Our country is engaged in a conversation about the debilitating effects of institutional racism and white privilege. Leveling Lincoln looks back to a 1961 grass roots movement and landmark civil rights lawsuit that made positive changes in a community. Let the past inform the future!
Mission StatementWe hope to inspire today’s activists by sharing this story of a successful grassroots organization, a movement that began, like Black Lives Matter, by parents who understood that institutional racism (and de facto segregation) would affect their children for the rest of their lives.
About The Project
WHAT WE’RE ASKING FOR
Our GoFundMe campaign to raise Production funds was very successful and the film is in the can, but now we’re looking for $26,000 in Post-Production funds to pay for audio mixing, original music, color correction, licensing of archival footage and photos, and staff fees. If you're interested in civil rights, activism and letting the past inform the future, won't you join our mission? Your generous contributions will safely go through our fiscal sponsor Film Independent and are tax deductible!
HOW DID THE PROJECT START?
“In 2016, my mother was telling stories about my upbringing in New Rochelle. She handed me a Girl Scout Brownie book of pictures of a fully integrated troop and explained we were the 'left overs' because she took all the girls from all colors and faiths who did not get into the other, all-white troop at Roosevelt School. Many of those girls were bused up from the projects in the old Lincoln corridor, but I never knew it was due to a precedent setting court case. Making a film about the case became imperative.” ~ AT Lewis, Director
WHAT IS THE FILM ABOUT?
Leveling Lincoln looks at the landmark 1961 desegregation case Taylor vs. Board of Education of New Rochelle, NY. The case, the first of its kind in the North, was praised on the floor of the United States Senate as an example of successful integration by peaceful protest, discourse, and jurisprudence. It's a story of historical importance that was featured on the cover of Life and attracted the attention of figures like Thurgood Marshall and CBS's Mike Wallace. In its wake New Rochelle emerged as a flourishing multi-cultural community and serves as a model for how to achieve educational parity for all our children.
WHY IS THIS STORY IMPORTANT?
Desegregation didn’t end in the 1960s. The NY Times recently reported that "a plan to desegregate schools in a liberal Maryland suburb founded on values of tolerance has met with stiff resistance." And a recent study by Stanford University's Center for Education Policy Analysis found that "the desegregation efforts of the late 1960s and early 1970s did not last; public schools today remain highly segregated both by race and class". So what worked in the past? And how can we apply it to today? That’s what Leveling Lincoln explores.
THE COURT CASE
Taylor Vs The Board of Education (1961)
In contrast to the Ruby Bridges or the Linda Brown stories in the South, the New Rochelle case had hundreds of children bused to schools without calling out the National Guard. All because of a group of dedicated parents who took action.
Most elementary schools in the city were (seemingly) integrated but not Lincoln, which was 94% African American and had been since 1930. The school had been badly neglected; over-crowded with old materials. The school board, made of esteemed community leaders, had voted to rebuild the school, but it never happened.
In frustration the parents pulled their kids out of Lincoln and began boycotts and protests. After many home meetings, the parents hired NAACP lawyer Paul B. Zuber. In the Fall of 1960, he advised the parents to try and enroll their kids in the predominantly white Roosevelt Elementary in the north end of town. When they were denied admission there they moved on to Ward school and set up chairs outside that school and sat there with their kids. The press took notice. So did the Freedom Volunteers, who provided tutors for the kids, and the NAACP who supported the group’s actions.
Parents from Lincoln Elementary walking out of the all-white
Roosevelt school after trying to enroll their children (1960)
A lawsuit brought the case to court. The parents argued that, as opposed to schools in the South that suffered under de jure segregation, or segregation by law, in the North their school district’s segregation was de facto, created by neighborhood school districting, redlining, and covert real estate and banking practices. The court agreed. The school board appealed to the Supreme Court. But were turned down.
The parents won! African-American kids could now be bussed to the better schools in town. The suit made national headlines and was featured on CBS News hosted by Mike Wallace. As for Lincoln Elementary it had become a symbol of racial division and de facto segregation and the the city eventually leveled it to the ground.
WHAT YOU WILL SEE IN THE FILM
Along with period photos and national newsreel footage, the film features powerful interviews of the students (now adults) who lived the history; we hear their stories about this controversial 1960s racial social experiment that began with the destruction of a segregated black school. They speak on camera about how this affected them as children, where they are now, and discuss what lessons can applied to today. We flash back through photos and documents as they speak about their parents, teachers and classmates, and reflect on being part of a social experiment that began on their first days of kindergarten, after the implementation of state sponsored busing. They reflect upon their own children and grandchildren as they worry for their future.
Leveling Lincoln features interviews with the kids and parents involved in the landmark court case
Leveling Lincoln is also a story of how a community came together at the grassroots level to reject the accepted de facto segregation of their city and recognize how its history of privilege made them blind to systemic inequality. Ultimately, we analyze the problems and solutions that the New Rochelle School District dealt with and glean what lessons can be learned and applied to today's equally challenging educational issues.
