PBS American Portrait


Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story

See a moving and meaningful picture of families in America today and the way these relationships shape us. Families of all shapes and sizes give us a look into their lives, revealing how we value our families now more than ever.

AIRED: August 02, 2020 | 0:25:56

Now - see how family bonds

are a part of our lives more than ever before.

- This was time that we probably

never would've had together.

Narrator: Listen to families like yours...

- Oh, I got it.

Narrator: As they tell their own stories.

- I live here with my grandparents.

- Hi.

Narrator: Join a recent graduate

pausing her life to care for her grandfather.

- Tell me something. You got a story to tell me?

Narrator: A father and daughter reconnecting

after years apart.

- I'm gonna come to San Francisco next week.

- What? [chuckles]

Narrator: And all kinds of families

brought closer in all kinds of ways.

- This has been an opportunity,

if you can look at it like that.

Narrator: On "Family of Us:

A PBS American Portrait Story."

narrator: This program was made possible by...

a grant from An ne Ray Foundation

and by contributions to your PBS Station by

[upbeat music]

[singers vocalizing]

- "PBS American Portrait"...

- Is a collection of stories-- - From across the nation--

- Self-filmed, self-produced by folks all over the country.

- It's people like you and I-- - Based on a series of poems.

- "I was raised to believe..." - "A day's work is..."

- "The tradition I carry on is..."

- In this crisis that we're facing in America--

- It's a way to see how we are all human and connected.

- The chance for people and families to share their stories

to show who and what America really is.

- To get a glimpse of what other families look like.

- Yeah.

- Hello, I just wanted to show you

what family is to me.

I'm gonna give you just a little snippet

of my family.

- Hi! - Hello.

- Say hi. And we are doing what?

Quarantine haircuts.

- This is what family looks like during this time.


both: Hi.

- I feel happy and blessed

that I get to spend this time with my family.

- I love them all, and I just love getting

to come see them every day.

- Hi! - Okay.

- I kind of just embrace it

because what an opportunity to be home with my family.

- Draw four. - Not fair.

- Right now, it is just me and my mom at home.

[upbeat music]

- We've been going on family walks,

looking up recipes to try different things for dinner.

[all cheering]

- We all love playing these fun, kind of silly games.

- Go!

- They really just help us bond

and make the most out of it.

[all screaming]

- Do you, um, like having Mom and Dad at home right now--

- Yeah. - Okay.

Is there anyone you miss, though,

that you haven't seen in a while?

- Yeah. - Who do you miss?

- I miss Mommy, and Dad, and me,

and I miss my sister, Bailey, and I miss my sister, Evelyn.

- Okay, so you miss everybody

that's literally in the house with you right now.

- This has been an opportunity,

if you can look at it like that,

to get very close and tight as a unit.

- This was time that we probably

never would've had together,

and I wouldn't trade it for the world.

- Let's see how I can set this up,

and hopefully it'll stay.

Hi, I'm Lumiere,

like the candlestick from "Beauty and the Beast."

Yes, just like that.

Anyway, these are my grandparents.

I've recently been spending a lot of time with them.

Since my last semester of college was all online,

I decided to come to Georgia to help take care of them

in the height of the pandemic.

Hey, Mr. Philpot.

- Hey, baby girl. It's good seeing you.

[both laugh] - It's good to see you too.

[chuckles] - I know.

- You miss me? - Yes, ma'am.

- I am 22 years old. I just graduated college.

I am an aspiring filmmaker.

[indistinct chatter]

This is my grandpa.

He'll be 80 years old this September,

but honestly, I don't think he'll remember that.

He was diagnosed with slow-advancing dementia

almost 10 years ago.

I know it's been hard on my grandma.

- Yeah, all right.Now we got your shirt.

- All right. - So I guess I was wrong.

- Day by day, the disease chips away

at his body and his mind,

but he comes back to this briefcase

every once in a while.

His brain can't hold his memories anymore,

but this little black box

holds and protects them for him.

For starters, he used to be a truck driver.

He was one of the first black drivers

for the Mason Dixon company.

It was hard work for sure,

but he absolutely loved it.

Say hello. - Hello.

- Ever since I got here,

the relationship exploded in the best way.

- [giggles] - Hey, say, "Hi, Pop."

- I tell you who she-- who she walk like.

- Who does she walk like? - Fred Sanford.

