By Keena Day
NASHVILLE, TN — Fisk Alumni and other local dignitaries attended an exclusive screening of the upcoming documentary Tell Them We Are Rising as a fundraiser for Fisk University.
The film was featured at the Belcourt Theater and included a Q&A session with the award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson and President of the UNCF Dr. Michael L. Lomax and was moderated by News Channel 5 anchor Vicki Yates.
The documentary, which focuses on the history and legacy of HBCUs, will air nationally in February as part of the Independent Lens programming on PBS. The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution was Nelson’s latest documentary and broke PBS records for viewership and trended worldwide on Twitter.
Inspired mostly by his parents who attended HBCUs, Nelson also discussed his awe of the historical footage housed in archives at various HBCUs.
“As a filmmaker, I have to admit, what else inspired me were just the visuals, the beautiful pictures. If you’re an institution, you have these pictures for yearbooks, but nobody is using them, and filmmakers don’t think to go to places like Fisk,” he said.“Fisk was especially helpful. Fisk had the deepest archives. Better organized archives,” Nelson said.
This film was partially funded by PBS and is the second in a three part black history series for PBS, the first being the Black Panther Film. The third is projected to be a 4 hour series on the slave trade and the economics of slavery as a worldwide business.
Nelson expressed his optimism about the success of this upcoming film.
“We feel this film can do more. It has a built in audience of HBCU alumni and students and we’re really counting on alumni to get the word out,” Nelson said at the exclusive screening event.
In anticipation of the February national release, Nelson plans to show the film in private screening across the country, including 5 major cities. The film will also be shown at 10 different schools, possibly including Fisk, in the fall. Independent Lens will focus on getting the film to high school students. Anyone interested can send a text to 555888 with the message “HBCURising” to receive updates and information on screenings. The producers are also working on a digital yearbook of HBCU graduates where alumni can add their college memories to be held at a major institution. Digital files can be uploaded at www.HBCUrising.com/yearbook. HBCUs and alumni can also reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a screening at the colleges..
“We want to screen the film wherever we can. We also want people to hold screening parties on the day of the release,” Nelson said.
Attendees overwhelmingly praised the film for its depiction of history and the students’ aggressive actions towards resistance of unfair laws that many HBCU alumni themselves are unaware of.
“It was a wonderful presentation of our history and some of the struggles we’ve encountered, and it also depicted hope we can have in our institutions,” said Kevin Rome, the incoming president of Fisk University.
Aside from the background of the film, the panel discussed the future of the 101 Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the hope to overcome struggles the schools face going forward by calling on alumni to do its due diligence.
“When other institutions get a cold, we get pneumonia. We are in a more precarious position both as private institutions, the challenge is having the resources to remain open, and in the case of public institutions, I think the threat is not lose their identity. This is not unknown to Nashville with respect to the challenges faced by Fisk and Tennessee State. Those issues have some smaller institutions on the ropes,” Dr. Michael L. Lomax mentioned during the Q&A session. “But we also have thriving institutions, and I think we see the possibility for exemplary outstanding institutions.”
“My great hope is that this wonderful film made by this inspiring film maker is going to be a call to action. We at the UNCF say we need an army of advocates. We’re here to enlist everybody this evening to begin to pull that army together. We cannot afford to lose these institutions. And if we do, shame on us.”
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