WHAT IS THE GOAL FOR THE FILM?
Like the documentary, Waiting for Superman, we imagine teacher professional developments and question-and-answer workshops built around screenings of Leveling Lincoln as well as commercial, wide release distribution on PBS and Film Festivals. We would like to have Leveling Lincoln available for streaming licenses on sites like Good Docs, New Day, Bullfrog or PBS Learning Media so that high schools, colleges, and University instructors would have access to the film. To have this topic air on a major Public Broadcasting Service would ensure its availability to all educational programs and schools. It would ensure that public schools and colleges would have free, or nearly free, access to the story.
We hope to inspire today’s activists by sharing this story of a successful grassroots organization, a movement that began, like Black Lives Matter, by parents who understood that institutional racism would affect their children for the rest of their lives.
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About This Team
ARDEN TERESA LEWIS - Director/Producer/Writer
Arden is currently finishing the production phase of her feature documentary film, Leveling Lincoln set to be released in 2021. She is honored that her feature script, Gravel Road, was a 2019 finalist at Manhattan Film Fest, Big Apple Film Fest and the Lady Filmmakers Festival in Beverly Hills among others. She recently directed The Night Forlorn, or Waitin’ on Godsford, which won Best Production of a Play at the 2018 Valley Theatre Awards. Originally from New York, Arden has acted OFF Broadway at Primary Stages, The Bouerie Lane Theatre, Soho Playhouse, at the Paper Mill Playhouse and the La Mirada Civic Theatre. Her short films, Monday's Child and Trellis & Vine have earned Laurels from London to Long Beach. She received the Lilian Nesburn Award from the Beverly Hills Theatre Guild for her play, Grandma Good and was a semi-finalist for the Jane Chambers Award with her play, Baby Dreams. Baby Dreams starred Veanne Cox and was published in Theatre Communications Guild Magazine. Her play, Little Rhonda, was produced at Theatre Geo and is part of the Audrey Skirbal Kenis Theatre Archives at the Los Angeles Central Library. Her written work appears in two anthologies: Scenes For Women By Women and Even More Monologues For Women By Women – Tori Haring Smith/Heinemann Press. She holds a BA in theatre from UCLA. ATLewis Films | ardenteresalewis.com | YouTube Channel
ROBIN MILES - Narrator
Robin Miles is an AudioFile Golden Voice, 2014 Booklist Voice of Choice, and Audie and Earphones Award–winning performer, as well as a Grammy finalist director in genres from sci-fi to memoir to erotica. AudioFile calls her “a performer who never disappoints.”
One of Robin’s special talents as a narrator and voiceover artist is her chameleon-like ability to re-create accents and speech patterns from all corners of the globe. For her, becoming a narrator was a natural outgrowth of the lessons of her grandfather, a renowned Jamaican professor of English. “My grandfather could recite passages from Shakespeare and The Iliad at a moment’s notice,” says Robin. “He recited poetry and sang folk songs from around the world to me … before I could even talk.” In addition, she describes the New Jersey neighborhood where she grew up as like a mini–United Nations, exposing her to a range of different cultures and accents. “I grew up around a lot of first-generation immigrants. Jewish, Irish, Cuban, Egyptian, Italian, German, and Vietnamese families all were on my block,” she recalls. “And I enjoyed hanging around the adults, so I got to spend time in their homes, listening to their accents, enjoying their cooking, and learning about their cultures up close and personal.”
A dancer and vocalist, Robin spent her early years performing in musical theater, but before long, she discovered her love of drama, especially world classics. She earned a BA in theater studies from Yale University and an MFA in acting from the Yale School of Drama. Robin also attended the British American Drama Academy in England.
