Screening Organizing 101: I’m Not Racist… Am I? at The Ohio State University

 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.

André and Catherine address the crowd at The  Ohio State University’s screening of “I’m Not Racist… Am I?”

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 March 2015 programming at Ohio State.

“I envisioned a big screening, and then a smaller set of workshops for people we thought could be allies and leaders on the campus moving forward,” said Koritha Mitchell, Associate Professor of English at OSU and the events’ principal organizer. “And oh my goodness, it went much better than I thought!”

Mitchell partnered with the Wexner Center for the Arts, a major Ohio venue for all things theater and film, to find a space for the screening. As the guest list grew, though, the Wexner Center suggested moving the event from their own space to a larger one — the Mershon Auditorium — and it’s a good thing they did: On the night of the screening, approximately 750 people turned up to watch the film and participate in the post-screening discussion led by PML’s Catherine Wigginton Greene and André Robert Lee.

“The workshops were really powerful… I heard nothing but positive things about them for months afterwards…”

“I was amazed at how many people came,” Mitchell said. “It was the Monday after Spring Break, so there was plenty of reason to be worried that no one would come, but we still ended up with such a good turnout. I left that thinking that people want to have the language to be able to talk about this stuff.”

The day after the screening, OSU held two workshops to, as PML likes to say, “Look Deeper” into the questions of race and racism that come up in the film, and to learn how to lead productive conversations about those topics at OSU and in the greater Columbus community.

“The workshops were really powerful,” Mitchell said. “I heard nothing but positive things about them for months afterwards. It made my co-sponsors feel like they were getting special treatment, and it capped off that experience and took it to a more personal level. It felt really good.”

Attendees of the workshop at The Ohio State University in Mershon Auditorium,

Reflecting on the Event

In our discussion with Mitchell, she discussed what it took to bring the screening and workshops 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?

KM: I started by working with the Point Made team, and they sent me all the details I needed. That allowed me to go to my department chair and say that I wanted to put this on, and my department chair was willing to support me. We put together a small committee with people that we felt should be stakeholders … I contacted all the department chairs and decision makers to see if they’d put money toward it, and I underscored that I thought this could be something we could work toward continuing, to identify people who would be invested in this going forward.

I also booked a caterer. Even though a lot of people didn’t think it needed to be catered, I was adamant about it because I didn’t want people to be hungry and fidgety … and I feel like that worked to our benefit as well.

 PML: Once you knew the event was officially going to happen, how did you go about promoting it? What strategies/methods did you use to attract an audience?

KM: I had all of the cosponsors send it to their listservs so that the departments would announce it, and anyone associated with those departments would see it.

I think what I did that was unusual was that I was able to get myself on the radio, the urban station here, because they have a community show where they interview people about community things. And I used one of the contacts from a partner department so I could get on the show.

I also contacted leaders at all of the private schools here. I sent personal emails to the leaders at each school, and they clearly shared the message.

Catherine chats with local reporters at OSU.

Also, I got 10TV (the Columbus CBS affiliate) to come. They did a story in advance of the screening, and they aired it more than once because we did it well enough in advance. On the night of the event, they came back, and they interviewed people in the crowd before they saw it, and afterward. And once I had clips (from the TV and radio press), then I could share those clips on Facebook and social media. And I sent people emails including those links to former students, and lots of people.

PML: How did you ensure that the audience attending the event would feature a diverse representation of different communities and groups? And why was this important?

KM: I think I ensured it by having so many co-sponsors (14 of them) who had contacts that were different from mine. And I really pestered them to see who they thought I should reach out to.

PML: During the event, what were the most positive things you observed?

KM: Definitely realizing that I had a decent representation of high school students from the area … I thought, OK, they’re not having these conversations in their classrooms, and they want to be. And the impact from the Q&A — we could have gone on and on.

I left... thinking that people want to have the language to be able to talk about this stuff

PML: What did you learn from this experience?

KM: I learned that I don’t mind organizing half as much as I thought!

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

KM: One: For promotions, use a personal touch, plus whatever media you can get.

Two: Cultivate your stakeholders and make them feel like you need them to help you do everything. Like, you’re not making a decision without them, you don’t believe you can get the word out without them — it’s not just about them supplying money for the budget, it’s about them being as involved as they can be throughout this process. That gives them the belief that they are as committed as I am.

Three: Don’t miss the opportunity to spend as much time as you can with André, Catherine, and the Point Made staff. If it’s a budget issue, spend the extra money to have the additional workshop, or whatever other interaction. They model how you can continue to work in your space — watching them in action gives you tools for how you can facilitate difficult conversations going forward, because you’re going to need to have those conversations, and having the model from André and Catherine was one of the biggest things that I took away from it, as did everyone who encountered them.

If you are interested in hosting a Point Made Learning film screening or workshop, 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, educational organizations & institutions, and individuals who want to Look Deeper into race and racism.

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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