Pflugerville High School Students: “Schooling” Us On Compassion

Pflugerville High School Students: “Schooling” Us On Compassion

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Pflugerville High School Students: “Schooling” Us On Compassion

STUDENTS AT PFLUGERVILLE HIGH SCHOOL CHEER FOR THEIR FRIENDS AND CLASSMATES AT A FRIDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL GAME. (CREDIT: DIXIE ROSS)

By Susan MacLaury

The 115th US Congress is the most diverse in history with nearly one in five members a racial or ethnic minority. This is a welcome step in the right direction, though its 19% minority membership compares with 38% nationally, making it more like a melting 1-qt sauce pan than an actual pot.

Still, one would hope that increased Congressional diversity would lead to genuine compassion toward all Americans. As I mentioned in my earlier blog post about the failure of our representatives and senators to unite to support the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, this does not seem to be the case. (By the way, Jimmy Kimmel made an impassioned defense of it last night on his show that’s worth watching). Assaults on affordable health care and recent moves to pass a tax bill that ultimately hurts lower and middle income Americans begs the question: To whom do we look to school us on caring for others? To our young, of course.

Enter Pflugerville High School, recently profiled in Readers Digest’s “The Nicest Places in America” series. Participating in a Readers’ Digest readers poll of the best places to live in America, staff and students from the school responded so convincingly that they were named one of the top 10 finalists. Pflugerville is a rural community near Austin, TX (and the site of the filming of the pilot for Friday Night Lights). Its high school is strikingly diverse. Two in 5 students are Hispanic, ¼ are white, nearly ¼ black, and 7% are Asian. And while the median town income is $76,000, 44% of the students at the high school are economically disadvantaged.

Pflugerville isn’t exceptional academically when compared to other Texas high schools. Though it boasts a 98% graduation rate and above average rating in college readiness, its students perform about average on state tests.

But it does seem to be a school in which students look out for one another and one teacher, Dixie Ross, is quoted as saying: “Here niceness seems to be the default mode.” One student, Sahaz Shah, described his first day in the high school after recently immigrating from Bahrain. He didn’t know anyone and a student invited him to sit with him and his friends. He comments: “I was really surprised by how inclusive everyone was. Today that guy is a very good friend.” Several students who aspire to be teachers belong to the Ready-Set-Teach program that pairs them with special needs kids. When one autistic student experienced distress at a track meet earlier this year, all of the students ran to him to give him assistance.

We “shine a light” on kids globally who struggle against difficult odds with resiliency, talent, and hope. In this troubled and troubling age, we look closely at the next generation of voters and the students at Pflugerville give us confidence that it will be a caring one.

NYC Bombing: Thank You to Several Real Americans

NYC Bombing: Thank You to Several Real Americans

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NYC Bombing: Thank You to Several Real Americans

By Susan MacLaury

I didn’t realize anything was amiss this morning until my bus driver Cliff asked if I’d heard what had happened and explained to me that there had been a bomb incident and that Port Authority was shut down.

I was alarmed by this but not frightened because I knew I was in good hands. Cliff is a consummate professional, the kind of bus driver who actually wears his cap, is unfailingly polite and just makes you feel safe. (He’s also an accomplished musician and my favorite driver).  He talked about the stress he felt on a day like today, when all that is routine suddenly isn’t.

We were apparently one of the first buses to be allowed back into Port Authority. When we got out I was struck by the number of Transit authority officials, national guardsmen and women, and police who were there calmly directing all of us out of the 9th Avenue entrance. I teared up then, looking at their faces – mostly young, very multi-cultural, and resolute – and I was so grateful for their courage.

So ahead of the tweet storm I can only imagine we’ll be subjected to today – why we need an immigration ban, how NYC should be ashamed for being a sanctuary city, etc. –  I want to say that it’s this diversity, coupled with basic human nature, that makes me so proud of NYC. It’s also what actually does make America great. It always has been. Through its films and outreach, Shine has always represented young persons of varying ethnicities and cultures. It’s an honor to acknowledge them in person as well.

*Shine’s office is one block away from where the NYC Bombing occurred on December 11th.  At the time of this writing, there were no deaths, but please check news sources for updates.

Children’s Health Insurance Plan: Who’s Watching the Kids?

Children’s Health Insurance Plan: Who’s Watching the Kids?

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Children’s Health Insurance Plan: Who’s Watching the Kids?

By Susan MacLaury

As 2017 draws to an end – finally – I find myself battling a continuous mix of incredulity and depression over American core values as expressed by our government … or the lack thereof. Every day brings unwanted headlines that trigger alarm about who’s protecting American children’s wellbeing.

It’s hard to understand how Congress can unify to pass a tax cut plan that almost surely will be counterbalanced by cuts in social services to needy families. It’s virtually impossible to fathom their inability to renew the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, which has been supported by both sides of the aisle since its initial passage in 1997.

This stalemate is even more bewildering since both Democrats and Republicans agree it should be funded through 2022 but apparently can’t agree how. The bill proposed by Republicans was blocked by the Democrats because it contained provisions that would have cut other public health programs and health insurance coverage for hundreds of thousands more. Really? Can our elected officials truly not do better than this?

