Breaking the silence

Award-winning filmmaker raises awareness of rape

by Marlena Chertock, February 25, 2010

Filmmaker Lisa Jackson spoke at Elon University about bringing an end to sexual violence during wars. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

A two-time Emmy-Award winning documentarian lamented the culture of denial and complicity in the world when it comes to rape Thursday night at Elon University.

Filmmaker Lisa Jackson screened clips of her film “The Greatest Silence: Rape in the Congo,” which she made in 2007 during a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo to document the effects of war and violence. The film attempts to raise awareness of rape as a weapon of war.

“My intention going over there was to talk to the women who are really at ground zero of this war,” said Jackson, who partners with Women Make Movies, a nonprofit media arts organization established in 1972 to address the underrepresentation and misrepresentation of women in the media.

She said six million people have died as a consequence of the war and thousands have become victims of sexual violence.

Jackson was able to persuade women to talk to her because of her own experience. Thirty years ago in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., Jackson was gang raped, and while she said the moment was an important event in her life, it was not her motivating factor to document rape in the Congo. It did help her gain Congolese women’s trust, though, as she was able to show them news clippings of the coverage of her rape from newspapers.

“The women came literally out of the bush to talk to me,” Jackson said. “Sort of an informal line would form. Two dozen women waiting with their children, waiting for an opportunity to talk to me, an opportunity to tell their story.”

Those stories had an emotional impact on Jackson. Tears formed in her eyes as she described the reaction of one Congolese woman, who expressed pride in knowing her story would be shared throughout the world.

“She said to me … for the rest of her life, every day, she would think about the millions of men and women around the world who had seen her face and read her words and now she had a name and her story had an audience,” Jackson said. “It made her feel less alone.”

Of course, she’s not alone because sexual violence is used as a weapon of war. And the worst part, according to Jackson, is that it’s not decried in the West because governments are purposefully ignoring the occurrence of sexual violence.

The war in Congo is a resource war, based on economics, Jackson said. The largest deposit of coltan is found in Congo and surrounding countries. The mineral is used in everyday technology such as laptops, computers, cell phones and remote controls.

Often when a resource is in high demand, the country containing it will fall into disorganization and war. Such is the case with countries such as Congo and Rwanda.

“Every laptop, every BlackBerry, every remote control has the blood of Congolese women,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s said she wanted her film, which has won several awards including the Jury Prize for the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, to break the silence, start a discussion about rape and stop the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war.

“The epidemic of sexual violence that is consuming (the Democratic Republic of Congo) right now” relates to the international culture of denial and complicity, Jackson said.

She said she feels American foreign policy will now acknowledge the truth, and that’s a problem because there is no judicial system in the Congo. The political system and authorities are corrupt.

“If you are in government where a lot of authorities are rapists and child molesters there is no motivation to make these laws where justice comes in,” Jackson said.

So the international community needs to come together to help people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, she said. The entire world is interconnected. She said everyone listening to her speech is connected and the actions they take will affect others in foreign countries.

“The big picture in terms of the international community and what needs to be done in the Congo” has four steps, she said. “One, (is) calling Rwanda on what’s going on there. Two is to develop some sort of transparency supply chains of these minerals. Three is demobilizing the Rwandan army. Four is professionalizing the Congolese army.”

The rest is up to other people in the world, Jackson said. There has to be political will and motivation. With transparency, perhaps acts of violence will occur less frequently, she said.

“There have been some outcomes of this film but now I’m trusting other organizations and other student bodies,” Jackson said.

More than an award

Interest in international child rights leads student to volunteer abroad

by Marlena Chertock, February 22, 2010

Meagan Harrison traveled to the Phillippines where she wanted to help the children. In turn, she said the children helped her more than she ever expected. Photo by Justine Schulerud.

When sophomore Meagan Harrison, went to the Philippines she was able to help many children and in return they taught her valuable life lessons.

In order to travel to the Philippines and help children there, Harrison needed the funds. Last April, Harrison received the Ward Family Learning in Action Award for 2009. This and the Bruns Endowment for service learning covered her expenses and payment for her communications internship.

Harrison received $3000 for the Ward award. She also received $5000 from the Bruns Endowment.

The Ward award is given to students who have used their passion to help the community, Harrison said. Elon gives this award annually to a rising sophomore, junior or senior based on their experiential learning project, according to E-net. Projects can include undergraduate-research, international study, internships, service and leadership experiences.

