Mississippi teens to merge civil rights lessons, filmmaking

Published 7:14 am Sunday, June 13, 2021

Fannie Lou Hamer stepped onto the national platform in 1964 after giving powerful testimony about racial violence against Black men and women in the South at the Democratic National Convention.

Her stirring stories made her a sought-out speaker. Her humanitarian efforts helped provide housing, educational programs and food for many in the Mississippi Delta.

More than 40 years after her death in 1977, Hamer’s story remains relevant today and her connection to the Mississippi Delta community continues to grow. A summer filmmakers workshop will give 19 or more high school students a chance to learn about Mississippi Delta native Hamer’s legacy and to expand their knowledge in filmmaking.

Sunflower County Film Academy will host the two-week long, free workshop for Tallahatchie County high school students from June 21-July 2 at the Emmett Till Interpretive Center in Sumner, a news release for the workshop stated.

Professional filmmakers Pablo Correa, Kyle Jones and Robert “RJ” Fitzpatrick, who is from Sunflower County, will act as technical advisors to the students. Started in 2018 with students from Sunflower, Bolivar and Washington counties, the workshop gives students a peak into the region’s history and the digital arts field.

The workshop is part of a multimodal community project, Fannie Lou Hamer’s America, which includes a K-12 digital curriculum, an online resource library and an original documentary set to air in early 2022.

Fannie Lou Hamer became a source of inspiration in the 1960s and 1970s. The project aims to connect the community with resources about her significant but not well known role in the Civil Rights Movement.

“Aunt Fannie Lou really loved young people,” said Hamer’s niece, Monica Land. “She worked with young people. She had a high regard for them and she believed in education. This is just kind of continuing her mission.”

The workshop provides students with an opportunity to build confidence, improve their public speaking skills and explore a creative outlet for expression — as well as a way to connect to the community and other students in the Delta region, Land said. During the two weeks, students discuss racial equity, healing and modern-day injustices while learning professional filmmaking skills.

Keziah Allen, an alum from Gentry High School in Indianola who participated in the 2018 workshop, returns this summer as an intern. He said the workshop inspired his love of photography and filming.

“I want to one day start my own photography (studio),” said Allen, adding he’s excited to reconnect with the instructors while helping this year’s students.

Allen said he’s excited about students learning about Hamer, who, despite her background an an uneducated sharecropper, rose to a 15-year career as a human rights activist. Her soul-stirring songs and impassioned pleas for equal rights became a symbol for a grassroots movement that began in Mississippi.

CONTINUING FANNIE LOU HAMER’S MISSION

Keyshaun Meeks, 20, participated in the first workshop in 2018 and is returning as an intern hoping to help the next group of high school students find their passion.

“It opens your eyes to a lot,” Meeks said. “I want them to know that they learn a lot from the class, because I definitely did. And it also helps you make new friends, build a network and so you can actually kickstart a life.”

Keyshawn Brison, another alum from Gentry High School in In who is currently a student at Jackson State University, agreed with Meeks, saying he hopes students take in all the information they’ll be providing.

“This workshop can take you a long way in life,” Brison said.

At the end of the workshop, students will share their film during a public screening at the Tallahatchie County Courthouse, the news release stated.

Land said students interested in applying still have time to submit an online application at Fannie Lou Hamer’s America, https://www.fannielouhamersamerica.com/scfa-application.

She added that students in the 10th or 11th grade who are not selected this year will be considered for next year’s workshop.

Meeks said the workshop is an opportunity to students further their dreams and take a chance on something new to them.

“I want to let everybody know, never give up on your dream,” Meeks said. “When you’re working towards a goal, don’t have a plan B, because I feel like if you have a plan B, you won’t put all your effort into working for Plan A. … That one dream that you always wanted, follow that dream. And everything will pay off, just got to keep working.”