Jan 182012
 
Authors: Courtney Riley

America has two histories, according to Bill Kavanagh, the director and producer of a documentary focusing on segregation in Yonkers, New York titled, “Brick by Brick: A Civil Rights Story.”

“We have one mainstream history that talks a lot about how we believe in and value equality and democracy,” he said in an email to the Collegian, “but also a people’s history, which shows another reality ­­– that African Americans and other people of color throughout our nation’s life have had to fight daily to achieve some measure of the ideals we espouse.”

He realized this as he worked on the documentary, which will be shown by the Campus Activities office in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. today from noon to 1:30 p.m.

“We thought it was a great educational film to show how segregation and fights for civil rights carry on now,” said Vani Narayana, the assistant director of Campus Activities and the assistant director of the Asian/Pacific American Cultural Center. “Recognizing it’s an ongoing battle is honoring MLK Jr. I think he would have wanted to see work continue (to fight for civil rights).”

The inspiration for Kavanagh’s film came from his experience growing up in Boston in the 1970’s and witnessing the struggle of integrating public schools. The documentary shows how a ghetto was formed by public policies by featuring three different families in Yonkers who are “in the middle of a confrontation about the politics and law of racial discrimination in housing and schools that challenges and changes their hometown,” according to the documentary’s website.

The film follows the U.S. v. Yonkers litigation, which challenged discrimination found within neighborhoods and education.

“I think of myself as a journalist and activist with a camera,” Kavanagh said. “I love film as a medium, and I think moving pictures are the way our society gets together around the town square to describe events and discuss the issues of our day.”

Although Kavanagh has been involved in creating several other films, including “Enemies of War,” a film about the murder of six Jesuit priests during the civil war in El Salvador in 1989, “Brick by Brick: A Civil Rights Story,” was his first opportunity to direct and produce a long-form documentary.

And it was an opportunity that ended up being “transformative” for him in many ways, including being able to understand the nature of societal change.

“It’s clear to me that change comes only when people are committed over time, sometimes generations, to making things work differently than they ‘always have,’” he said. “ My admiration for the people in Yonkers who committed to changing the outlook of their community and their country on race and on the benefits of integrated communities is boundless.”

In the United States today, a country with an African American president, he said, it’s easy for younger people to “imagine that the civil rights movement is best seen through a black and white projection of the past.”

“This couldn’t be further from the truth. The movement needs new champions.”

Narayana said the documentary makes viewers start thinking about how they grew up and what kinds of different people they were or were not exposed to.

“(The film) shows a specific example of people who created change in a situation, and it’s inspiring to see that,” she said.

“In the end, it’s always ordinary people who make the most difference in this world,” Kavanagh said. “It’s the people who do everyday things who make change possible, just by saying no to injustice in their own lives. They make huge movements possible.”

Kavanagh encourages students to fight social inequality when they experience or witness it on campus, within their circle of friends, in their dorms, in their classes or throughout the community.

“When you run up against something…that doesn’t feel just or right, you always have a choice to make: Do I say something, do something, or simply let it ride…? Make your own choice, and see how liberating it is to question things that once felt too big to change. Maybe it will change you a little, too.”

Entertainment Editor Courtney Riley can be reached at verve@collegian.com.

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