“It covered everything,” she said. “I was able to buy a Mac to bring there because they were lacking computers. We used it while we were there, for them, the research and photo editing, and then we left it there — one of our gifts to them.”

For two months in Oriental Mindoro, Philippines, Harrison used her communications skills and advocacy beliefs to help children.

Harrison chose to travel to the Philippines because a friend of hers from Duke University had attended school and volunteered there.

“A couple of friends and I were looking for a thing to do for summer. We were interested in child rights internationally,” Harrison said.

The organization her friend participated with seemed like a perfect match. According to the Web site, the Stairway Foundation is “a learning and resource center for children’s rights.” The organization is located in Oriental Mindoro.

Their goal is twofold, according to Harrison.

She described the residential area. Filipino boys aged 9 to 14 live in a dormitory. Most come from jails in Manila and many have been sexually abused. Social workers and psychologists are available to speak with the children. The children are allowed to stay for 10 months and then are placed into another school, or if the situation allows, they go back to their families.

“They do a lot of creative therapy, they give them school, everything you need, a place to stay,” Harrison said.

Another aspect is advocacy. The Stairway Foundation creates animations and videos they hope will prevent child sexual abuse and exploitation, according to the foundation Web site.

The animations make difficult situations, such as incest, sex trafficking and sexual abuse, easier to talk about, Harrison said. She said education about these issues is important.

“This component is pretty extensive. They’ve gone to the Geneva Convention. They’re really active in advocating for child rights,” Harrison said.

During her time working with the foundation, Harrison created many multimedia projects for children’s rights advocacy. She also took pictures, conducted research on sex trafficking in the United States and made a movie trailer. She worked in the creative advocacy department of the foundation.

“I was … planning a campaign for them,” she said. “I did research on U.S. cities. Sex traffic is huge in the United States and people don’t know that.”

Harrison has extensive experience working on children’s rights. She co-founded Oasis, Outdoor Action for Social and Intrapersonal Strength, a nonprofit organization in Durham for youth. The organization was set up in 2007 and offers a retreat program every year.

“We take … at-risk youth to do outdoor activities, things that will build their self-confidence, make them better leaders. They can overcome their fears,” Harrison said.

Harrison seems to put her beliefs into action.

“I really like to volunteer and with the kids it’s easy to make relationships,” she said. “They’re always interested to get to know you. It makes work more rewarding.”

Woolworth museum honors protestors of injustice

by Marlena Chertock, February 14, 2010

Several pictures by Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Matthew Lewis, line an entire room in the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Photo by Lauren Ramsdell.

History happens fast. Fifteen to 20 years after the Woolworth sit-ins, the lunch counter and store were integrated. Elon communications professor Anthony Hatcher, then a student of UNC Greensboro, sat down at the store in 1975, but now remembers the store without segregation.

“No doubt that the 1960s was a decade of change,” Hatcher said. “People don’t give the 1970s credit, with Watergate, the Vietnam War ending, but a lot of racial barriers were finally knocked down.”

The first exhibit in the International Civil Rights Center and Museum prepares visitors to enter the horrors and courage of the 1960s civil rights movement and beyond.

The exhibit begins with a sign that states the constitutional right, “All men are created equal.” Behind the statement, signs announcing “white only” and “no colored allowed” light up, signifying the dissonance between alleged inalienable rights and the reality of early America. The museum opened on Feb. 1, and guided tours are currently in place.

The Gala and Banquet, originally scheduled for Jan. 30, has been rescheduled because of inclement weather. It will take place Feb. 13 at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro, N.C. from 7-9 p.m. Tickets are $100 and can be ordered from http://www.sitinmovement.org or at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro.

Assistant account executive for RLS Communication RoKeya Worthy, said an estimated 3,000 people attended the grand opening events for the museum.

Visitors wait for the museum’s guided tour beside the famous photograph of the four N.C. A&T University students, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond. Photo by Lauren Ramsdell.

“It was good, considering the weather,” Worthy said. “Everybody was so excited. It was almost like inauguration all over again. Being there to see a historic event.”

Worthy said there was considerable national media coverage. There was a lot of media coverage for the event including CBS Today, NBC Nightly News, Diane Sawyer, ABC, CNN and the New York Times.

“At one point, (the tour guide) was talking about the Birmingham church bombings,” Ann Morris, a visitor, said. “She pointed at my child, saying the girls who were killed were not older than her. It really brings it close to home.”

