Civil Rights Struggle Brought to Life Through Film by Webster Teens
After a tour of the south, three students at Webster Groves High School created an award-winning film called "Colorblind" that is now helping to promote discussion about race relations back home.
Seeing firsthand the places they’d read about in history class made the civil rights struggle come alive for three Webster Groves students.
Now Hannah Davidson, Jamie Garland and Katie Ribant are helping spread the message to others back home.
The three teens, now seniors at Webster Groves High School, made up the inaugural class of a new experiential learning program that sent them on a week-long tour of important Southern landmarks in the civil rights movement.
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The interviews, video and recordings they gathered during their trip to cities such as Memphis, Montgomery, Birmingham and Selma resulted in an award-winning documentary that is still touching peoples’ lives almost two years later.
“I consider these young women part of the civil rights movement today,” said their teacher, Julie Burchett, who has mentored them along the way. “They are helping spread the word of tolerance and diversity.”
The documentary, “Colorblind,” is part history lesson and part personal reflection. The teens used historical photos from famous events such as the Montgomery bus boycott and wove in interviews with civil rights activists as well as their own personal reflections from the trip. The result is a 30-minute film that was the only student-produced film to be featured at the Jubilee Film Festival in Selma, AL, last year.
Earlier this spring, the students were awarded the Princeton Prize in Race Relations. The $1,000 prize is given by Princeton University to recognize high school students who have had a positive effect on race relations in their schools or communities.
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The girls have shared the film with numerous student groups, churches and community groups in the St. Louis area and are continuing to field requests to present the film and talk about their experiences.
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All this while taking final exams and getting ready to graduate. Davidson, 18, is headed off to the University of Kansas to study mechanical engineering; Ribant, 17, will attend the College of Charleston to study arts management; and Garland, 18, plans to study education, creative writing and film at Truman University.
The three started out thinking they would make a short film to show their classmates back home. But thanks to a driving rainstorm that trapped them inside the Voting Rights Museum and Institute in Selma with other visitors, they happened to meet Scott Muhammad and Erica Henry, who founded the Jubilee Film Festival. After chatting about their project, they urged the students to submit their film.
The three spent many hours on the film, after school and on weekends, before presenting it in March 2011 at the film festival in Selma, where they also spoke about their experiences before a crowd of activisits and civil rights leaders.
“We’d already gotten the A,” Ribant said. “But we wanted it to be a good finished project for other people."
The group started with a question: “What would the world be like if it was colorblind?”
But as they traveled, they began to realize being colorblind should not be the goal. Seeing color and learning from each other’s journey is the way to help make the world a better place.
“By the end, we decided we need color,” Garland said.
“It’s not enough to treat everyone equal,” Ribant added. “You need to appreciate them for their differences.”
Their film defines seven key values or traits, such as perseverance, faith and courage, that the teens felt were central to the movement. The students then reflected on what those words meant to them today.
For instance, reflecting on the courage of those who stood up to violence during the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, the students wrote: “These people did not lack fear, they just knew something else was more important. At some point in every person’s life, they will have a defining decision to make – the choice to stand up or to back down. We only hope to be brave enough to stand up.”
For Burchett, seeing her students learn and grow and share their findings with others was one of the highlights of her teaching career.
“This was learning that was taking place in the real world that can’t happen in the classroom,” Burchett said. “I was really so proud of them.”
Congratulations to Hannah Davidson, Jamie Garland and Katie Ribant and thank you to our readers; your support of this story will put the three teens on the Huffington Post's "Greatest Person of the Day" page today.
Editor's note: Patch was not able to obtain a copy of the documentary, nor is it on YouTube. Should the film become available at a later date, we will notify our readers and provide a link.