Packed audience stays to end of premiere despite technical woes

Jamia Collins/ Courtbouillon

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson and DU alum Stacey Holman, Class of 1993 and a former Miss Dillard, discuss Nelson’s documentary, “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges & Universities” at Dillard University on Nov. 14.  Holman was a producer on the project.

NEW ORLEANS (Nov. 20, 2017) – Technical problems didn’t dissuade the crowd for the HBCU premiere of Stanley Nelson’s documentary, “Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges & Universities” at Dillard University on Nov. 14 in Georges Auditorium.

DU alum Stacey Holman, Class of 1993 and a former Miss Dillard, was a producer on the project.

The documentary “froze” at least five times, but the packed audience stayed to get to the end of the story about how education for African Americans evolved and set the black middle class on its way.

The documentary will premiere nationwide Feb. 19, 2018, on PBS after showings at nine other school on the  #HBCURising campus tour.

The showing at Dillard was part of its “Brain Food” lecture series; it began with a reception and ended with a question-and-answer period with Nelson, a multiple Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and recipient of a MacArthur “genius” grant.

Nelson, the son of two HBCU graduates, said his life and his children’s lives would have been drastically different had it not been for historically black colleges and universities.

Of HBCUs, Nelson said, “They were so instrumental in forming our society and who we are. I just felt that film wasn't going to be made if I didn’t try to make it.”

The documentary starts with the history of slaves secretly learning to read and write and recounts how the first schoolhouses were burned and attacked, with at least one white teacher slain for teaching blacks. As black colleges evolved, they became the place where students could strive not only for a better life through education, but where they discuss ideas and enjoy middle-class activities without fear of repercussions.

HBCUs became a haven from prejudice and a percolator for civil rights efforts, including the Fisk University strike and the protests at Southern University in the early 1970s that resulted in the fatal shooting of two students by authorities.

It also includes the current threat of closure for some schools today, discussing Morris Brown College in Atlanta, which lost its accreditation in 2003, and others.

Nelson said making the documentary emphasized for him how much African Americans wanted and pushed to get an education, and then pushed to control that education.

He said it also shows “the role of students in doing that, sometimes with the administration and sometimes against the administration. But young people, students, pushing for change inside the institution and outside the institution – that was something that became somewhat of a through-line in the film.”

Holman said when Nelson told her about the project, “I knew I had to be a part of it as it’s our story. It was the opportunity to tell our story through our lens.”

Holman added, “It's important because, I believe, of where HBCUs our today and the threat they are in. But the truth is they have always been endangered since the moment that they started. But it’s even more crucial now.”

Nelson has produced some 21 films, most of them examining black history and experience, and won three prime-time Emmy Awards. He was the recipient of the 2013 National Humanities Medal from President Obama.

The next stop on the #HBCURising campus tour was Clark Atlanta Nov. 15.

Coming up will be showings at Morgan State on Dec. 1; Shaw University, Jan. 8; North Carolina Central, Jan. 11; Texas Southern, Jan. 12; Howard University, Jan. 18; South Carolina State, Jan. 22; Tougaloo College, Jan. 25; and Florida A&M, Jan. 26.