- 'Cause she bowlegged? - [laughs]

- I'm really excited to be here

to document as much as I possibly can--

stories that my grandparents

are the only ones that can tell them.

- I didn't ever think that I'd see her again.

- I'm here. Give me your hand.

- [giggles]

- I'm actually considering moving in with them.

My grandma is looking for a full-time live-in person.

But I just graduated college. I'm 22.

If I get the opportunity to start my life,

I wouldn't wanna turn it down...

to stay.

- Did it. It occurred.

So this is my-- one half of my room.

The other half is my bed 'cause I live in New York.

I live in Harlem. Um...

Okay, I don't know if these are more letters.

Oh, this is from my dad.

He has actually really nice handwriting.

Uh, "Dearest Amelia, thank you for choosing me to be your dad.

"You've filled my life with so much joy.

"I am so proud of you.

"There isn't anything that can stop you

from doing what you want in this lifetime."

It's really me, you know, who should be thanking him

for being my father because, um...

the person I am today is really because of him.

My dad and I were really close.

When I was young, we would, like,

we would play basketball together, and, like,

he always supported me at sports and stuff.

But when I was 15,

my dad was arrested,

and he was later convicted,

and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The last time I got to, like, hug him was, like, in 2015

when I went to High Desert,

which is one of the prisons in Nevada

where he was after he was sentenced to life.

A lot of my life has really been focused

on getting him out of prison.

He was acquitted this year and exonerated,

for a crime he didn't commit and released.

And, um, I was supposed to go see him,

but then COVID happened.

A lot of our correspondence over the last, like, 10 years

has been, like, letters.

When I read these letters,

it's like--it reminds me of how....


How much time passed,

how much of my life was lived without him.

- Amelia,

she's really a motivated, young, intelligent woman.

I have missed, um,

eight and a half years of their...

Of their lives.

[inhales deeply]

It, uh--it wasn't easy,

so family...

family is a great strength.

- I don't want him to feel like he's missed it.

I really want him to feel like, um,

he's always been there.

Now I get to go hang out with him,

maybe, like, eat food.

I know that sounds really, like, simple,

but, even getting to, like, hang out with him,

and have a meal,

and...just talk.

I wonder if that gap of time will be felt between us.

I hope not.

[solemn music]

- Hi, I'm Kilo, um, and I'm here

at my biological parents' house.

I'm a drag performer.

I'm the mother of a drag house,

but really we just sort of came together as a collective

because our own biological families

weren't necessarily the best thing for us.

It's the act of supporting one another

and loving one another that makes a family your family,

not the fact that you were born into it.

- We are born into families, but as we get older,

we can also choose who is family to us.

- I am not that close to my family,

so my friends are who I rely on.

- I went through years and years of soul-searching,

and [indistinct], and all kinds of sorting myself out

before I realized that what makes a family is love.

- Sometimes a biological family is not willing

to love you unconditionally.

But the family you choose is not only willing,

but they actively love you,


- We are not biological sisters,

but we are family.

- I never would have thought

I would call people not related to me

my family.

- I was in the United States Army, and to me,

this is what family looks like.

- I was supposed to go home for the summer

to my chosen family, and I couldn't.

But we still talk every day

and we still FaceTime every waking second.

- It's a family that I couldn't live without,

but I never expected to have.

- This chosen family of ours

is so much abundant in beauty and love,

and I'm so grateful to be a part of it.

I love you guys.

- You got a story to tell me?

I'm listening. I promise.

See? My little, tiny ears.

- I... [chuckles]

My grandpa really loved business cards.

He had a ton of them--

plumbers, mechanics, lawyers, lawn care people.

Pretty much anyone.

I'm not sure

what he was planning to do with all of them,

but my grandma got him this booklet

so he could hold them all.

To this day,

she said it was the best gift she ever got him.

I'm gonna get a little closer, and then I'll tilt down.

[cell phone clatters] Okay, you can go.

Let's get you up, Mr. Philpot.

- As they have come to help me and give me more relief,

I realize now that I needed help.

- You got it.

- So I would love to have Lumiere

to come and stay with us,

but I would also love to have Lumiere have a job.

- We're gonna be asking you about your wedding.

- My who? - Your wedding.

- Who gon'-- who gon' marry me?

- You already married. - Yeah.

- To that lady over there. - So why I need to marry again?

