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Trussville man with autism to be featured in documentary at Sidewalk Film Festival

By Gary Lloyd

TRUSSVILLE — Between jump shots, Jesse Miller III runs to the front door.

He dribbles over every time someone walks into the Trussville YMCA on Valley Road, to extend a handshake, to give a hug.

Miller loves playing basketball at the YMCA, but he may love turning strangers into friends more. Every person who pushes the door open to come lift weights, to shoot hoops, is approached by Miller, who says, “Hey, how are you doing?”

Jesse Miller III
submitted photo

He does this with everyone. He asks if they have kids, brothers or sisters. He engages in quick conversations. When the conversation is over, he goes back to the basketball court. When someone new walks in, he repeats. He remembers their names the next time they come to the YMCA.

Trussville resident Sonya Mitchell took notice of this. A member of the YMCA, she met Miller two or three years ago, and he remembered her name from that point on. Mitchell began to notice he did this with everyone.

“I thought that was really amazing,” Mitchell said of Miller, a 2010 Hewitt-Trussville High School graduate.

Mitchell, an aspiring filmmaker, sent a letter home with Miller for his parents to read.

“We were quite impressed with the letter she sent us explaining why she wanted to do a documentary on Jesse,” said Miller’s mother, De Miller. “It touched our hearts.”

Mitchell soon found out that Miller had autism, a disorder that affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills. Yet Miller is social, possibly the most social person at the YMCA.

“He’s so warm and kind,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell began work on the 13-minute documentary in January, and completed it about four months later. It’s her first documentary.

Sonya Mitchell
submitted photo

“I’m just overjoyed,” she said.

Mitchell has attended the Sidewalk Film Festival in downtown Birmingham for the last four years, an event that inspired her to make her own film. The one she’s completed about Miller, called “Jesse Speeks,” was accepted into this year’s festival.

“I’m very excited about that,” Mitchell said.

Carla Youngblood is the associate producer and Razaq Kadri is the editor. Trussville YMCA was “instrumental” in assisting with the film, Mitchell said. The documentary will make its debut Saturday, Aug. 23 at 4:05 p.m. at the Alabama School of Fine Arts’ Dorothy Jemison Day Theater in Birmingham.

The last two sentences of the documentary’s synopsis say, “Jesse, who’s loved by everyone he meets, especially at the YMCA where he spends much of his time, just happens to have Autism. Autism, however, is not a hindrance when it comes to Jesse’s heart.”

Mitchell said she plans to take the documentary further after this weekend’s Sidewalk Film Festival.

“My goal is to take it to other festivals around the country,” she said.

Miller’s mom said she’s excited that other people have been paying attention to her son’s kindness.

“I’m pretty excited about it because he’s such a sweet individual,” she said. “He has so much to offer.”

Contact Gary Lloyd at and follow him on Twitter @GaryALloyd.

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