students

Students Reflect on Bullying, Genocide, & Non-violence

“A lot of people at my school need to work on taking a stand against injustices.” Nearly 250 students, from 9th through 12th grade joined in an hour-long discussion about the documentary film Coexist at Amherst Regional High School in Western Massachusetts on Thursday October 27, 2011. Upstander Director Dr. Mishy Lesser designed and facilitated the workshop prompting students to think about their own role in conflict. One student reflected, “I see fear, greed, and hate at school, which I was able to think more about.”

Teachers from English, Acting, Social Studies, and French agreed to use the Coexist Viewer’s Guide and screen the film before Mishy’s arrival. Teachers pooled their students in the library, taking over the space for five periods, thanks to generous support from the high school’s librarians. Another student observed, “You have to do something to stop harm. If everyone waits for someone else to do it, it won’t get done.”

During the workshops students developed a group definition of genocide, identified the behaviors that contribute to genocide, those that contribute to preventing the escalation of violence and scapegoating, and discussed which behaviors that contribute to genocide might be present in the school community, even if in a milder form. One student made an important connection, “Bullying is like mini-genocide. I [now see] the connection between bullying and genocide.” Another student said, “Genocide is caused by fear and greed, but also caused by people being bystanders, and people not taking action.”

Principal Mark Jackson and student leaders of STAND invited Mishy to lead the workshops. STAND is the student-led division of United to End Genocide. The event was planned over the course of several months, which allowed student leaders enough time to identify and recruit a variety of teachers to participate in the Coexist workshop. STAND group envisions a world in which the international community protects civilians from genocidal violence.

Following the workshop one student said, “In school people are quick to judge and write people off without fully understanding the other person’s situation, or even attempting to.” Another wrote, “The only way people can live in peace is if we communicate and try to practice non-violence. “

The event was made possible thanks to the generous support of Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee of Orange. The Coexist team looks forward to returning to Amherst Regional High School to work with other students and teachers, and is available to work in nearby middle and high schools.

Watch this video for a look at what a Coexist workshop looks like in action:

What are viewers saying about Coexist?

Audience members yearn for more time to unpack the many messages of Coexist. Here are recent comments about both the film and the debriefing discussions facilitated by members of the Coexist team:

"Coexist is a remarkable film and unparalleled in conveying the complexities of life today in Rwanda for survivors of the genocide. The experience of survivors such as Grace and Domitilie, and the unique opportunity to hear their views in their own words, is a call to action for us all. Not only must we remember the victims of the genocide, but also the survivors still living with the consequences of genocide today." -David Russell, Executive Director SURF (Survivors Fund)

. . .

"This is an excellent film. Of the various films I have seen on the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide, this is the most truthful, the most real. It presents things as they are, not driven by the desire to show how wonderfully people reconcile. It shows the pain, the mistrust, with some glimmering of hope." -Professor Ervin Staub, author of Overcoming Evil: Genocide, Violent Conflict and Terrorism (Oxford University Press, 2011) and Founding Director of the doctoral program in Psychology of Peace and Prevention of Violence, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

. . .

Coexist was carefully and sensitively made, drawing in a variety of narratives, beliefs, and perceptions that underscore the complexity of mass violence. The video and educational programs serve as beneficial learning tools for American adults and young people who may not know much about Rwanda and have not been faced with the need for social healing and reconciliation after genocide. I especially appreciate the film for not offering simplistic remedies to the profound questions of how people live together, and live with themselves, after such atrocity. The film reminds us that we each face ourselves and manage our recovery differently, and that human beings have an astounding resilience." - Dr. Paula Green, founder, Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, and CONTACT Program, SIT (School for International Training Graduate Institute)

. . .

 

 

"The power of the film and Mishy's way of inviting us to experience it deeply has Saturday evening still reverberating in me. So many levels of engagement arose as the evening progressed, with Mishy setting the context, with the brief history presented, with Mishy’s inviting and facilitating comments from the audience." - Sarah Conn, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder, Earth Circles

. . .

 

 

"Coexist is outstanding, in part because it brings up for viewers so many profound thoughts and feelings. The film underscores our capacity as humans for evil and betrayal and injustice. And Mishy's welcoming, context-setting, and facilitation of the debriefing were terrific." - Robert Ryan, Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness Consultant/Coach

. . .

 

 

"Coexist is so evocative; it crushes the heart because it is so real and tells the truth about what did happen and what could happen. I feel edified by having seen it." - Brett Litz, Ph.D., VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University

. . .

Contact us at coexistdocumentary@gmail.com

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Praise for Coexist

What are viewers saying about Coexist?

Audience members yearn for more time to unpack the many messages of Coexist. Here are recent comments about both the film and the debriefing discussions facilitated by members of the Coexist team:

. . .

"Coexist was carefully and sensitively made, drawing in a variety of narratives, beliefs, and perceptions that underscore the complexity of mass violence. The video and educational programs serve as beneficial learning tools for American adults and young people who may not know much about Rwanda and have not been faced with the need for social healing and reconciliation after genocide. I especially appreciate the film for not offering simplistic remedies to the profound questions of how people live together, and live with themselves, after such atrocity. The film reminds us that we each face ourselves and manage our recovery differently, and that human beings have an astounding resilience." - Dr. Paula Green, founder, Karuna Center for Peacebuilding, and CONTACT Program, SIT (School for International Training Graduate Institute)

. . .

