I went to my brother and sister-in-law’s home in Virginia two weeks ago for Mother’s Day. Jenny B. Silver had wished for an extended Mother’s Day weekend with her children so we obliged. It was a sweet weekend of enjoying each other’s company and playing with Hoshi (my brother and sister-in-law’s dog). Saturday, we took Ms. Silver shopping where she picked the gifts of her choice. That night, we went to a Japanese hibachi steakhouse but on Mother’s Day my brother cooked a traditional soul food dinner, a highlight of the day.
The other highlight was Freedom Riders, the documentary by renowned filmmaker Stanley Nelson. The new film is based on the journey of young activists who, in the spring of 1961 (50 years ago this month), decided to challenge Jim Crow laws of the south. I’d brought the DVD to watch on the train ride to Virginia but didn’t get that chance so I asked my family if we could watch it together. My mother agreed reluctantly. It was sometimes difficult, she said, to re-live this particular past.
I think you’ll agree, if you watch the film tonight on PBS, that Freedom Riders is an instant classic. Eager to capture the personal feelings of someone familiar who had lived during this time, I got my mother on video. Click the image below to hear from the woman who birthed and raised me. She was 13 when the Freedom Riders came to the state where she was born.
click images above to WATCH VIDEO
Know Stanley Nelson and Firelight Media
I’ve known about Freedom Riders for about nine months now. Last summer AKILA WORKSONGS (AW) was hired to do a Put On BLAST!® email marketing campaign (POB!). While I missed the screenings then, I acquired a copy of the DVD in April from a friend working on the film’s community outreach. And on May 4, Oprah dedicated a show to the historic journey and it included Stanley. It was exciting to watch Mr. Nelson being warmly appreciated by one of the most powerful media titans in the world. Yet I was floored to find out later that POB! was a part of Oprah learning about the film in the first place!
My first introduction to the master filmmaker was via Ras Baraka in 2001. At the time I didn’t know who was behind a documentary that Ras kept talking about. Once I watched Marcus Garvey: Look for Me in the Whirlwind, however, I understood what all the raving was about.
In 2003, AW managed and publicized the National Black Writers Conference where Dr. Brenda Greene featured Mr. Nelson and his latest project, The Murder of Emmett Till. Another classic. In 2006, AW began working with Byron Hurt, one of Nelson’s mentees. Nelson executive produced Hurt’s Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, the award-winning film documentary that also aired on PBS. Over the years, I’d come to watch and/or promote other Nelson projects: Running: The Campaign for City Council (2002), Sweet Honey in the Rock: Raise Your Voice (2005), Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple (2006), and Wounded Knee (2008).
I do not understand how one becomes as prolific and uniquely revealing as Stanley Nelson. He makes hard working people look like slackers. However it happens, I’m thanking God for Firelight Media. The company’s work is necessary in our journey for self-knowledge as a community. The writer Joan Morgan once said, “I don’t know how you can call yourself a Black writer if you haven’t studied James Baldwin.” By extension, I don’t know if you one can claim they know the Black experience if they haven’t seen a Stanley Nelson film.
Freedom Riders airs on PBS tonight but you can also own a copy, get background educational information, join the outreach campaign, and/or make a donation to keep this kind of documentary filmmaking alive.Take the next step now.