Honoring Black History Month through Art, Film, Community

In one evening at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, seven high school students from Careerline Tech Center conducted five interviews and documented Fifth Third Bank’s private event, in honor of Black History Month. Initiated by Fifth Third Bank, this exciting storytelling partnership provided the opportunity for Mosaic Community to expand their ever-growing outreach.

As part of the project students, interviewed nationally renowned artist Brian Washington before the opening of his new exhibit at the museum, The Continual Struggle: The American Freedom Movement and the Seeds of Social Change, sponsored by Fifth Third Bank.

Guided by Careerline Tech Center Media Communications teacher Bill Wolbrink, the students worked with the Mosaic Film Experience’s Derk Baartman to go over interview questions they wrote based on the event brief from Fifth Third and their research. They also worked together to set up multiple camera angles, conduct microphone tests, and adjust the lighting to prepare for Washington’s interview. Baartman and the students designed a plan for setting up the site to film, executed the plan, and grew their storytelling skills in the process.

“I tell my students if you want to be a good filmmaker, follow a good filmmaker,” Wolbrink said.

Washington typically hires people to record videos from exhibit events. Fifth Third Bank’s Regional Marketing Manager Scott Stenstrom and Baartman saw this an opportunity to involve students and provide them real-life experience filming and conducting live interviews.

Their collected footage will serve as a promotional video for the exhibit on Fifth Third Bank’s and the museum’s websites, and a video telling the story of Fifth Third’s involvement with Brian Washington and celebrating their Business Resource Groups.

“When we get opportunities like this, we take them,” said Careerline Tech Center senior, Nate Conkel.

In a space designed to highlight the artworks, lighting, and sound conditions for filming were not always optimal. This gave the students the chance to practice adapting to their surroundings, a necessary skill for any career field.

Student Kylie Conroy wrote the interview questions and positioned herself behind the camera during the interview.

“I felt nervous going into it, but once we got started, Brian was so easy to talk to, and his story is so interesting to hear,” Conroy said.

During the interview, Washington described The Continual Struggle as a visual narrative of American history not found in books.

“Each portrait tells the stories of common people,” Washington said. “The parents who took their children to church even when people were bombing churches and the people who walked to work to boycott buses are the true heroes of our story.”

Although a picture is worth a thousand words, Washington believes paintings that tell a story are worth a million.

“The story in my paintings is my story, and it will last long after I’m gone,” Washington said. “Ordinary people do extraordinary things every day, no matter their social status.”

This memorable community collaboration taught the students valuable professional and creative skills they all can bring forward into their future careers. Co-chair of Fifth Third Bank’s African American Business Resource Group Veronica Leshan described the partnership with Mosaic as beneficial to the community, especially the corporate community.

“Sometimes it takes a corporation to stand behind its ideals and draw awareness to issues of diversity and inclusion in the community,” Leshan said. “Supporting this exhibit, educating our employees, and partnering community with organizations like Mosaic helps bridge the gap between generations to enact positive social change.”

Washington’s storytelling inspires Mosaic Community to continue partner with organizations and create space and resources for others to identify with the stories of others. Whether you’re a painter, writer, or filmmaker, use your story to inspire your artform.

The Continual Struggle is on display until May 31, 2020.  Currently, the Ford Presidential Museum is closed due to the coronavirus public health emergency.  Please check the website to see if the museum has reopened. (fordlibrarymuseum.gov).