"The power of the film and Mishy's way of inviting us to experience it deeply has Saturday evening still reverberating in me. So many levels of engagement arose as the evening progressed, with Mishy setting the context, with the brief history presented, with Mishy’s inviting and facilitating comments from the audience." - Sarah Conn, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist and Co-Founder, Earth Circles

. . .

"Coexist is outstanding, in part because it brings up for viewers so many profound thoughts and feelings. The film underscores our capacity as humans for evil and betrayal and injustice. And Mishy's welcoming, context-setting, and facilitation of the debriefing were terrific." - Robert Ryan, Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness Consultant/Coach

. . .

"Coexist is so evocative; it crushes the heart because it is so real and tells the truth about what did happen and what could happen. I feel edified by having seen it." - Brett Litz, Ph.D., VA Boston Healthcare System and Boston University

. . .

Why Coexist?

When hate persists, how will you coexist? It's a question each of us face in our lives whether dealing with name calling and bullying, teasing and harassment, hate crimes, or even genocide. In the documentary film, Coexist we aim to stimulate discussion among people everywhere about the need to coexist. Coexist, is the evolution of several years of exploration, research, and discussion about reconciliation, coexistence, and peace-building. In our film you will see how genocide survivors struggle to coexist with killers in Rwanda, as targeted killing continues regularly throughout the country.

Survivors & Killers Living Side by Side

Because there are killers and survivors in every village in Rwanda, they must live side by side. This has prompted the government to heavily promote reconciliation programs. We found few people even in the most remote villages who have not heard the government's message of reconciliation. But, as you might imagine, reconciling with a killer who murdered your family is impossible for some people.

The Complexity of Coexistence

We set out to explore the extent of reconciliation in Rwanda. We had seen and heard numerous examples of seemingly stunning success. What we found in our investigation in Rwanda is that many people have been able to rehumanize their former enemies. But healing after such extreme trauma can be a life long effort. Many people simply cannot reconcile. For everyone in Rwanda the ability to simply coexist is imperative. As the country's top official at the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, Fatuma Ndangiza told us, "Reconciliation is at different levels, some will reconcile others will coexist, and I think as long as it contributes to peace its all welcome."

A Feeling of Peace, as Killings Continue

The country is largely peaceful today. There is little danger for those willing to go about their business and keep quiet. But, some say peace is impossible. Because despite the relative peace murderers continue to kill genocide survivors today. The victims' families told us that survivors are being killed for testifying or preparing to testify against genocide offenders. Sometimes the murderers are related to the genocide offenders, and others are the genocide offenders themselves trying to protect other family members from going to prison.

What's Next?

Follow our progress here and share this story with your family, friends and colleagues. If you've visited our site before you'll find there are many new stories to read, pictures to view, information to check out and opportunities to interact. There are numerous ways to do that which we've outlined across our site. Become a fan on facebook, join our cause, send a link to our video on this page: http://upstanderproject.org, make a donation, tell teachers, professors, and administrators about Coexist.

In the coming months as we work to complete our film we will explore coexistence asking you:

"When hate persists, how will you you coexist?"

--Adam Mazo Director, Coexist

Boston Students Find Meaning in Rwanda's Lessons

Learning about Rwanda... it gives people the opportunity to open their eyes about things that are going on in our neighborhoods (in the United States) so we can buckle up and make change. So, I think it's very important to learn it.” High School senior Maceyo Branch reacted to seeing a preview of Reconciliation's Reach at a discussion this week with the filmmaker at Health Careers Academy on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston. 25 seniors watched a 5 minute video preview of Reconciliation's Reach about genocide survivors efforts to reconcile with wives of perpetrators. Then the students, from neighborhoods across Boston, engaged in a lively discussion about why Rwandans stories are relevant to them and why they care about the struggles of people on the other side of the world.

Some students found it hard to imagine how genocide survivors could begin to accept a killer or a killer's relative. Ashley Harton-Powell saw maturity, “It shows how strong they are. Because if you went to one of us, or an American in general, and asked 'What if this was to happen to you, how would you feel if the wife of that person or the family member of that person came to you to apologize for their wrong doing?' A lot of people probably would not be able to accept the apology.”

Maceyo understood how some Rwandans have found ways to live side by side with former enemies, “After the genocide they were able to humanize the person cause they really got to know that, 'They're human just like us and they suffered just like us.' You can dehumanize somebody but you can also humanize a person too.

Watching Reconciliation's Reach was powerful for Noadya Legrand, she said, “It's something that can really change you, can change your whole mindset and your values.” Some students see the possibility of organizing their community for action. Efrangely De La Cruz, “We're the teenagers in America and it takes one person to make a change. If one person starts it up and they tell people, more people become involved and become more interested in making that difference.”

Bendina Remy saw a clear connection between Rwandans work for reconciliation and her life, “It relates to me because just like the Tutsis and the Hutu, I live in Dorchester (a section of Boston) and there's a lot of gang violence between the Bloods and the Crips. And it just reminds me, they're killing each other over nonsense and you need to stop it. It kind of hit home cause I know a lot of gang-affiliated people. Maybe we could do something to change it. And if we could change it in Rwanda we could change it in Boston.

See what we've been up to:

-Photos from our recent benefit concert event

-A live interview with the filmmaker on ABC-TV:

Adam on ABC7

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