Telling a Story of Courage

Aug 07, 2014

Filmmaker Joan Sadoff began her "Mississippi Project" over 23 years ago, interviewing women involved in the civil rights movement. While her film STANDING ON MY SISTERS' SHOULDERS is not current enough to be entered into our 2015 Gutsy Gals Award, the message is so powerful that I've asked Joan to share her story with Gutsy Gals. 
From the time I was 10 years of age I wanted to be a social worker.  My mother's friend who worked for Jewish Family Service in Detroit would often visit us on her way home from the office and regale us with stories about people who had sought help from JFS.  I would listen intently as she described her clients and the problems they were facing in their lives.  I was mesmerized by their stories and challenges and decided that one day, I too, would pursue this profession.  And I did.
My interest in stories experienced by "real" people continued through my professional work as a clinical social worker, an interviewer for the Holocaust Project in Philadelphia, PA and reading autobiographies and biographies.  What could I learn from these stories that would be personally and professionally helpful?  Whose life lessons would impact my life?
In October, 1991, while watching a PBS special on civil rights during the Kennedy administration, I found the stories I wanted to tell....the stories of black and white women involved in the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi and how their courage helped to change the history of this country.  Where to start?  What to do with the findings....Should we do a documentary?  A book?  Should I leave my job and do this full time?
The Mississippi Project began 23 years ago and continues to be my passion.  Innumerable trips to the south introduced my husband and me to extraordinary people ( we started by stopping people on the street with questions about their experiences as eye witnesses to the events of the 1960's) and followed our instincts......everyone knew someone who knew someone.  "Standing On My Sisters' Shoulders" (documentary) has appeared in 28 film festivals and won 14 awards; it was screened at the Kennedy Center in Washington,DC.  The companion book, "Pieces From the Past" has been distributed in the United States and South Africa.
The experience of following one's instincts.....taking a risk....can be life changing; it has been for me.
And yes....I did leave my job!  

-- Joan Sadoff, MEd; MSW, Filmmaker

-- Christina Holbrook, for Gutsy Gals Inspire Me!

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