A younger visitor described what was most significant to her.

“The two-sided Coke machine,” Gracie Anderson said. “One side was for African-Americans and one side was for white people. They could not use the same side.”

As visitor, Thomas Hay, exited the museum, he described the era as a trying time. He participated in demonstrations in Maryland when he was younger. Hay said the most powerful exhibit to him was the re-enactment of the original four Greensboro non-violent protestors, Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond.

“The idea where they were going to challenge the system, challenge something they saw wrong is so impactful,” Hay said.

Worthy describes one exhibit, the Hall of Fame, in detail. She uses words such as “intense” and “graphic” to give a better picture. Children are not recommended to go through that part of the museum.

“(It is) a heart-wrenching exhibit. Right in your face, tough to look at,” Worthy said.

The exhibit shows what happened to the people who stood up for their rights, such as church bombings, murders or high-pressure hoses being turned on marchers. The effects were devastating, Worthy said.

The ending image is one of Emmett Till, a black 14-year-old brutally murdered in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman.

The last exhibit meshes numerous photographs of faces from the civil rights movement. As one backs away from the smaller pictures, the faces create a larger picture of President Barack Obama with a statement when he was a senator about overcoming barriers. Photographs in the room depict non-violent protests around the world. The museum comes full circle, illustrating how the struggle for human rights internationally continues.

This exhibit, named “The Civil Rights Movement Through the Lens of Pulitzer-Winning Photographer Mathew Lewis,” captures several moments of the social movement. Photo by Lauren Ramsdell.

Curatorial Program Associate Lolita Watkins said the original men from N.C. A&T University, who conducted the first sit-in, visit the museum all the time.

“They’ve been back since the effort started 17 years ago,” Watkins said. “They were here on Monday, Feb. 1.”

McCain, McNeil and Blair Jr. attended the museum’s opening events.

“They were overcome, joyful, proud and energized in terms of hoping we will have people walk in their footsteps and strive to achieve to make America a better place,” Watkins said.

Commemorating the courage of four

Museum in Woolworth Building to open on 50th anniversary of Greensboro Four sit-ins

by Marlena Chertock, January 20, 2010
The International Civil Rights Museum, located in the 1929 F.W. Woolworth Building in Greensboro, is scheduled to open on Feb. 1,. The museum covers 30,000 square feet of exhibit space, including the exact lunch counter from the Greensboro sit-ins. Photo by Molly Carey.
Fifty years ago, four black college students joined together to fight discrimination and pervasive injustice in the American South. On Feb. 1, the International Civil Rights Center and Museum opens in the Woolworth building where the Greensboro sit-ins took place.The opening will mark the 50th anniversary of the Greensboro Four sit-ins. Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, Ezell Blair Jr. and David Richmond sat at the Woolworth building five-and-dime lunch counter on Feb. 1, 1960 to conduct a form of nonviolent civil disobedience.

North Carolina state legislator Earl Jones said plans for the museum have been in the making for 15 years. “When we first decided to turn the Woolworth building into a museum, we looked at the Memphis, (Tenn.) and the Birmingham, (Ala.) museum,” he said. “In Memphis it took 12 years and Alabama took 14 years. Our schedule was 12-14 years based on that,” he said.

When retail was declining for the Woolworth building, the owners decided to close the store. It was going to turn into a parking lot. “That’s where Skip and I got together and said we need to save it,” Jones said.

Jones and Guildford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin “Skip” Alston founded the Sit-in Movement in 1993 with the sole purpose of renovating and turning the historic site into a civil rights museum.

The Woolworth owners, First Citizen’s Bank, gave the Sit-in Movement its first seed money of $50,000. “They were very supportive, giving us the initial seed money,” Jones said.

“I’ve always said this building in Greensboro and North Carolina, when those four students sat down, it was a new strategy for civil disobedience, to fight oppression, not only in America, which was racial oppression, but throughout the world. And it spread. Sitting down as a strategy had never been done before,” Jones said.

He refers to the civil disobedience strategy used in South Africa, the Philippines, when the Berlin Wall came down in Germany and the students in Tiananmen Square. “These events used the same type of civil disobedience philosophy, emulated again from Greensboro,” he said.

The international aspect of the museum is incredibly important. Several exhibits will have impact on the international level. The museum will be important to North Carolina and the nation, “but more importantly to the world,” Jones said.

