With a smile on his face and a camera in hand, Key West resident Scott Gerke explores the power of human connection through a simple ‘hello’.

After traveling the country to find out more about the people, the local DJ and adventurer focuses on his fellow islanders.

Gerke loaded up his van and scoured the freeway looking for people from a dairy farmer to an Amish man to a skateboarder. A COVID-19 pandemic has crippled events and weddings in the Keys, including Gerke’s DJ concerts. Instead of sitting still, Gerke jumped on a filming opportunity.

“As a community activist, I knew that if I got in my van and traveled I could create a new life for myself, documenting positive messages through experiences with people I had never known by a simple ‘hello’, ”he said.

Shedding his belongings in preparation for the adventure, Gerke built his van and left the Keys with new uncertainties about the future, but confident in his decision.

Curious about others since his early years, Gerke said the whole mission of his film adventure, titled “Once a Stranger,” was to seek out people from different backgrounds to better understand their struggles and triumphs. Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maine were among the stops for Gerke. He also visited the House of 5,000 Dolls in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

In the Keys, Gerke spent time on the streets of Key West during Fantasy Fest. Gerke said the run-ins and connections made with different people have helped shape who he is today.

“I discovered the Amish industry and the agricultural industry during my travels. And holy cow, no pun intended, but things are a mess for the farmers, ”he said. “I made a few surprise videos where I found people who were willing to give up whatever they were doing and go on a surprise adventure. I even picked up a guy at the airport and took him skydiving.

He also asked someone to be his grandmother for the day, and he even took her parasailing. His adventures can be seen on YouTube and Instagram.

“As humans, our need for love and belonging helps shape who we are and is the driving force behind how we treat each other. I wanted to document this, ”he said. “The idea was to start by talking to someone who has a positive impact or who is simply of interest to me. “

Gerke’s last trip was to the eastern side of the Appalachians in the small town of Elizabethton, Tennessee. He was on a traditional summer fly fishing trip with his family when he decided to explore. Without ever knowing how a shoot might turn out, Gerke quickly saw the southern charm of the city after visiting a local festival and dinner.

“I learned it’s a cool city with a lot of great characters,” he said. “It was a very beautiful city and I found out that Jesus ruled these cities. Religion is very important in the culture of the Appalachians.

Among the memorable moments of his filming on the road was an Amish man. Gerke said the man had never opened up to anyone outside of his community.

“He appreciated my willingness to learn more about him and listen to what he had to say,” said Gerke. “At the end of the day, everyone has the same desire to be heard and loved.”

With the DJ life back, Gerke is looking to bring his video series to include his island neighbors as far south as Key West and north of the Everglades.

“Everyone has a whole story to tell,” he said. “If I have enough weddings and concerts to keep me in town for the next few months, I’m going to start doing stuff here in the Keys and the Everglades. I’m looking for people, communities, or industries that don’t often have the press, or something that people find interesting.

“By meeting your neighbor, I get to know him and create an experience,” he continued. That’s what I’m trying to show: the power of a simple “hello”.

This week, Gerke heads for a stone crab boat as part of a series of commercial fishing in the Keys. He will then embark on a shrimp boat in mid-December, and he said he hopes to make contact with other fisheries.

Gerke is a kiteboarder who took a two-day, 100-mile trip to the Keys with his friend, Joe Tatangelo, in December 2020 to raise awareness about mental health. Just over $ 2,000 was raised to support mental health services in the Keys.

To learn more about Gerke and his “Once a Stranger” series, visit scottcgerke.com, his Instagram account, scottcgerke or YouTube.


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