or bacon,

and there's a million different ways to cook it.

But, I actually do like it, I think it's really good,

and it's just been a big part of our family.

(camera shutter clicks)

- So Seth, welcome.

So let's see the photograph.

- That's my great uncle, that's my grandmother's brother.

Fellow in the middle is Dylan Thomas.

- Dylan Thomas. - Dylan James Thomas.

He's from here, he lived the better portion

of his life in LaBelle.

My mother had five boys, and we grew up

right near Downtown Fort Myers on Jackson Street.

And we did not grow up in the country,

like a lot of people I'm seeing here.

We did not grow up in the country.

My mother, when we had family reunions,

these guys would go cut swamp cabbage for family reunions,

and my mother volunteered her five boys

to go cut cabbage, which is not the most fun pastime.

- Why is that?

- Well it's hard.

(audience laughs)

It's hard to do,

it's hard work. - So is it

like machete, or is it. - It's an,

well I suppose you could use a chainsaw,

but they wouldn't let us.

- Okay, well let's actually go to the next image.

Talking about fun, having a barrel of fun

in Fort Myers, Florida.

Who's in this image?

- The guy all the way to the left is my great grandfather.

That's Dylan's father, his name was Jefferson Davis Thomas.

Came to Fort Myers probably around 1910,

around that time, to come work with his uncle,

the fellow in the middle.

His name's Walter Terry Saxon Thomas.

They were both very country, it's just,

I think my uncle Walter, who of course I never met,

got the impression that he was more of,

you know, entrepreneur, go getter,

whereas my great grandfather was more in the woods,

you know, out in the woods.

And the girl in front of him is Bell Jordan,

that's my great grandfather's sister.

- Let's go to the next photograph.

So this photograph is who?

Who's in this image? - That is,

the fellow on the right,

is my great grandfather's, Walter's brother,

my great grandfather's father.

His name is James, and the fellow next to him,

from what I've been told,

is a guy named Barney Raulerson,

who is, from what I understand, related to someone here.

- Clint Raulerson, and Clint,

have you seen this photograph?

Do you know who this person is?

- I have seen that photograph before.

Barney Raulerson was my grandfather's brother,

and I think he was my grandfather's older brother.

- Ah, and so where did you see this photograph?

- My grandmother's got that same picture,

she had it before she passed away.

- Have you guys met before? - We never have.

- But you're cousins,

you're distant cousins. - And actually,

I brought a picture, and the picture I have

also has a picture of Jefferson Davis Thomas.

- (laughs) Whoa!

- It's in that picture, and it also has Dylan Thomas

in that picture, and it also has Bell Jordan Thomas

in that picture.

So you know, we're connected, we've never met.

That's one of my favorite pictures.

You see the three people standing in the back?

- Yes. - Okay, that's Dylan Thomas

on the far left when he was a lot younger man

than Mr. Ford's picture.

One of the most wonderful people in the world.

Great musician, just a great man all the way around.

And that, if what I understand, is Bell next to him,

and she was a lot older at that point.

The lady next to that is my grandmother,

who was Evelyn Thomas, who ended up being Evelyn Raulerson.

(camera shutter clicks) In the front row,

the gentlemen sitting down were some of my

just favorite people in the world.

On the far left, that's Jeff Thomas, who's Jefferson.

Next to him is my grandfather, who is Robert Raulerson.

Next to him is Joe Thomas, and next to him is Bob Thomas,

and next to him is Ben Thomas.

- By the way, Ben, when I was a little kid,

he lived somewhere right near where we're sitting,

none of this was here, and we,

I remember when me and my dad,

we used to bring milk crates of food out to him

in a trailer in the middle of the woods.

- I've been to that old, it was a like a little

tiny travel trailer, that's kind of what he lived in

and it, it was, it was near here, I went there too.

(audience laughs)

And back then, we all did, it was cool.

(audience applauds)

So we don't have photographs of that,

but you guys conjured up an image that we could appreciate.

- Oh, you bet.

Every man in that picture was a woodsmen, right here.

They all came here in the teens,

but all those men there were close

until all of 'em died.

- So you knew Ben?

- Yes, absolutely, yup.

He used to come to my grandmother's house

when I was a kid and she'd fry chicken

and cook biscuits and we'd eat good.

- He was, he wanted to be left alone.

- He wanted to be left alone a lot,

yeah, and he was that way.

Now Ben was the kind that would show up

when he wanted to, okay? - Yeah, yeah, yeah.

- Don't invite him over,

'cause he wasn't gonna come.

- Probably, yeah. - But he would just show up,

visit for a little bit, and then be gone again.

- Wow, a reunion.

(audience applauds)

So Seth, we have one more photograph

that you shared with us, that we'd like to share

with everyone here, and that is a photograph

of who, who's in this photograph?

