Patrice O’Neill, executive producer and Working Group co-founder, on “Light in the Darkness,” the Working Group’s latest project in the “Not In Our Town” series promoting and supporting anti-hate efforts in communities nationwide. The film premieres this weekend on Long Island, over 100 screenings are planned across the country, and many PBS stations will air it September 21.
RUSH TRANSCRIPT: Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness Executive Producer and Working Group co-founder Patrice O’Neill[REV. DR. C. WELTON GADDY, HOST]: Welcome back to State of Belief Radio, everyone, I’m Welton Gaddy.
On September 21st, many PBS television stations will premiere “Light In The Darkness,” an inspiring film about communities whose members are committing to stopping hatred altogether, and together.
It’s the latest in the “Not In Our Town” series of documentaries, a project of the nonprofit organization “The Working Group,” and I’m very pleased that it brings Executive Producer Patrice O’Neill to State of Belief Radio. Patrice, welcome![PATRICE O’NEIL, GUEST]: Thank you for inviting me to the program. [WG]: And I should say upfront so that our listeners know, our local chapters of Interfaith Alliances across the country, many of them are working in conjunction to help get this inspiring documentary the widest possible exposure. Now, Patrice, I know we could easily spend an hour talking about this work, but let me ask you to just briefly describe the origins of The Working Group, the Not in Our Town series, and then this current film, Light in the Darkness. [PO]: Thank you. Not in Our Town began in 1995 with a documentary we produced about people in Billings, Montana who resisted hate violence and attacks against their neighbors… And I’m just going to spend a minute telling you about the original story, because it has informed our work over the past sixteen years. In Billings, there were a series of attacks. There was… Graves in the Jewish cemetery were overturned; and then skinheads started showing up at an African-American church and intimidating the congregation. Then members of other congregations started sending their members to that church to make everyone feel secure. The skinheads went away.
Then there was a Native American woman who had her house painted with racist graffiti and swastikas; and members of the painters’ union – thirty members of the painters’ union – came over to paint the house, and a hundred neighbors showed up to watch. So, the community was learning that solidarity and resistance to hate was working.
Then, during Hanukah season, a six-year-old boy had placed a menorah in his window for Hanukah, and a brick was thrown through the window. The people in the community said, “This is becoming dangerous, we have to do something.” The police chief was encouraging the community to take action because, he said, “This is not the law enforcement issue, this is a community issue.” And people started printing paper menorahs and putting them in their windows. That holiday season, ten thousand people put menorahs in their windows.
And when we aired that program on PBS in 1995, we thought we’d have ten town hall meetings around the country to see if people would talk about what was happening in their town.
There were over a hundred!
And since that time, many communities have taken on this whole identity of Not in our Town, this whole resistance to hate; they’ve made it their own and they have then built on the model.
And if I could just for a moment give you an example of how we were able to continue covering Not in our Town: the following year we got a call from Bloomington, Illinois, and people there asked us for “Not in our Town: buttons. And we said, “Well, we’re really a film company and we did that last year, we’re doing another series now…” And they said, “Oh, you don’t understand, there are African-American churches that are being burned in the south, and we don’t want this to happen in our town. We’re having a march from the courthouse in our town to one of the African-American churches. We need our buttons. This is a ‘Not in our Town’ march.” and we said “OK, we’ll send you the buttons,” and then we sent our cameras there as well.
We went and covered this, and for the past sixteen years we have been trying to cover stories of community response to intolerance. It’s incredibly powerful.[WG]: I can’t commend you enough for the philosophy behind this vision and what you’ve done with it. In keeping with the community level focus of your work, over a hundred screenings of “Light in The Darkness” have already been organized, as I said, The Interfaith Alliance is helping with that. I assume that resources are available for listeners to this show who may be interested in becoming involved, and I’d like you to tell them how to find out about participating. [PO]: We’d be so happy to have this engagement with the listeners and the community. If you go to NIOT.org, it’s the letters from “Not in our Town,” NIOT.org, you will find on that website a map where you can sign up for screenings. There’s a way you can sign up for screening and we’ll send you a screener. There are screening kits; there are discussion guides; there are examples of the kinds of actions that other people are taking in their town; there’s a trailer for the film so you can see what it’s like and learn more about the story… So there are many, many resources on the site, and you can immediately connect to us through NIOT.org. [WG]: Patrice, do you know about the future of Not in our Town and Working Group projects? What are you looking at next? [PO]: One of the stories is about Not in our School, Not in our Campus stories that have taken place across the country, and Not in our School is really, again, something that emerged from the community. It was built by people at the grass roots who said, “How can we engage our young people in these discussions about resisting intolerance?” And our next story begins when a high school counselor from Southern California goes to Stanford, and she sees the school board there talking about Not in our School; and she learns about it, she goes on to NIOT.org, she says, “I could do this in my school.” She takes it back and she engages five school districts, twenty-one schools in district-wide discussions about how to resist hate and bullying.