I would ask each of you to take time to research this problem on your own and take the action your conscience demands. Our children, and our grandchildren, depend on us now more than ever.

Shine Global Response to ending DACA

Shine Global Response to ending DACA

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Shine Global Response to Ending DACA

Inocente Izucar with Rep. Raul Grijalva (AZ) at his office in DC in Feb 2013

By Susan MacLaury

By now anyone who has read or listened to the news knows that the Trump administration is ending the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program that risks the fates of more than 800,000 young adults brought to the US as children. We have the opportunity to resist this action and we must take advantage of it.

In 2013, we visited several members of congress with Inocente Izucar, the subject of our short documentary, Inocente. We gave each a DVD of the film and took this opportunity to explain how she had been brought to America as a very small child by her father. When he was deported for domestic violence, the family lost his income and became ensnarled in homelessness, moving in and out of shelters. After the film, Inocente, her mother, and siblings all received support and green cards. We took this opportunity in DC to ask legislators support for the thousands of other children, like Inocente, who were vulnerable to deportation. Though President Obama had authorized DACA in 2012, we hoped for a permanent solution.

We believed then and continue to believe that innocent children who are brought to America are OUR children, deserving of full protection and support. The film, Inocente, puts a very human face to this issue and if any of you are thinking of sponsoring social actions on their behalf you may wish to show it as a part of your event (More info here.)

We’re all immigrants on this bus.

MORE RESOURCES
Take a few minutes to learn about the Hope Act of 2017 by clicking here.

You can also read about the original Dream Act, originally co-sponsored by Senators Orrin Hatch and Dick Durbin in 2001, which itself could still be passed today at Slate.

And when you’re ready, urge your legislators to protect these children. To find your Representatives name and contact info you can call 202 224-2131 or click here to enter your zip code and find their info.

Liyana to Premiere at the LA Film Festival

Liyana to Premiere at the LA Film Festival

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Liyana to Premiere at the LA Film Festival

May 10, 2017

Liyana is set to premiere at the LA Film Festival this June.  The festival announced its 2017 competition lineup today and Liyana will be having its world premiere there as one of the 10 films in the documentary competition.

Directed by Aaron and Amanda Kopp and produced in association with Shine Global, this documentary/animated film follows a talented group of orphaned children in Swaziland as they collaborate to write an original African tale about Liyana, a girl on a dangerous quest. Inspired by the children’s darkest memories and brightest dreams, their fictional character’s journey reveals parallels between her fate and that of the young storytellers.

Aaron Kopp grew up in Swaziland and he and Amanda have been working on Liyana for the past 8 years.  While it is their first feature as directors, they both have significant experience working as co-producers and cinematographers on such films as the Oscar®-winning documentary Saving Face and the recent Sundance film The Hunting Ground.   Other team members include the rising animation talent Shofela Coker, Oscar® winner Daniel Junge as a producer, and editor Davis Coombe who has edited Emmy®- and Oscar®-winning documentaries. British/Zimbabwean actress Thandie Newton (“West World,” Crash, Mission Impossible II) is an Executive Producer on the film along with Susan MacLaury, Albie Hecht and Lisa Schejola Akin.

Liyana will screen Saturday, June 17th at 12:35pm

Individual tickets go on sale to Film Independent Members beginning next Tuesday, May 16 and to the general public on May 23. For more pass, ticket and event information visit tickets.lafilmfestival.com.

Notes from Susan: Inocente MSU Screening

Notes from Susan: Inocente MSU Screening

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Notes from Susan: Inocente Screening at MSU

Shine-Global-Inocente-MSU-screening-April-2017

Photo credit Alexandra Hidalgo

By Susan MacLaury

Last week I reunited with Inocente, the subject of our film Inocente, to go to Michigan State University to do two screenings and Q and As of the film. We were hosted by Carleen Hsu, Professor of Practice in the Department of Media and Information and Film Studies Program, who was joined by faculty and staff in other departments to make our trip possible.

We showed the film first to Carleen’s film production class, attended by about 100 students, and later that night we did a second screening and Q and A for about 75 students, staff and faculty in one of the university’s libraries. Inocente was beguiling as always, and won the hearts of everyone with her honesty and grace. Her explanation of why she takes in homeless animals – even a very mean rabbit named BunBun – is humorous but very touching.

What also moved me tremendously was being honored at a dinner hosted by Michigan’s CAMP Program (College Assistance Migrant Program). We had a chance to meet wonderful staff and students, most of whom had worked in the fields as did the kids in our film, The Harvest (La Cosecha)

Inocente summed up the day by saying: “This film will continue to be relevant as long as homelessness, undocumented immigrants subject to deportation, and lack of support for the arts continue.”


If you are interested in hosting a screening of one of these films, please contact info@shineglobal.org.
Screenings at schools and universities must go through the films’ distributors (we can put you in touch).
Please be aware that the subjects or filmmakers are usually not able to attend but they do require that hosts provide travel and lodging and a speaking fee.

 

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