Prof. Maegan Parker Brooks Partners with Kellogg Foundation and Tougaloo College for Civil Rights Project

Professor Maegan Parker Brooks (Civic Communication and Media, American Ethnic Studies), in partnership with critically-acclaimed filmmakers, civil rights scholars and Tougaloo College, has received a $272,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to produce a new documentary and curriculum that will explore the life and legacy of Mississippi native and civil rights icon, Fannie Lou Hamer.

The film and curriculum are being produced by Hamer’s niece, Monica Land, alongside an award-winning team that includes Keith Beauchamp, Joseph Davenport, Davis W. Houck, Pablo Correa and Maegan Parker Brooks. Mississippi’s historically black Tougaloo College, with its deep commitment to supporting Fannie Lou Hamer and other civil rights activists, will serve as the fiscal sponsor for the grant.

“Fannie Lou Hamer’s America,” currently in preproduction, allows Hamer to tell her story in her own words by means of personal letters, as well as audio and video footage recorded during her 15-year career as a human rights activist. The civil rights curriculum, “Find Your Voice,” designed by authors and scholars, doctors Maegan Parker Brooks and Davis W. Houck, will be an ongoing program involving community screenings of the film and dialogue sessions at colleges across the country with a specific focus on youth empowerment and community engagement in the underprivileged Mississippi Delta. The “Find Your Voice” curriculum will engage students in primary source investigation, highlighting the never-before-published sources upon which the documentary is based, and will include a young filmmakers workshop that will teach Mississippi students the art of digital storytelling. Further, the “Find Your Voice” curriculum will be accessible via an interactive, multi-modal website, inviting students and educators to contribute short videos of performances, student-penned articles, poems, songs, stories and other materials inspired by the film.

“Students, educators and artists across the country regularly contact me asking for materials to further their study of Mrs. Hamer,” Brooks said. “As of 2013, 35 states, including Mississippi, require Civil Rights Movement studies as part of their educational standards. Oregon recently became the first state to require ethnic studies as part of the K-12 curriculum. Rather than publish a traditional print companion guidebook to the documentary, we are compelled to make these resources free, easy to use, and as accessible as possible.

“Beyond providing a more detailed, complex and compelling portrait of the civil rights icon, the documentary and the related curriculum will encourage students to discover the injustices that surround them and enable them to develop tools of advocacy to challenge these injustices,” Brooks said. Brooks, who joined the Willamette faculty in the fall of 2015, regularly teaches classes about the Black Freedom Movement. She is presently writing a book entitled “Fannie Lou Hamer: America’s Freedom Fighting Woman” for Rowman & Littlefield’s popular series in African American Biography. Her previously published rhetorical biography, “A Voice that Could Stir an Army: Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rhetoric of the Black Freedom Movement” was named an Outstanding Academic Title of 2015 by the American Library Association. She also co-edited “To Tell It Like It Is: The Speeches of Fannie Lou Hamer” with fellow Fannie Lou Hamer scholar, Davis W. Houck.

“The Kellogg Foundation is proud to support this film project and the vital ‘Find Your Voice’ curriculum. People of all ages can learn so much from Mrs. Hamer’s life,” said Jed Oppenheim, a Mississippi-based program officer from the Kellogg Foundation. “We are hopeful that by sharing her voice and story with students and families in Sunflower County and beyond, that others will be inspired to know our shared history and continue to advance the legacy of Fannie Lou Hamer and so many others who fought for a stronger, more equitable country.”

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life. The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, New Orleans, Mexico and Haiti.