- [chuckles] You don't gotta marry again.

I just wanna talk about that day.

- Oh. Oh, okay.

- If I got a job, my grandma wouldn't let me turn it down.

Granted, we're in a global pandemic,

we're in a major recession,

but if I get the opportunity to start my life,

she would say, "You're going. We'll figure something out."

But I know that I would


[hopeful music]

- Family is the first thing in my life.

I love my family.

I take care of an uncle

with another cousin that I have.

What I will do during the day

will help the ones that I love that most.

- I live here with my grandparents.

- Hi.

- It's not to say I don't get along great

with my parents too.

I'm staying with my grandparents

'cause I guess I figured, you know, they're getting old,

I'm feeling pretty bold.

I'd like to think we keep an eye on each other.

[line trilling]

- Dad, answer.


So guess what, Dad? - What's that?

- So I'm gonna come to-- to San Francisco next week.

- What? [chuckles]

Oh, wow. Oh.

I still haven't had the chance to hug you,

and partake in some food,

or hold your hand and walk down the street,

or, um...

just look at you, you know?

See how you've grown, you know?

It's--I'm really gonna enjoy seeing you again.

Oh, my God. She's coming.

And, um, it's--

it's going to be sort of like,

I would say, um...I don't know.

You know what? I'm lost.

I'm lost because it's so new.

- I think he's just gonna be so surprised

at, like, how much I've grown up.

I'm still a kid in his eyes.

It's like I don't know what to do with him

because, like, we're just seeing each other,

and so, it's like I'm thinking, like,

"What did I do when I was 15?"

I think I'm nervous.

I think I'm honestly nervous right now.

[piano music]

- I cannot wait to see my grandfather.

It has been a struggle not being able to see him,

and knowing that he lives alone and can't go anywhere.

- Normally, we're with cousins, aunts, uncles.

- We typically see them, you know,

at least two to three a week, maybe four, five times a week,

And now it's down to a point

where we just can FaceTime 'em.

- I have not hugged them or kissed them in person

for two months.

- I'm not able to talk to my mom 'til this Friday,

and it's gonna be one week

since I talked to her last.

And the visiting restrictions have been very tough.

I love you so much, Mom. - I love you, baby.

- It's been so hard not talking to you for a week.

- You're the best thing ever happen to me.

- Aw, thank you, thank you. That means so much.

- I feel like I wanna gather my whole family together

in a safe place.

- I think that's what we look for the most in families--

just being connected.

- Okay.

- Can you get the cup?

Here.Put it to your mouth.

- Move his thumb around, Mom. - Mm-hmm.

Here you go.Yeah.

[sink water running]


- Yesterday, I went on a walk with my mom.

She was just kind of telling me

how bad things are gonna get.

- You can't forgethow to swallow, Dad.

We'll be in trouble there.

- Pop had a seizure.

We called 911.

Not even a minute, two minutes after we called 911,

he's out of it.

- And we're gonna leave him down for a little bit

and see if he recovers from it.

- Okay.

He's breathing.

This just feels different

these last couple days.

Can you squeeze? - Try, Lewis.

- In all this time, I never really thought

about what it means to die of dementia.

And I don't know

if I'll even need to move in...

After this is all said and done.

[melancholic music]

- Here we go.

We're on our way to go see Amelia.

You look very fresh.

- I'm excited to see her. It's, uh...

The last time I saw her, as a matter of fact--

physically saw her-- was in a courtroom.

It was emotional. - Yeah.

- [sniffles] - Yeah.

- Um, actually... - Yeah.

- [stammers]

So many feelings, so many thoughts.

- Dad. - Hi.

- I know. It's been really hard.

- Well, you can't tell howhappy we are...

- Let's go outside so we can--

- Because our faces are coveredby the mask.

- I know. - So you would see me

smiling from ear to ear.

- Me too.

- And it's been so long,and it's good to see her.

- Yeah. - And she's so tall now.

- I know. I'm almost as tall as you.

- Yeah, she's tall.

I saw this young woman,

and it's like, "That's--that's my daughter."

And it's...

and it felt really good to hold her.

When I was incarcerated,

I always-- I always thought, "How...

how do they get along without a dad?"

- Nikki and I? - Yeah.

I mean...

I can never,

you know, make up for the time that I've been in.

What I have is now-- what I can do now,

how I can be there for them now.

