Showing Up for Racial Justice movie screening was a success

MIDDLEBURY — The residents of Addison County showed where their hearts and minds lay as over 500 people showed up on March 1 to the one day screening of James Baldwin’s, “I Am Not Your Negro.” At each of the four showings, people were turned away as the theater reached capacity. Sponsored by Middlebury-Showing Up for Racial Justice, Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society and Otter Creek Yoga, the film was offered to the area at a suggested donation, raising over $3,000 to be divided up between Black Lives Matter-Vermont and Middlebury-Showing Up for Racial Justice.
No one expected such a turnout! As the volunteers staffing the event were getting ready for the first screening at 1 p.m., there was a casual, jubilant attitude with the general feeling being that the most popular screening would be at 7 p.m. But around 12:20 p.m., the crowd began to steadily stream in and suddenly a half-hour later the theater had reached its capacity of 110 audience members. A van load of 15 students from Red Cedar School, who have been studying African American history all year, barely made it into the theater. The teacher was ecstatic, saying “The film couldn’t have come at a better time for us and what we are engaging in.” That sentiment was echoed throughout the day.
Ben Wells, the owner of the Middlebury Marquis Theater, was thrilled and shocked to see the turnout. “We are encouraged by the terrific support of the community for this event, and are thrilled to be partnering with various community groups. We hope to build on this success and will work to continue to bring interesting and thought-provoking films to Middlebury.”
The Marquis Theater was a generous host of the day, offering their theater space free of cost, allowing for all the ticket proceeds to be donated directly to the two local social justice groups, BLM-VT and Middlebury Showing Up for Racial Justice.
It was a truly awe-inspiring day watching as so many people came out to see this film, written by James Baldwin. In 1979, Mr. Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his new endeavor: the writing of his final book, “Remember This House,” recounting the lives and successive assassinations of his friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Baldwin was not able to complete the book before his death, and the unfinished manuscript was entrusted to director Raoul Peck.
Framing the unfinished work as a radical narration, done by Samuel L. Jackson, about race in America, Peck matches Baldwin’s lyrical rhetoric with rich archival footage of the Civil Rights and Black Power movements, and connects these historical struggles for justice and equality to the present-day movements that have taken shape in response to the killings of young African-American men including Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Mike Brown and Amir Brooks. Exploring what it means to be Black in America today, Peck reflects on the legacy of racial violence that still permeates the country.
As a marker to the fifth anniversary of the murder of Trayvon Martin and other recent landmark occurrences of Ferguson, Mo. and Eric Gardner, moving back and forth in time to the Civil Right’s Movement, Jim Crow and slavery, this film has personal messages for each generation now, which is a powerful message in and of itself. As one quote from the film says, “The history of America is the history of the Negro in America.”
Editor’s note: This story was provided by Kathy Comstock of Middlebury’s Stand Up for Racial Justice chapter.

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