Documentary premieres at Packard
The directors of the film have established a scholarship fund for minorities.
By AMANDA GARRETT
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Hundreds of Mahoning Valley residents gathered at W.D. Packard Music Hall Thursday evening for the premiere of a new film about racism in Warren during the 1950s and 1960s.
"Invisible Struggles: Stories of Northern Segregation" was made by Kent State University Trumbull Campus students who were taking a class on racism in the 1950s and 1960s.
Students interviewed black residents from the Warren area who were civil rights activists or who witnessed or experienced racial segregation.
Justice Studies professor Molly Merryman and History professor Kenneth Bindas decided that a documentary would give their students a fresh perspective on something many of them were not aware of.
"Rather than teach the class the traditional way, we decided that we would allow our students to go out and do research," Merryman said at a town hall forum on racism that followed the premiere of the film. "A documentary seemed the best way to do that."
Frederick Harris, who in the late 1990s became the first black safety-service director for Warren, said the story the students uncovered in "Invisible Struggles" needed to be told.
"Many young people today don't know about this story," said Harris, who appears in the documentary. "When they learn about our experiences they find them fascinating."
Many of the documentary's participants said the racism they experienced in Warren was more subtle than the racism in the South, but just as painful.
"I personally would rather have someone call me a bunch of dirty names and at least acknowledge me as a person than act as if I wasn't there," Warren resident and retired educator Cliff Johnson said during the film.
Harris, Johnson and several others recounted experiences such as being expected to sit at the back of the bus or use "colored-only" restrooms.
John Engstrom and Milana Idle of Champion, who are white, grew up in Warren. They attended the premiere because they remembered the struggles of their black friends and neighbors during the 1960s.
"I remember how painful it was for some of my friends to not be able to use the same restroom as me," Idle said. "I think if there wasn't a film like this, a lot of these experiences might be forgotten."
Following the premiere of the film, Journalism professor Gene Shelton moderated a forum on racism, which included a question-and-answer session with the filmmakers and a panel discussion.
Participants on the panel included Warren Mayor Michael J. O'Brien and Robert Faulkner Sr., longtime civil rights activist and Warren Board of Education member, and Harris.
Also, the filmmakers announced the establishment of a scholarship fund named after the documentary, which will help minority students and students enrolled in diversity programs at Kent State Trumbull.
The first hour of the forum was taped for broadcast by PBS 45 & amp; 49 and will air with "Invisible Struggles" at 9 p.m. Monday, 12:30 a.m. Tuesday and 2 p.m. Feb. 11.