When I was a student at NYU Film School in 1981, I got a summer internship teaching a student film workshop at the Ozanam Cultural Center in the hill district of Pittsburgh. “The Hill” was a rough area, downtrodden, poverty-ravaged and almost entirely segregated. Each day as I walked up the hill from the bus stop, I walked alongside shoeless children in ill-fitting clothes and wondered, is this the city I call my hometown ? How could I not have seen these sights before as a high school student in a comfortable Jewish enclave called Squirrel Hill. On day one I trudged up the hill with two dozen state of the art 16mm cameras provided by the federal government only to arrive to the sweltering classroom with broken windows and no air-conditioning and a group of 14 children ranging in age from 7-17. How was this going to work ? My first ice-breaker ended when the prompt : “Share your favorite movie and tell us why you love it” only conjured titles of television sitcoms, some not even appropriate for the younger children. Oh, I see, none of them had ever been to a movie theatre. In the course of that summer, I worked hard to know these students and understand their stories and hopes and dreams. It was hard to teach and lead such a wide age range and I ended up focusing on sharing and caring activities, making our group into a motley summer family for fun and games. At the end of the summer we ventured to a movie theatre where they saw their first movie, and later a trip to a swimming pool. Several of the children did not have bathing suits and that became my work, too. What I learned that summer is that everything grows from relationship and if you don’t have that you don’t have anything. And who we are grows from the stories we live, and how we understand and tell them. And love and trust grow from who we share those stories with and how they care and empathize and connect. What we think we understand about a person is always deeply changed by knowing them. And how we live in the world has only ever been changed for the better by the compassion that grows from love.
For over 30 years, I have worked in film, design, museum & arts education and advocacy , diving deeply into the exploration of memory, cruelty, compassion and courage . I have proudly worked with visionary leaders and storytellers and change agents. I am profoundly grateful to be a part of the NewGround Family and the extraordinary 2107-2018 cohort. It is a synthesis of so much that I aspire to and hold dear.