Guiding Light

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

These words, spoken by Martin Luther King Jr. in 1964, exemplified the purpose of the “Reflections on Resistance” program held in Jamestown Community College’s Scharmann Theater on Wednesday evening.

The event was held in recognition of King’s birthday, but was postponed from its original date of Jan. 22 due to poor weather conditions. The program was hosted by Jen Marlowe, a Seattle-based author, documentary filmmaker and human rights advocate. According to Marlowe, she uses these different methods as a means of inspiring others to take up action for a cause.

“I’m trying to show the human beings behind the headlines,” she said. “Filmmaking and writing are two of the main tools that I use. I’m trying to expose underlying human rights issues through the telling of stories, as told by the human beings whose lives are the most impacted by the numerous issues that I’m working on.”

Regarding “Reflections on Resistance,” Marlowe said that the program is taking a somewhat unconventional approach to the concept.

“The overview of the talk is looking at the idea of resistance, certainly not what we’re used to thinking of in terms of armed resistance, but also going beyond what we’ve learned (about) as classic nonviolent resistance,” she said. “We look at resistance as human beings in situations where they’re holding onto their humanity and dignity in situations that seek to strip them of it.”

Marlowe has made a name for herself by personalizing victims of human rights violations throughout the world, seeking to provide a firsthand perspective to educate others about the individuals being affected. Marlowe tells the stories of people she has met in places such as Darfur, the Gaza Strip and even within the United States. Some of her works include: the “Darfur Diaries,” a documentary and companion book documenting Marlowe’s trip to Darfur; “Rebuilding Hope,” a documentary about the homecoming of a Sudanese-American family back to Sudan to discover if their homes and families have survived civil war; and”There is a Field,” a play that addresses the issues faced by Palestinian citizens in Israel.

THE STORIES

For her program, Marlowe told the stories of individuals experiencing human rights violations in different magnitudes.

Marlowe first told the story of a village in Darfur which was assaulted in an aerial bombing. She showed a brief video of her trip to the village and the reactions of the villagers. Included in the video was part of a wedding ceremony which, according to Marlowe, helps her to identify the meaning behind King’s aforementioned quote.

She next told the story of Troy Davis and his sister, Martina. Troy was a death row inmate, imprisoned for the murder of a police officer. Marlowe befriended Troy and Martina and joined them in the fight to have Troy freed from prison, as he proclaimed his innocence throughout the duration of his 20-year incarceration. Martina, who was a cancer survivor and confined to a wheelchair, held a press conference on the day of Troy’s execution in which she stood up from her chair in support of her brother and in resistance to the state of Georgia. Marlowe co-wrote a book documenting the ordeal with Martina, who died two months after her brother’s execution in 2011.

Lastly, she described the ordeal faced by the Awajah family, a family of Palestinians who were displaced by an Israeli raid on their village. During the raid, the Awajah’s house was razed by an Israeli bulldozer while they were still inside. The family ran to safety but Ibrahim, a 9-year-old child, was shot to death. The Awajahs’ story is told in one of Marlowe’s documentaries, entitled “One Family In Gaza”, of which a portion was screened during the program. The film deals with the traumatic effects that the raid had on the children, and the parents’ attempts to drive out their childrens’ fears by instilling love, laughter and a sense of safety.

A LOCAL PERSPECTIVE

The program concluded with a panel discussion involving members of JCC students and staff and Marlowe herself.

The JCC members included: Shannon Bessette, associate professor of anthropology and moderator of the discussions; Christina King, a JCC sophomore who is president and founder of JCC’s student activism club; Jessica Kubiak, reading and composition teacher at the Cattaraugus campus as well as JCC’s honors program coordinator; and Ignacio Parra, cultural and linguistic trainer for Chautauqua Tapestry.

The panel discussed topics including: finding inspiration in King’s work, which parts of King’s “I Have A Dream” speech remain unfulfilled and some local and national human rights issues that are currently being faced. Audience participation was also welcomed.

According to Bridget Johnson, JCC’s coordinator of community relations, Marlowe was a prime candidate in the search for someone to relate themes of King’s work to the modern world.

“Our hope was that we could bring someone in who could involve the community and engage the students in understanding the bigger issues that face the world, but still connect them to the motivations that were apparent in Martin Luther King’s work and legacy,” said Johnson. “Her message dealing with peaceful resistance and conflict resolution really motivated us to get her here, and we’re thrilled that she could come through.”