Notes from Susan: Teens Affected by Gun Violence

Notes from Susan: Teens Affected by Gun Violence

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Teens Affected by Gun Violence

Art created by incarcerated teens Shine is following in our next film

By Susan MacLaury
March 26, 2018

Watching the dailies shot last summer for our newest film about juvenile justice, I see one our three incarcerated teen subjects first experience a virtual reality simulation. His headset on, holding two controllers, he’s immersed in a shootout with aliens. Suddenly his head snaps back. “I’ve been shot in the face,” he says.

Eight months later life imitates art. The film’s director, André Robert Lee, emails us to say that this teen actually was shot in the face and hand and that he and a friend were fighting for their lives.

We didn’t know if they would survive. The crew and the arts community that had nurtured him these past 8 months were devastated. They’d watched this charismatic, natural leader gain confidence and become enthusiastic while learning collaging, spray paint art, poetry, art installation, silk-screening, and helping to create a virtual jail cell.

He’s continued in the fellowship created by ART180, a local arts collective that provides training, job internships and overall support for incarcerated Richmond teen males. He has also taken a part-time job with a landscaper, and is taking online college courses. This is a kid you root for.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and the other teen shot, but then the inevitable question arises: What could possibly compel one person to kill another? What could leave someone feeling so hopeless that killing is an acceptable behavior? We tell kids that if they only work hard, anything is possible, that the American dream is accessible to all, but we know this isn’t always true.

I am privileged to be a documentary producer telling stories about kids struggling against odds that sometimes seem insurmountable. But efforts such as Shine Global’s are only a beginning step in truly helping those who, through no fault of their own, must cope with the consequences of gross social inequity.

These past weeks, life has imitated art again in the example of the Parkland students, who’ve refused to be labeled as victims and instead stand strong against a legislature bought and sold by the NRA. We’re watching soon-to-be-voters in real time stand strong against a legal system that has left them unprotected, showing as much resilience and generating as much hope as any subject of our films.

We are awed by their determination.

Notes from Susan: Finding Hope – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

Notes from Susan: Finding Hope – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

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Finding Hope – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting

By Susan MacLaury
February 20, 2018

It was hard to feel hopeful this weekend, in the aftermath of yet another school shooting that killed 17 kids and caring adults. Hard not to scream while listening to legislators nod solemnly on Sunday news shows that more needs to be done to protect American children while finding ways to give themselves passes.

Harder even still reading David Leonhardt’s op ed piece in the Sunday New York Times, “Letting American Kids Die,” and learning that we have the highest child mortality rate among the top 20 wealthiest countries in the world: 6.5 thousand deaths per million vs. the average number, 3.8. This translates to 21,000 “excess deaths” of American kids each year in sharp contrast to fifty years ago when our child mortality rate was below that of these same nations. The majority of these deaths are attributable to guns, car accidents and infant mortality, all of them clearly serious problems that must be addressed.

The cause that could be addressed immediately is banning assault weapons. It seems clear that our politicians are governed by self-interest, so possibly the decision by top Republican funder, Al Hoffman, Jr., who stated: “I will not write another check unless they all support a ban on assault weapons. Enough is enough,” will have an impact on funders supporting candidates on both sides of the aisle. Let’s hope so.

I will be forever haunted by the image of 5 and 6 year old children literally cut in half in the Sandy Hook shooting and dismayed by the fact that their community’s efforts on their behalf, successful in changing Connecticut laws, didn’t make a dent nationally. As always, though, I find the greatest source of hope to be our children themselves.

This week’s shooting has galvanized the students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to seek public support for their mission to end gun violence. It’s resonated for students who experienced similar traumatic events at their schools who’ve come out in support of them. These are our children. Let’s join them all. Let’s give them the chance to find meaning to their experiences, to thrive, to help us become the best America we can be.

A march in Washington, DC is planned for March 24th: www.marchforourlives.com/mission-statement

 

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.