The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. — Lao Tzu
Guest author: Sarah Kerley-Weeks
I am not a social justice hero but I wish that I were. Before I moved to South Jordan, Utah, I participated in and sometimes led social justice activities within my community. Since moving, I have struggled to find my niche. The school that my children attend is no longer a diverse, high poverty school. My progressive university friends are no longer a cup of coffee away. I wanted to be the person who made a difference in the world but I didn’t know what to do in this new place. There are so many needs in the world: poverty, education, and clean water. The United Nations has even developed a list of 17 Sustainable Development Goals that highlight these and other needs of the world. In my new community, the goal that speaks the loudest to me is goal number 10 which highlights reduced inequality. This is important because my children no longer see significant racial or economic diversity either in our neighborhood or at their school. I am worried that they will stop caring about those that they do not see on a regular basis.
A few months after moving, the country shifted. Instead of seeing the occasional call for solidarity from my FB friends in San Francisco and across the country, suddenly…overnight even…I started hearing screams of help in almost every post.
My gay friends, immigrant friends, and friends of color were pleading with me and other caucasian friends to help and support them.
I watched my computer screen and wondered what I could possibly do here in my conservative white neighborhood. Certainly I could donate money to worthy organizations (in my case, the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center) but what action could I take to make a difference?
An answer came to me after reading several pieces by black authors. One of the things marginalized communities need is for white people to talk to other white people. Talking to black, brown, gay, and immigrant people is wonderful for my own education but what these communities need is for me to talk with my own neighbors about the issues. Of course, there was a problem; that problem is that I am a chicken. I am afraid to have the tough conversations with my new friends and neighbors. What I needed was a hook. I needed a way to get the conversation started. I found my hook in Social Justice Movie Night.
We hosted our first Movie Night a few weeks ago. We watched 42, the Jackie Robinson story. Although I wanted to invite the neighbors, it didn’t happen. It ended up being me, my husband, my 11-year-old son, and my 7-year-old daughter. This movie is rated PG-13 and I had some reservations about showing it to my girl without previewing it. The truth is, I don’t have time to preview every movie and so I relied on reviews to make my decision. (As an aside, I realize that my white privilege allows me to put off difficult discussions about race as long as I would like. This isn’t a luxury that is afforded to black, brown, and immigrant families.) It wasn’t an easy movie for her to watch because, even though there isn’t explicit violence, she has not previously seen the kind of racism that was depicted in the movie. We had some high quality discussion as the movie took place and the questions posed by both children indicated that they learned a lot about American history by viewing the movie.
In the course of the next week, I had the opportunity to mention to some neighbors that I had watched 42. I talked with them about some of the issues that came up as we watched the film. Movie Night was the hook that I needed to begin the difficult discussion of race. The conversations were easy and I didn’t use my hook to push an agenda. All I did was talk about the movie. The experience that my family had watching the movie together allowed an opening when the neighbors asked. “What’s new?”
Social Justice Movie Night allows me to help educate my family in a way that is fun and easy.
It ties in to my overall goal of “saving the world” in that I can highlight different world issues with different films. Right now, I am concentrating on the goal of reducing inequality but, of course, there are films that cover a wide range of social justice topics. We have already watched Spare Parts (the robotics version of the popular Stand and Deliver) and The Watsons go to Birmingham (a 1960’s Black family visits relatives in the South). Selma is in our near future and I have composed a list of other movies for upcoming movie nights. They range in appropriateness from the “obviously acceptable” Zootopia to the “no way are my kids ready for it yet” Schindler’s List.
I am no social justice hero, but I want to be. As I move on my journey from where I am now to (mom)activist, I need to do more than read articles. If you are a beginner like me and need a hook to get started, Social Justice Movie Night might be a good fit for your toolbox. My next step is to invite the neighbors. I will just call it “Movie Night” when I invite them. We will eat popcorn, have a good time, and learn about the world around us. It is a first step on my journey of a thousand miles.
Sharing this story is a simple way to promote social good.
Reach out if you have a story for Social Good Families.