- It's like there's this idea of who he was, you know?

And, um...

He's not that--I mean, he's still the same person,

but he's not within the same circumstances anymore.

So tomorrow, I'm gonna hang out with him,

and I just wanna do something really mellow.

I just wanna talk with him

and just have that time.

- My greatest challenge is

having to visit my son in prison.

he's been in there for 25 years.

- And my greatest challenge is

to not bust in the prison,

and grab him up and bring him home with me.

- Me as a mom, it's been hard

way before the pandemicand everything else.

- As days pass,

it seems like each day is longer

because I don't have the person

who has always given me his love.

- "I am currently separated from my own immediate family

due to incarceration."

- It gets to me that I'm away from them,

that they're away from me.

- "I know they need me."

- And when things happen within your family,

and it's like you can't be there.

- "You ask what family means to me.

Summed up in one word--everything."

- I have a lot of hope and faith

that he's gonna come out

and everything's gonna be all right.

- But we suffer together,and it's like a domino effect.

Whatever happens to Juan,it affects all of us.

- Happy Father's Day, Dad. I really love you.

I wanna be with you,

but I know that these circumstances

are very hard.

But I love you with all my heart.

- It smells really nice,you know?

- Yeah, we're close to the ocean.

I mean, look at those trees.

- It doesn't really feel like

all this time has passed.

But seeing my dad really adjusting

and, I think, struggling with that

is kind of hard to see.

I just wanna be there to support him.

I also want him to feel like

I'm still really learning from him as my dad.

Isn't it nice to be out?

- Yeah, I get out--

I get out a lot 'cause I don't like to be indoors obviously.

- Right.

- So I tend to be out of the house when I can.

- Yeah.

We didn't really do anything that, like, deep,

just really normal stuff, but everything normal is

so significant.

It's a learning process.

I think we're discovering together

this new way of life.

[upbeat music]

- My daughter and I create side-by-side paintings.

No phones, no computers.

Just us painting, talking,

learning about art, and listening to music.

We started this art collaboration

as a way to spend quality time together.

- And making art together,how does it make you feel?

- Happy.

- Hit it. - All right.

[lively music]

- We would come together and we would paint

whatever it was just to be able to bond

with these beautiful girls behind me.

- Hey. I love it.

- We started doinga lot more art.

We do a lot of painting, doodling.

We also do a lot of music.

- ♪ So sweet, sound, sound, sound ♪

- Some of our favorite memories together

growing up were made in the craft room.

Liz grew to be not only my sister and crafting buddy,

but my best friend.

- We sing, we dance.

[playful music]

- We ended up making K-pop dance covers as a family,

where I taught my family every single night for a week.

And we would film either in front of our house

or in a parking lot nearby,

and we would get stares from people.

We were able to do something fun together

spending time together,

and being able to enjoy each other's company.

- We have to find those things that work,

that cinch us all together as a family unit.

And right now, that's really all you have.

- Of course, this little black box can't hold everything.

But even so, I'm grateful for the objects, the stories,

and the memories my grandpa can pass down to his family.

- So we got some fresh rain. - Mm-hmm.

Looks good out here,doesn't it?

- Mm-hmm. - All right.

How are we gonna maneuverover this big bump?

- You're gonna turn it sideways.

- Just stay straight. That's right.

- [chuckles] I feel like you're...

I feel like you're pretending to teach me how to drive.

- Oh, no.

- I have decided to stay.

[whimsical music]

Part of it is just like

it feels like the right thing to do,

part of it is that

I don't want him to be alone.

I wanna be here with him.

Even though the moments that I have with him

are far and few between now,

I've been trying to do my best to see him

and not just what he's become.

Hold your arms out like you're flying.

- Ooh!

Keep rolling. [chuckles]

- Family just means that you stick together

through the fun times,

but more importantly, through the rough times.

- I hope we can look back at this time in quarantine

and realize not everything we experienced was bad.

The time spent with family enjoying each other's company

was actually incredibly valuable.

- Unexpectedly, I found gratitude

in something scary like a pandemic.

- Family is resilient. - That's family.

- You should be part of "PBS American Portrait."

- Because everyone has a story.

- Stories are whatget passed down

from generation to generation,from family to family.

- Yay, family! [all cheering]

all: To join in,

go to...

- Start right now sharing your story.

[upbeat music]

[singers vocalizing]