YWCA celebrates King, social justice with film screening

2019-01-19 | The Daily News of Newburyport

Jan. 19--NEWBURYPORT -- The YWCA Racial Justice Committee recognized Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Thursday by focusing on the plight of American Indians.

The event, held in City Hall Auditorium, included a screening of "Dawnland," a documentary film about how Native American children were systematically forced out of their parents' homes and placed with white families throughout most of the 20th century. The focuses on members of the Wabanaki tribe in Maine, the trauma they have sustained, and their journey toward healing with support from the state's new Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Ellie Davis, director of programs and community relations for the YWCA Greater Newburyport, said she was glad to show a film on a somewhat less-publicized social justice issue.

"Our goal has been to engage as many students as we can in conversations about social justice. 'Dawnland' tells a really compelling story of people that are geographically close to us, and their story is not often told," said Davis. "I think that a story about children being taken away from their parents resonates with people -- you have to imagine what it would be like to have that happen to you."

Davis said she felt the film screening was an appropriate way to celebrate the spirit of Dr. King -- a man who is primarily remembered for his civil rights efforts for African-Americans, but whose work extended into other categories of social justice.

"When we look at the work of Martin Luther King Jr., it wasn't limited to people who are black," she said. "He worked on a lot of poverty and social justice-related issues. His conversations were much more broad."

The event Thursday night also included a question-and-answer session with Mishy Lesser, learning director for the Upstanding Project, which created "Dawnland."

Prior to the screening, Davis presented the Nancy E. Peace Action Against Prejudice Award to Sue McKittrick, a board member for Pennies for Poverty. The award was established in 1998 by the YWCA Greater Newburyport to recognize people who, through their professional or volunteer lives, have made valuable contributions toward eliminating racism, fighting prejudice and celebrating diversity.

"Sue is a behind-the-scenes person, she's a supporter of everything that involves social justice work," said Davis. "We're working hard as a community to get things done, and she's such an integral part of everything we do."

Davis said she hopes the event will spark conversation and action in the community on Native American-related social justice issues, and that she hopes to organize future events centered on the subject within Newburyport schools.

"We're thinking now about how we can move this forward and we're contacting schools to discuss ways they can bring the topic into the schools in the spring so we can continue the conversation," she said. "We're kind of in a bubble here, but the students are going to end up living in a very global world. If they don't have that experience and that exposure, it puts them at a disadvantage."

For more on the Upstander Project or "Dawnland," visit https://upstanderproject.org/dawnland/

Staff writer Jack Shea covers Newbury­port City Hall. He can be reached via email at jshea@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3154. Follow him on Twitter @iamjackshea.