Community Conversations on Race -- with André Robert Lee
By Mary Lynn Ellis
On November 16, 2021, Friends Council’s Community Conversations on Race hosted filmmaker-activist and educator André Robert Lee whose film “I’m Not Racist, Am I?” launched this series of courageous conversations in 2017. Folks from Friends schools across the country joined via Zoom meeting to hear André share his beginnings as a filmmaker and the inspirations for his films. We watched the trailer for his documentary entitled, “The Road to Justice” about a group of teenagers’ educational, emotional, motivational trip to Mississippi, “Ground Zero of the Civil Rights Movement.” A question André asks in that film is “What is happening in American society that is keeping us from understanding the truth of our history?”
André’s films continue to provide incisive answers to that question. Most recently, André produced a documentary for CNN’s "This is Life" with Lisa Ling about how the effects of racist policies from the 1960s reverberate powerfully today. The film focused on the residents of Chicago’s Cabrini Green low-income housing neighborhood who are trying to retain their fierce sense of community in the face of gentrification, displacement, and other inequities.
In the followup discussion, questions arose about current voting rights erasures and finding ways to maintain hope in ongoing anti-racist work. A first-time participant noted with gratitude how “rich and deep and honest and meaningful” her small group discussions were and how much André had given her to think about; she promised to return. A regular attendee wrote, “Our world is full of seemingly insurmountable challenges, more so now than I can remember in my lifetime, and it can be easy to fall into a place of discouragement. Participating in these conversations in general is a wonderful opportunity to connect with others, both new and familiar. André's presentation in particular was so important for me because he said so many encouraging things that reminded me why we do the work we do. It served for me as a reminder that many of us are working on addressing racial injustice, that there is hope, and that we need to keep the conversations going.”
André is a Germantown Friends School grad (1989) and works at GFS as a film teacher.
Interested readers can view the "The Road to Justice" trailer segment, "Confronting the Living History of the Civil Rights Struggle" here.