- That is a photograph that I'd seen

at my great grandmother's house,

and I'd seen at other places,

and the gentleman in it with,

my grandfather's on the right,

and the gentleman with him is a guy named Josie Billie,

who I've never met, and to be honest,

I didn't really know anything about.

What I did know about him

is that family used to point that picture out

and they were sort of proud of it.

They used to say he was good buddies with Josie Billie,

and they were close, and they said that Josie Billie

used to let him keep his swamp buggies on a reservation.

- Well, I think we have someone in the audience,

or at least two people in the audience

who know about Josie Billie.

Woody Hanson is here, welcome.

So Woody, have you seen this?

(audience applauds)

- Thank you, thank you.

- Now, I know your grandfather

actually spent time with the Seminoles

and photographed them extensively,

you showed me the archive.

Have you seen this photograph before,

and who was Josie Billie?

- Yes, I've seen the photograph before.

Josie Billie is generally recognized

as the most powerful medicine man

on the Miccosukee Tribe.

He was born in 1890.

He came into my office, of my dad and I,

the week before he died, to tell my father he was gonna die.

He did the next week, and it was in 1980, in the winter.

Josie has a huge mystical story,

and mythology around him, and even to this day,

and he's renowned for even being able

to make lightning hit your chickee,

by using the resin from a pine tree

that had been hit by lightning.

He's the most powerful medicine man

the Miccosukee Tribe has ever had,

and that's known today.

- Yeah, I could hear you getting emotional about this.

How did these stories pass down to you,

and how did it affect your family?

- My granddad spent his whole life with the Indians,

with the Seminoles, and he lived

on the Big Cypress Reservation.

And after my, my dad passed away in '05,

and so all these pictures and related archival material

started showing up in his house.

I didn't know anything about it.

Last year I donated to the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum,

our family archives, and it contained over 6,000 items.

Pictures, drawings by children, letters from presidents.

The power of those photographs

enabled me to cross over into their world,

and they, therefore, 'cause of the photographs,

trusted me and shared sacred ceremonies,

and I'm able to go places

that most white people are not allowed to go

because of our family photos.

- Seth, you know, discovered this image.

What would you suggest he do with this image?

- He can come with me,

and I'll take him to the Tamiami Trail,

and I will introduce him to that man's daughter,

who's 105 years old. - Wow.

- And, she's special.

- Thank you, Woody, thank you.

(audience applauds)

And Seth, I think you hit the jackpot

because there's someone else who has a family image

with Josie Billie.

Pam Brown, do you have that image with you?

- Yes, my grandfather and Josie Billie were friends also.

I guess there were a small group of people back then

and they all knew each other.

My great grandfather had a trading post

with the Seminole Indians in the late 1800s,

and my grandfather, and a bunch of the other children

grew up on the reservation at Big Cypress.

And my grandfather Frank was friends with Josie,

and I had a picture of them when they were boys,

and then as older men.

And when my grandfather passed away,

Josie Billie came to the funeral and eulogized him.

- Seth brought a picture of Josie Billie

with his grandfather as older men.

Let's see what Josie Billie looked like

as a young person, with? - Frank Brown.

- Frank Brown, your grandfather.

- Yes. - Wow.

This is a family reunion. - Yes.

- Wonderful, thank you so much.

- Thank you.

(audience applauds)

- So speaking of family reunions,

now we're gonna turn to the audience

and ask everyone to hold up an image.

How many people brought images today?

So everyone who brought an image today,

let's hold it up.

Awesome, awesome, who's the youngest person

who brought the image?

You stand up, let's see you. (laughs)

Wonderful, someone brought a milk jar, right?

Wow, you're cowboys, representing, awesome, awesome.

We want to invite you to share your family pictures,

to create a national family photo album.

Go to,

or share them on social media using #familypicturesusa.

(upbeat music) (audience applauds)

(audience cheers)

- We didn't have no time to carry a camera with us

'cause we'd go from daylight to dark working cows

and you couldn't carry a camera with you.

So we have to kinda remember how it was.

(camera shutter clicking)

- If you look at the picture,

the first time I saw this picture,

it took my breath away.

And my uncle is in the audience with me as well,

and we both said that they look exactly alike.

(camera shutter clicks)

- According to our family history anyway,

Billy Conapache, was the first Seminole

to learn and read and write English,

and he was the father of Josie Billie.

- You know, it's all about our heritage,

and sharing our heritage with other people,

and keeping it alive amongst our families.

So that's why Luke is here tonight.

- Wonderful. - And we're tickled to death

that you guys invited us, thank you.

(gentle uptempo music)

- Support for this program

is provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,

a private corporation funded by the American people,

and Oasis Senior Advisors.

- Oasis Senior Advisors is a free service

providing experienced professional help

in finding the right senior living community.

(gentle uptempo music)


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