KIMBERLY WOODS - Producer
Kimberly Woods is an American actress, award-winning voice over artist and film producer. Currently she is voicing Polly on It’s Pony for Nickelodeon. After graduating from Princeton with a degree in neuroscience and theatre she moved to Los Angeles to start her career. She has since produced short films, web-series and a narrative feature – BNB HELL – available on Amazon. Leveling Lincoln marks her second documentary. She is currently in postproduction on a documentary feature, Tender Points, about Fibromyalgia. Growing up in America as a multiethnic woman of color, racial equality and education have always been topics that interest her, and she's happy to be a part of telling this story of desegregation in New Rochelle. kimberlywoods.net | kimberlyvoices.com
TINKS LOVELACE - Producer/Assistant Director
Tinks Lovelace is an LA based, multidisciplinary visual artist from Nottingham, England. She went to high school in South Africa and is classically trained in performance from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art and on conservatory at The Stella Adler Studio in New York City. She directs and produces work, along side BAG O’ BONES Collective, telling socially conscious stories. She devised and directed the award winning show Othello & Otis at Hollywood Fringe 2018, and Orangutan at HFF2019 - she was nominated for 5 awards, one being the Inkwell Playwright’s Promise award and won the Encore Producer’s Award. She directed her first film, Already Adults, coming out soon. Her work has been seen on floor level billboards in New York City and she has directed campaigns for companies such as Naked Wardrobe, House of CB and Mistress Rocks. Other films include: My Boring Life (2013) and sometimes it feels (2017). She is the founder of Bag O’ Bones Collective and creates content across the mediums of photography, theatre, film, and television. On IMDB | www.bagobone.com
RITA COFIELD - Associate Producer
Rita was born and raised in Southeast Los Angeles. She received her BA in Architecture and Planning from Howard University and is currently working on fulfilling the requirements for the Masters in Heritage Conservation from the University of Southern California. When she is not on tour or at a local theater stage managing, she teaches youth about the technical aspects of theater - from procuring props to designing sets. She occasionally directs. She also free-lances as a cultural resource manager and Public Historian and has valuable experience in community-based projects. Rita is passionate about finding ways to re-insert multiple perspectives into the larger narratives of our history and feels a moral responsibility to expose the youth in her community of Watts to preservation education, hands-on training in building conservation, and its rich history as a means to community engagement and pride. She is on the board of Trustees with the California Preservation Foundation and writes for their blog.
ANDREW JORDAN - Editor/DP West Coast Unit
Andrew is a writer, filmmaker, graphic artist and editor working in Los Angeles. He grew up in Indiana and Vermont and has been working with computer graphics and video since the age of 13. He directed and edited the indie thriller BNB HELL co-produced by his wife, Kimberly Woods and Denouement Productions (2108) Available on Amazon Prime and iTunes. He's directed over twenty short films & video projects and has presented work at the Lewis Center for Arts at Princeton University, at the Dana Auditorium in Middlebury, Vermont, and at the School of Creative Arts at the University of Melbourne in Australia. He received his degree from the Department of Art & Archaeology at Princeton. He owns a full editing suite and last year, he directed and edited his first feature film and is currently in pre-production on his second, Tender Points. He's excited to be a part of the Leveling Lincoln team as both an editor and a west coast DP.
JACK STANNARD – Director of Photography/West Coast Unit
Jack Stannard is a Stamford, CT based cinematographer and documentary filmmaker. He is a graduate of the Documentary Media Studies Program at The New School in New York City. An experienced motion picture camera professional Jack also works as an editor and colorist. He has directed and shot several short films and he wastes his free time performing stand up comedy.
DIANA JENKINS – Advisor, post production
An editor with experience in all genres of television, Diana Jenkins has put her special stamp on scores of productions. Her long list of accomplishments includes the recent headline-making Documentary Series, Surviving R. Kelly, a highly rated 6-hour, multi-part project. Among her other recently aired programs; Citizen Rose, a limited series for E! Network, a digital Facebook reality series featuring rising wedding dress designer Hayley Paige, and the documentary Heartbreak, aired on MSNBC. Diana has been recognized with a National Daytime Emmy Award for her work on Crime Watch Daily. She was an editor for the network magazine series Dateline NBC for 9 seasons, editing both long and short form programs. She has edited News, Sports, Documentary, Reality, Promos, and Entertainment shows for ABC, CBS, the SYFY Network, NBC, FOX, Warner Bros., NetFlix, and Lifetime, and Disney, nationally and locally. Diana currently is part of the editing team that launched QUIBI for Jeffery Katzenberg’s group. She edits the Daily Chill channel on this exciting new platform for iphones, android phones and tablets.
KINNY LANDRUM - Composer
Kinny is a grammy winning composer who has worked with David Lynch, Leonard Bernstein and Carly Simon. He has scored over 15 documentary films. www.kinnylandrum.com
LYNNE ROBYN - Composer
Lynne Robyn Barasch is a singer-songwriter whose music and underscoring has been featured in television, film, and many recordings. She has played in numerous New York City venues from the Bitter End to Symphony Space. Her debut album, Red Bird in Snow, was produced by Jon Herington (Steely Dan). Lynne Robyn’s albums can be found on iTunes and Spotify.
IVAN COPELLI - Second Camera
Ivan Copelli was born and raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He moved to Los Angeles in 2015 and one year later started studying at the Los Angeles City College, pursuing Cinematography. He has already worked on over a dozen films, always in positions at the Camera Department, especially as a Director of Photography. He's affiliated to the Film Independent and during his free time, you can catch Ivan playing drums with his rock bands at the Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood. Ivan is a dedicated husband and is been married for over 18 years. He's a proud "pawrent" of 3 cats.
CHARLIE MOUNT - Crowdfunding
Charlie has run two succefull crowdfunding campaigns for plays he's produced, Verdigris (written by Jim Beaver) and Martians - An Evening With Ray Bradbury. Charlie is a director, playwright and magician living in Los Angeles. www.charliemount.net