We want to tell some of their stories, and I think one of the most powerful things about what was done in the Antelope Valley in Lancaster, where this school counselor was from, Lori Massari, is that they engaged their young people in the solutions. That is such an important element of both “Not in our Town” and “Not in our School” is that, you know, get people involved, get young people involved in finding solutions. And what they wanted to do is think about what could be done to prevent suicides from young people who had been bullied. And so they created this program to try to do that, and try to, sort of, get at what would make people feel hopeless, and what they could do with their classmates to bolster them and make them feel stronger. It’s a very powerful story of young people engaging with the support of their teachers and their school district and their community.[WG]: I think everybody recognizes, and you know, this work is unusual in that, although there is a significant media component, the focus is on engaging individuals and entire communities in very concrete actions. Is that a safe description of your movement in this film industry? [PO]: I think that there’s that strong dynamic between media presenting stories, presenting that narrative, that can move us, and capture our hearts, and engage us with knowledge we can have of each other that we didn’t have before, and then hopefully provide some examples of how we can take action. That’s what our films are designed to do – is to provide those examples and that sort of emotional connection, in that knowledge, that understanding of what happened, who has been harmed, what’s being done… And then using those stories to help people engage at the community level- because what we’ve seen, our experience has been, is that there are incredible solutions at the local level. And so what we want to do is help spark that inquiry, that activity at the local level, and then take it and cover it so it reaches out to a national audience. That’s what we are trying to do with this next film from Patchogue, New York. [WG]: Patrice, I have to ask you two quick questions though we’re out of time. One is “Why?” Why are you doing this? What made you start doing this? [PO]: I think what happened to us, for all of us at the Working Group and everyone who has worked on this film, after the Billings story was aired and when we started hearing from people around the country who were ready to stand up, stand with their neighbors, diverse groups of people from every walk of life… When we started hearing that and hearing from them, it just encouraged us and encouraged us, and I feel like every day the rewards are tremendous because I get to meet some of the most amazing people in our country. People who, despite all the things that challenge us from speaking up, decided to push through and do something. That’s what keeps us going and that’s why I’m so happy to do this work. [WG]: Patrice, I know what you’ve done through this to other people. What has it done to you? [PO]: It’s made me a very happy, happy person. Because even though hearing the stories of hate crimes is a deep challenge and it’s very painful, I get to see that other side of the story, and I feel like I’m just so lucky to be engaged with amazing people and to share their stories. [WG] Patrice O’Neill is executive producer of Light in the Darkness, a new film premiering September 21st on many PBS stations. Patrice, thank you so much for joining us on State of Belief Radio. [PO]: Thank you for your questions and we can’t wait to hear from your audience and the interfaith community across the country.
State of Belief is based on the proposition that religion has a positive and healing role to play in the life of the nation. The show explains and explores that role by illustrating the vast diversity of beliefs in America – the most religiously diverse country in the world – while exposing and critiquing both the political manipulation of religion for partisan purposes and the religious manipulation of government for sectarian purposes.
Each week, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy offers listeners critical analysis of the news of religion and politics, and seeks to provide listeners with an understanding and appreciation of religious liberty. Rev. Gaddy tackles politics with the firm belief that the best way to secure freedom for religion in America is to secure freedom from religion. State of Belief illustrates how the Religious Right is wrong – wrong for America and bad for religion.
Through interviews with celebrities and newsmakers and field reports from around the country, State of Belief explores the intersection of religion with politics, culture, media, and activism, and promotes diverse religious voices in a religiously pluralistic world.
The host of State of Belief, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, leads the national nonpartisan grassroots and educational organizations, The Interfaith Alliance and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation and serves as the Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana. Welton is one of 20 international religious leaders on the Council of 100 Leaders, a group created by the World Economic Forum to improve dialogue and understanding between the Western and Islamic worlds.
While ministering to churches with a message of inclusion, Welton emerged as a leader among progressive and moderate Baptists. Among his many leadership roles, he is the immediate past President of the Alliance of Baptists and is a twenty-year member of the Commission of Christian Ethics of the Baptist World Alliance. His past leadership roles include serving as a member of the General Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, President of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and Chair of the Pastoral Leadership Commission of the Baptist World Alliance.
Prior to the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention, Welton served in many leadership roles in the SBC including membership on the convention’s Executive Committee from 1980-1984 and Director of Christian Citizenship Development of the Christian Life Commission from 1973-1977.
Welton received his undergraduate degree from Union University in Tennessee and his doctoral degree and divinity training from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.