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A chance to focus on race- UWRF hosts A Breath For George

October 1, 2020

It is no question that 2020 has been the host for one of the United States’ most critical discussions regarding black empowerment, white privilege, and police brutality. George Floyd’s death at the knees of police officers ignited difficult conversations about race that have previously been avoided. People became advocates, ready to fight against racial injustice.

On Sept. 15, UW-River Falls Student Involvement hosted “Focus On Race: A Breath For George,” an event that is part of their 2020-2021 value series.

A Breath For George was created by New Dawn Theatre and Minnesota artists as a platform to: honor Mr. Floyd’s life; speak to this moment and moments past openly and honestly; and to share avenues which promote hope and positive changes for the future,” reads the brochure given to viewers.

“This year, we’re focusing on the word ‘Inclusivity’ and, more importantly, race and anti-racism,” said Elise Peters, Student Events and Activities Coordinator. “Each event around the We Are Falcons Value Series this year will focus on that topic.”

After an introduction from Stage and Screen Arts Chair Robin Murray, who helped bring the film to the UWRF campus, Austene Van made her way to the stage. Van is the creator of A Breath For George and the artistic director for the New Dawn Theatre Company, a “theater company devoted to making a difference in our communities by producing excellent theater by, for & featuring women, minorities and members of the LGBT communities.” 

Austene Van “picked herself off the floor and called friends and family and said ‘we need to make a change.’”

The film was shown outdoors from June 14-21 and UWRF students had the opportunity to view it on Sept. 15.

“It’s not just for entertainment, but to provoke thought,” Van explained. “Something has to change, and we’re to do it. I’m asking you to stand, roll up your sleeves, and put your hands in this mess.”

Over those 90 minutes, viewers witnessed poems, songs, stories, and ideas from many black actors, artists, and activists from the Twin Cities. 

A Breath For George addressed the racist history of the United States, such as the creation of the police, redlining, blockbusting, and slavery. It explored instances such as the Tulsa Massacre and the Duluth Lynchings. Artists and activists told personal stories of when they encountered racism, whether it was from their childhood or a week before the video was created. 

Some explained their feelings about what had happened on Labor Day.

“I didn’t sleep well that night. I woke up angry and ready for action,” Activist and artist James Craven said.

Craven told the story of when his son was held at gunpoint by police officers when he was 11 years old. It was one of the many instances in his life where he knew a change needed to be made.

“It’s not just the cops,” Craven said. “It’s these state legislatures too.”

Artist and activist Jamil Jude talked about the racial divide that exists in the United States. He explained that when he is in the workplace with white people, they felt comfortable with him, but “once I was in the street, I was someone they had to worry about.”

The end of the film addressed how the nation can move forward.

“What gives me hope is the kids,” artist and activist Harvey Blanks said. “Everyday, I am aware of how precious my breath is. Don’t let anger take your breath from you.”

Van invited viewers to all breathe together. “Thank you for taking a breath for George,” Van said.

“After seeing the film in St. Paul, I immediately began thinking that I wanted to help find a way for our UWRF students to see the show,” Murray said. “I left the screening newly inspired to do my part to fight the racism that exists in this country, while also trying to understand what it meant for me to do the work required. When Elise told me that the Falcon Value Series this year would be focusing on anti-racism, it was clear that we had a good idea and should work with New Dawn Theatre to bring the film to UWRF.”

Peters echoed Murray’s words, “This seemed like a great We Are Falcons Values Series event as our focus this year is to provide events that provide education around race and anti-racism,” 

Murray expressed what she hoped viewers gained: “I hope viewers walk away with a new understanding of the history of racism in this country; including how it has affected individuals such as those who voiced their stories in the film. I also hope they learned of historical travesties that have been perpetuated against people of color that they were previously unaware of, such as the Tulsa Massacre and the Duluth Lynchings. I hope white viewers walk away with the determination to do the work that is needed to address racism locally and nationally.”

Peters went more in-depth about this year’s theme of Inclusivity. “The campus defines INCLUSIVENESS as ‘We commit to a community of mutual respect, professional behavior, academic freedom, and appreciation of individual differences and rich cultural diversity.’ We agree and know that when people are accepted, they are able to flourish and succeed.”

If you would like to learn how to fight against racial injustice, New Dawn Theatre’s website provides a plethora of links.

To stay up-to-date on events from the We Are Falcons Value Series focusing on Inclusivity, check here.