Jones said he sees the museum as having an impact on the future relations of human rights throughout the world. “Human rights internationally and civil rights nationally are synonymous to each other,” he said.

Jones also explains the importance of the museum becoming a center for the public to get involved. He wants the museum to be a place where people can come together and resolve social issues of the day.

“This is going to be different from civil rights museums in Memphis or Alabama because this museum will be an active museum versus a passive one,” he said. “There will be forums, workshops, various seminars, dialogues and discussions regarding major social issues of the day. We’re not going to take positions and be advocates.”

Jones first became a social activist after the Ku Klux Klan assassinated five union workers in Greensboro on Nov. 3, 1979.

“They were social activists who worked on behalf of workers in manufacturing plants in the county,” he said.

Jones attended his first NAACP meeting a week after the incident. The then  president of the Greensboro chapter of NAACP, Dr. George Simkins, appointed Jones to be the legal counsel.

Aleasha Vuncannon, an RLF Communications media contact, said McCain, McNeil and Blair Jr. will be in attendance at the majority of the museum opening events. Vuncannon said the three will attend the museum’s opening. Richmond died in 1990 of lung cancer.

There are several opening events. They include a Town Hall Forum from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28 at A&T University’s Alumni Center. The forum, hosted by the Emmy award-winning journalist Ed Gordon, will focus on 21st century activism and protest. The event is co-sponsored by N.C. A&T State University and Bennett College, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Dr. Benjamin Chavis and Bennet College President Dr. Julianne Malveaux. This event is free and open to the public, but tickets are required due to limited seating. Tickets can be acquired at the museum office phone number 274-9199.

The 50th anniversary Gala and Banquet will take place from 7 – 9 p.m. on Jan. 30 at the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro. This annual banquet recognizes international civil and human rights achievements by people throughout the world. Nido Qubein, President of High Point University, will host the gala and banquet.  Tickets are $100 and can be bought at www.sitinmovement.org or the Koury Convention Center in Greensboro.

A Celebration of Unity Ecumenical service will be held from 6-8 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 31 at the Greensboro  Coliseum. This service is free and open to the public. Grammy award-winning and contemporary gospel singer Yolanda Adams, Pastor Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant and Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles will lead the event.

Grand opening ceremonies at the site of the historic Woolworth sit-ins will start at 8 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 1. There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony. Museum prices are $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and students, and $4 for children over six.

Once the museum opens, there will be several reenactments such as the lunchcounter sit-ins and a reproduction of the dorm room where the Greensboro Four discussed their plans. Vuncannon said the centerpiece of the museum, the lunch counter stools, have been restored to their 1960 look.

Boys and Girls club provides home away from home

by Marlena Chertock, November 18, 2009

Program Director Xylda Gee tutors Josh, a fourth-grade student at the Boys and Girls Club. Photo by Lauren Ramsdell.

Several elementary and middle school children scribble away at their homework. Some shift in their seats, while others draw pictures on their papers instead of completing their math problems. After a few minutes of restfulness, one child cracks a joke and the entire room bursts out in laughter.

This is a typical Thursday afternoon for Xylda Gee, or as the kids call her, Mrs. Gee. Gee is the program director at the Burlington Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club. She is one of the three full-time staff members at the club.

The Boys and Girls Club has been around since the mid-1950s, Executive Director Sherri Henderson said. The building in Burlington was constructed in 1979.

The club acts as an after school care program for children in the community. Salvation Army buses pick up children from 11 elementary and middle schools in the surrounding area, Monday through Friday from 2:30 – 6 p.m. The club takes care of high school-age children as well, though it does not have a pickup program in place for them.

Gee has worked at the Boys and Girls Club for almost 15 years, long enough to have seen many of the children she works with grow up.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with children,” she said.

Gee said the best part of working at the club is getting to know the children, seeing them excel and “being a part of their lives as they grow up.”

“They’re so proud when they do good,” Gee said. “They want you to see that. Awards they win in school, they want you to be there for. Birthdays, they want you to come.”

Gee is a living paradigm of the club’s mission statement: “To inspire and enable all young people, especially those that need us the most, to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring citizens.”

She said the children truly need the club and its members.

When the children have functions at their schools, Gee said many glance around with looks on their faces asking, “Where’s my grandma?”

“We try to remedy that kind of feeling,” Gee said. “We try to be there for the parents. I know what it’s like to be a working parent. There’s so much you can miss.”

An ad in the paper asking for help drew Gee’s attention to the club.

