Felicia Middlebrooks Presents Rwandan Documentary

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WBBM’s Felicia Middlebrooks speaks at Freedom Hall Saturday. (Photo: Wendy Heise)

Park Forest, IL—(ENEWSPF)— Park Forest’s Commission on Human Relations sponsored a screening and discussion of the film Somebody’s Child: The Redemption of Rwanda Saturday. Felicia Middlebrooks, co-anchor for the Morning Drive Program on WBBM Newsradio 780, was the Keynote Speaker. Middlebrooks has been on the air with WBBM for 21 years.

Alfreda Keller, Chair of the Commission on Human Relations, dedicated the program to Barbara Moore, retired Community Relations Director for Park Forest, and the memory of Connie Woolfolk, one of five women murdered in the Lane Bryant shootings two weeks ago, also a former village employee. Keller paused for a moment of silence for Woolfolk and her family.

The next item on the agenda featured song by New Faith Baptist Church Singers, “Life Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the Black National Anthem.

The performance can be heard here: {mgmediabot2}path=audio/lift-every-voice-new-faith-021608.mp3|popup=Click here to play|width=300|height=300{/mgmediabot2}.

Commissioner Michael Elliott introduced Mayor John Ostenburg. In his remarks, Ostenburg recognized teachers from School District 163 who assisted with the program.

Ostenburg noted some of the history of race relations in Park Forest, "Our history is one that we certainly look to the positive side of, but as we have sought to be an integrated community, to be a community where families could live side by side, work together, and our kids could go to school together, and all of those things. We do know that we have had residents at other times who have not appreciated that integration and have chosen to go someplace else. It’s a battle that we constantly fight of maintaining a level of integration where our streets, our neighborhoods, have multicultural opportunities for residents, for people to embrace different cultures on a day-to-day basis. And that’s part of the rich history of Park Forest that I think we’re all proud of."

Commissioner Mamie Rodgers introduced Keynote Speaker Felicia Middlebrooks, “She has won scores of awards and honors, locally, both nationally and internationally. She’s even been inducted into the Journalism Hall of Fame.”

Middlebrooks took set the stage for the documentary film which she wrote, directed and produced. The film won the Grand Jury Prize for best short documentary at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival in 2005.

“I wanted to do this film so that I could finish the story of Hotel Rwanda. A lot of people saw the film and they were appalled at what they saw because, unfortunately, the American media dropped the ball on this story. The BBC and CNN covered extensively as it was happening, as the tragedy was unfolding. Unfortunately, American media, for the most part, just did the story as a footnote to the evening broadcast.

“What is really terrible about this tragedy is it is one that really could have been prevented. It did not have to happen. There were scores of communiqués between our government and the rest of the West, and the United Nations, of which Kofi Annan headed at the time — we knew this was going to happen under the Clinton Administration, and nothing was done.

“Over a million people, men, women and children, were brutally and savagely murdered.”

Middlebrooks said she now looks on her 2004 trip to Rwanda as a sort of “Divine calling.” She took the trip with a group out of Barrington, IL, called Hands of Hope. “I certainly had no idea that I would be doing a documentary.”

"Ten years later, you could still smell death.”

“I ended up going to Rwanda with a group of ordinary women who you’ll meet in the film. They are teachers, housewives, soccer moms, and all of us were going to Rwanda to see what we could do. We all studied about the tragedy.” Middlebrooks says the group made the trip on the 10 year anniversary of the tragedies.

She says Bill Curtis, who does documentaries for A&E, was a mentor to her on this project.

The trip to Rwanda changed her life, “Ten years after the tragedy, you could still smell death. We saw things that were horrific.”

“I returned in 2006 to show the film to the Rwandan Parliament. I was afraid because, I thought, I’m telling their story. If I don’t get this right, they’re going to tell me. As a journalist, I felt compelled to tell others like yourselves what really happened.”

Middlebrooks explained that the root of the conflict between the Hutus and the Tootsies was colonialism, and this history was detailed in the film. "When you see the film, you’re going to see a lot of similarities to American slavery," Middlebrook said. "Their conflict was tribal. Here in America, the conflict was racial. But it was the same sick mentality that promoted slavery here in America. It was a divide-and-conquer attitude."

“The oddest thing, if you go to Rwanda today, is you’ll see mainly women, very few grown men. You’ll see young adult men, but older men were wiped out. The women were raped purposely. Rape in a lot of countries is used as a tool in war. The women were raped purposely and then given HIV/AIDS so they could die a slow death. The men were destroyed immediately.

“Today, Rwanda’s getting a lot of help, and a lot of governments don’t talk about it. I suspect it is because they’re guilt-ridden, and they don’t want to really let you know they’re doing so much to help Rwanda’s infrastructure. The West turned its back on this tiny nation.

"Let’s hope this never happens again."

Middlebrooks is currently working on putting together a distribution deal for the film.

There were about 100 people in attendance at Saturday’s program.

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The New Faith Baptist Church Singers perform Saturday at Freedom Hall. (Photo: Wendy Heise)