Screening Organizing 101: I’m Not Racist… Am I? Comes to Des Moines, Iowa

Since the release of the documentary film I’m Not Racist… Am I?, Point Made Learning (PML) has held more than 400 screenings and workshops across the United States. Facilitated by senior members of our staff, these events engage diverse audiences and help communities think, learn, and – most importantly – talk about race and racism in ways they don’t often get a chance to do.

Some of our events involve a screening of the 90-minute film, followed by a 30-minute Q&A. Sometimes we get a chance to go a lot deeper, when organizers make a commitment to plan a series of events that engage every segment of their city over the course of several days. It takes a ton of work to make that happen, but the impact can be far-reaching and significant.

For those of you thinking about hosting your own I’m Not Racist… Am I? screenings and workshops, we think that reading about what other groups have done might be helpful in your planning process. We’ve reached out to a few of the people who have been instrumental in some of our larger programs across the U.S. and asked them to talk about what went into planning and executing, what worked/what didn’t, and what they wish they’d known.

Keep reading to learn about our May 2017 programming in Des Moines, Iowa.

Iowa Public Radio interviews Catherine Wigginton-Greene, director of “I’m Not Racist… Am I?”

This past May, a number of community groups collaborated with Point Made Learning to bring I’m Not Racist… Am I? (INRAI) to Des Moines, Iowa. There, partnerships forged between church groups, high schools and Drake University made it possible for the film to screen three different times — twice at local high schools, and once at the Drake University auditorium. Among the audiences who watched the film were the faculty from every Des Moines area high school (approximately 600 teachers total), high school and college students, and community members interested in deepening the conversation about race and racism.

One of the screenings’ primary organizers, Sheena Thomas, got involved when members of Des Moines’ Anti-Racism Collaborative reached out to her because they were all part of a multi-church network called AMOS (A Mid-Iowa Organizing Strategy). Thomas was able to secure grant money to fund the screenings, and she was able to recruit local stakeholders to join in the planning process.

For the Des Moines community, screening the film was about more than hosting a neighborhood movie night; the organizers intended for INRAI to help people tackle difficult issues that affect many groups in their area. For example, Thomas said, the local high schools have a major issue with out-of-school suspensions and the “School to Prison Pipeline” that primarily affects minority populations.

“That is a huge problem here,” said Thomas. “Iowa has one of the highest incarceration rates for minorities in the pipeline … so there is a lot of work to be done here, and that was a rationale for bringing this in to the schools.”

According to Thomas, many people “just don’t get” why issues of race and racism are so important. “They don’t have to live with it in any way, shape or form,” she said, “so it’s hard to get them to understand, to see things differently, from another perspective.”

Like the stone Sisyphus was pushing up the hill over and over, the issues of racism and white privilege will not go away without more and more education.

Films like INRAI are a major aid in reaching those people and helping them find the alternative perspectives of which Thomas speaks. She said, “The films generated enough discussion and provocation that people were still discussing it long after the showing, and I thought that was really good.” She added that one of the organizers’ goals was “to develop enough sensitivity so that we’d have some leaders who wanted to pursue doing something on the subject,” and that has been the case — after the events, young adults created a Race Education Committee, an adult group formed to discuss these issues, and the Anti-Racism Collaborative held a speaker series for AMOS members to attend.

When asked why hosting events like the INRAI screenings is important, Thomas was direct: “Like the stone Sisyphus was pushing up the hill over and over, the issues of racism and white privilege will not go away without more and more education. That’s why.”

Inside the Planning and Promotion Process

In our discussion with Thomas, she discussed what it took to bring the screenings to life. Here are some of the highlights from our Q&A.

PML: Once you had the idea, what were the steps you took toward making it a reality?

Sheena Thomas: The Anti-Racism Collaborative was very good about saying, ‘Let’s have meetings,” and setting dates, and getting things done before each meeting which needed to be done. We worked on who we were going to market to … then it was working on the marketing and working to get interviews for (PML’s) Catherine Wigginton Greene to do with two TV stations and the public radio station. Also, we had posters that we put up all over for the screenings, around the churches and shop windows, and around Roosevelt High School. And I was able to get a billboard — several billboards — as places for community publicity.

PML: If you could do the process over again, what is one thing you’d do differently?

ST: I would start the public marketing earlier, and it would have been better to have Catherine’s interviews air a little sooner to give people in the public more info and time to plan. Oh, and because I thought we might be overrun or overwhelmed with people attending, I suggested sign-ups online. That may have actually deterred people from coming.

 PML: Was there anything that happened which really surprised you? What was it, and why was it surprising? 

ST: Getting to know the members of the Anti-Racism Collaborative, the students of the groups at two of the Des Moines High Schools, the faculty and administrators in charge of school climate and their eagerness and thoughtfulness were surprising to me. Also, the total backing we received from staff and foundation at Plymouth Church was amazing. One of the people on the foundation was instrumental in helping us get our marketing done.

 PML: Overall, what were the biggest challenges you faced as an organizer? How did you respond to these challenges?

ST: My biggest challenge was working on the organizing in and around my job. There was a lot of emailing that had to be done and which did impinge on my work time at my shop and on my home time as well. I was very grateful for the others who were also organizing on their own.

 PML: What advice do you have for other people who want to hold similar events? Say, your top 3 tips…

ST: One: Start early — 9 months before the event was good in our case.

Two: Get buy-in from several groups and collaborate in the planning. And share the costs.

Three: Market like crazy and use the resources offered by Point Made Learning when doing so.

If you are interested in hosting a Point Made Learning film screening or workshop, please send us an email: programming@pointmade.com

Also, check out our new I’m Not Racist… Am I? Digital Online Course — a valuable program for corporations and individuals who want to Look Deeper into race, racism, and bias.

Point Made Learning is the consulting and programming extension of Point Made Films, a production company focused on telling stories about the many layers of American identity. We use documentary film to facilitate productive discussions around the most uncomfortable topics we face in American society – starting with racism. We’ve taken an innovative approach to raising awareness and organizing communities through our unique combination of storytelling, real talk, and digital tools. We tell true stories and teach powerful lessons about issues that matter.

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