“I was a bookkeeper,” she said. “I don’t like sitting behind a desk.”

Gee said she needs to be on her toes, always expecting something new the kids might cook up.

“At least days are never the same,” Gee said of working at the club.

The Boys and Girls Club only has three full-time staff members and relies mostly on outside volunteers.

Many Elon students volunteer at the club for work study programs or simply to help out.

“We couldn’t do the program without Elon,” Gee said.

But running a program on a volunteer basis can be unreliable. The number of volunteers that come in daily can vary. There is no concrete list of volunteers who are always available, and Gee said the club needs more assistance.

Henderson said there needs to be more advertisements around Alamance County to “let the people in Burlington, Gibsonville (and) Elon know what we’re doing.”
Gee agreed, saying non-profit organizations often have a difficult time securing funding.

BioBus proposal prompts discussion

by Marlena Chertock, November 3, 2009

As senior Dan Miller promised in his Facebook group “Late Night BIOBUS,” he has written a proposal and met with members of the administration to talk about possibly extending the time the BioBus would run into the night.

So far, more than 1,000 Elon students have joined the group, which aims to improve student life and safety through nightly BioBus transportation.

“Essentially, 1,000-plus students supported this idea without any means of advertising other than word-of-mouth,” Miller said. “That is nearly 20 percent of the student body of Elon.”

He said this is proof a late night BioBus “will be used to its full potential.”

“Last year, SafeRides had 12,139 requests for transport. Only 64 percent (7,844) of callers were actually transported,” Miller’s proposal said. “The remaining 35.38 percent chose not to pursue that destination, or decided to walk or drive themselves to where they needed to go. One must also take into consideration those who chose not to even call SafeRides because they knew the wait was too long.”

Miller said he believes the solution would be to run the BioBus from 10:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m., in addition to SafeRides and E-rides. He is suggesting a one-month trial period of the BioBuses at night.

Senior Kimberly Duggins, director of SafeRides, said she hopes instead of competing with a possible late-night BioBus, the programs could work together to help solve the issue of drunk driving on campus and to help keep the community safe.

She said she doesn’t see the implementation of a late night Biobus having any negative effects on SafeRides.

“We will still be here for students when they need a ride home, and that’s not going to change,” she said.

Miller said the goal of the Late Night BioBus is simply to support SafeRides and E-rides by providing more service to more students.

But there are some challenges that might come with running the BioBuses at night. Miller said potential issues could be bus cleanliness, drinking on the bus, transporting intoxicated underage students and funding.

He has tried to address these issues by coming up with potential solutions, such as having trashcans on the bus, forming a cleanup crew to work after 2:30 a.m. and prohibiting open containers on the bus.

He also suggested charging students $1 to ride the bus so a profit can be made.

But, these proposed suggestions have not yet been decided upon.

Last week, Miller had a meeting with key Elon figures such as Smith Jackson, vice president and dean of student life, Keith Dimont, director of automotive services, Justin Peterson, Student Government Association president, Duggins and others to discuss the proposal’s feasibility.

“We had one meeting, but a really good meeting,” Jackson said. “(Miller) made his presentation. No decisions were made. This was more of a listening, framing the question (meeting).”

Jackson said the administration would continue to look at the issue of student safety after 7 p.m., when the BioBuses stop running.

“We didn’t make any firm decisions,” Jackson said. “We might do some of (the proposal) or we might not. There are no clear timelines.”

Extensive planning, discussion and logistics need ironed out before they can try even a test-run of the system, he said.

“I think it’s a logical plan that the university should consider if one of its priorities is the safety of its students,” Duggins said. “However, I’m not sure that we’ll see the BioBus late at night just yet. There are numerous obstacles that must be overcome before a proposal like this takes place.”

She said Miller raised an important issue about the university needing to do more to provide transportation either through a BioBus or by further supporting SafeRides.

Jackson said he wasn’t aware SafeRides did not have enough manpower or efficiency to transport all of the students who call in.

“We have a (new) 15-passenger vehicle right now, with six wheels,” Jackson said.

He said volunteers would need to go through training to drive bigger vehicles if they will be used. Currently, SafeRide’s only performs a license check.

Jackson said he may confer with the SGA to turn over more student opinion on the issue.

“Peterson said he thinks SGA would want to help with this,” Jackson said. “I suggested we do a student referendum.”

Jackson said it’s up to students to decide how they want to spend their SGA money and fund such an effort.