- Being an American right now, (reflective music) it feels like it's a turning point.
Everything is changing in one way or another.
(elegant music) - These are the times for you to restart over, no matter what you're doing.
- Reinvention is something that Americans have always done since we've tried to form a more perfect union.
- [Announcer] Starring Ronald Reagan in a hilarious movie.
- I, Ronald Reagan, will faithfully execute the office of president.
- Making a move towards a new self can be risky and feel overwhelming.
- We lost everything.
- We are in a time of change, and we don't know where that change is gonna take us.
- It's really scary to not know what your future may hold.
- I wanted to take a look at how different Americans are taking chances and reinventing themselves in very different ways.
(reflective music) Some people need to make changes for personal reasons.
- (sighs) God.
I need to be doing what makes me happiest to wake up each morning.
- [Danielle] Like Anthony Padilla.
His comedy YouTube channel Smosh has racked up nearly 10 billion views since it premiered in 2005.
- To walk away from something that I created is terrifying.
- [Danielle] Smosh was acquired by a larger media company, and Anthony felt like his voice was being stifled.
- I wasn't being my most genuine self on camera, I was playing characters.
Being vulnerable just wasn't an option, I just had that wall up.
I had to make some kind of change for my mental health.
- [Danielle] Anthony realized he needed to be true to himself.
- Leaving Smosh was a huge risk.
That was my entire life since I was 14.
We had over 20 million subscribers on that channel.
But I was convinced that no one was going to care about me or want to support me.
I definitely felt like I was starting over.
- [Danielle] Anthony is now focused on having honest conversations with people who rarely get a platform.
- Almost everything I've made in the past year or two is completely different than anything I would have made five years ago.
Today, I'm gonna be sitting down with people on the autism spectrum, with people who have agoraphobia, with essential workers.
- It's hard.
- I know it's hard, but you're so strong.
It feels really nice to know that these people who have had such traumatic experiences in their life feel so comfortable talking with me.
Do you feel fear when going to work during this pandemic?
- We're still hearing about our coworkers that have passed away.
- Was such an overall positive response.
I'm glad I made that decision.
I can't see my life remaining that way anymore.
It feels like I'm becoming who I've always been meant to be.
I want to encourage people to make a new start for themselves, but it's not always so easy.
I was financially stable, I was able to take that risk, but a lot of people now are having to reinvent themselves not out of choice, but out of necessity.
- [Danielle] It's true, and with over 57 million Americans having filed for unemployment insurance since March 2020, remaking yourself comes with higher stakes than ever before.
- I lost my business because of the pandemic.
My landlords decided to evict me.
- We are all moving through an intense threshold right now.
- Some people are going in a new direction, hoping they can make tomorrow better for everyone.
- [Reporter] Instead of closing the doors to his restaurant, chef Johnny Rhodes reinvented it.
- I signed up to be a test subject for a COVID-19 vaccine.
We'll see how it goes.
- My job is to make sure I protect my patients and my family.
- So I wanted to talk to someone who took a huge risk to reinvent himself for the benefit of others.
- March 30th, my life changed forever.
I started out with Amazon 2015.
I love coming to work, talking to my employees.
I treated people like family.
We celebrate birthdays together, our kids play together.
- [Danielle] Chris was working in an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, New York with almost 3000 other employees when he first heard about COVID-19.
- As I was sitting in Amazon's lunchroom the news came on talking about this virus and how it was killing people, I couldn't sleep the entire month of March.
My stomach was just turning, I had so much anxiety.
It was very alarming.
We were kind of joking about, well, we're not six feet apart right now.
- Look at this, they got us in Amazon, y'all.
Everybody's close to each other, look.
(faint speaking) We're gonna die.
- We were not protected, no masks, no gloves, no cleaning supplies, nothing.
People around me begin to fall ill. We had employees vomiting at their workstations.
I immediately ran to the HR office and I told them, like, what are we doing?
They're only telling us not to tell the employees.
And I knew that moment that people are gonna get sick and possibly die, but I said, you know what?
I'm not gonna give up, let's start organizing the protest.
- [Danielle] Chris started spreading the word and called the local media.
- The editors called me back and they was like, do you want to publish your name?
That's when I had to make a decision.
Do I really want to give up my career?
- Chris Smalls.
- Chris Smalls.
- Chris Smalls.
- Chris Smalls.
- [Journalist] This assistant manager organized the mass walkout at an Amazon distribution center on Staten Island.
- I saw people getting sick every single day.
One by one managers have been quarantined, and associates don't even know.
It was a no brainer, enough was enough.
- [Journalist] Employees want the facility closed, cleaned, and sanitized.
- [Danielle] Soon after the March 30th walkout, Amazon announced that it would widely distribute masks and temperature checks.
- Amazon lost a good one when they got rid of me.
- Amazon under fire this morning for terminating an employee who led a walkout on Monday at its Staten Island facility.
Both the State Attorney General and the mayor's office demanding now an investigation into this firing.
- I felt defeated, I had my days where I sat and broke down in my room crying.
- [Danielle] Chris had to start over and figure out who he really was.
- You can kind of say I found my calling in life.
TCOEW, The Congress of Essential Workers.
I did not expect to be full time organizing activist.
And I guess God had other plans for me.
We're on our way into Manhattan, getting ready to march on Jeff Bezos' property.
I could not just fade away.
Our mission is to create a democracy, a rank and file committee for all essential workers, starting with the workforce of Amazon.
- [Danielle] This former warehouse worker is traveling across the country to protest and raise awareness.
(drumming) - Let's go now, power to the people, power to the people.
We all are equal.
- We all are equal.
- [Danielle] And people in power are listening.
- We have to continue pushing forward.
We may not have been fortunate enough to go to college and get a degree, that don't make us any less as a human than you.
(cheers) At least 13 senators wrote a letter using my story as a catalyst.
There it is, the statement from AOC.
It's really good to see a lot of peoples supporting us workers.
Cory Booker... - Christian Smalls, he definitely inspired a lot of the work that we did and the urgency, at least, that we felt.
I'm grateful to him for his example.
- I am Chris Smalls, the former Amazon employee.
I did this to make change for my children to grow up in a society where they are not subjected to exploitation.
We have to fight now, the opportunity to change this country is right now.
Everything I'm doing this for them, my kids.
It's gonna continue to be that way until I'm not here no more.
They may not understand it now, but I want them to look back and say, hey, my father was a part of change, and fighting for the right reasons.
To somebody that's feeling hopeless right now, I would tell them, keep hope alive.
What happened to me, I'm a prime example of how your life can change in a blink of a eye.
You have the opportunity to change.
(cheers) - [Narrator] PBS American Portrait is- - A platform where- - People can go to in order to share their experiences.
- So join in.
- Go to pbs- - Dot org- - Slash americanportrait.
(bright tones) - I do miss the days where I could kind of hide behind my hair, though.
You know, it kinda hid some of the areas that I considered to be my problem areas.
So it was nice to have that emo hair going on.
(laughs) My hair's long enough, I could become an emo hair icon if I want.