A high school student from Lebanon who created “Good Morning, Mrs. Ford”, a documentary about a black teacher who suffered discrimination, is the winner of a prestigious award from Princeton University.
Abram Barker recreated the twelve-minute masterpiece. This earned him the Princeton University Race Relations Award for the region this year.
Barker, who has spent her entire life in the southern Missouri town in Lebanon, introduced Ms. Eleanor Ford – one of the district’s only African-American educators. Ford died some 30 years ago, but Barker’s film goes above and beyond to keep her memory alive in the town of 14,400.
He brought attention to her life by interviewing her family and others who knew her – and whose lives she touched. Barker’s film was part of Lebanon’s first-ever Secondary School Black History Month, to recognize the integrated school’s first black teacher.
“After onboarding, the school district didn’t fire her,” he said. “They, however, were trying to demote her in a way. So they gave her the job of librarian. Inadvertently, they just gave him more time with the students and with exponentially more students. Every student goes to the library, every student interacts with the librarian. So instead of teaching just one class a year, she talks to them all. It means more children see her and more children interact with her and now we have maybe hundreds of people who still remember her fondly and can continue to talk about her, as we do. did with our respondents. It’s part of the faceless part of the story – and how we kind of ignored it.
One person who remembers Mrs. Ford is Barker’s mother, Elizabeth.
“Eleanor was my librarian from the time I moved from Arizona to Missouri in 1980 until sixth grade, which would have been around 1984. She was just such a powerful educator, and just a storyteller, and someone who just had such an incredible impact on the youth of the community for several generations. I didn’t always do what I was supposed to do when I was in school,” she said. “I often found myself in the hallway and I just remember that this woman had a way of knowing exactly what the needs of the students were. And so, if I got in trouble down the hall, I knew I was about to get some extra attention and guidance, and that’s what I’ve been looking for all along with everything I’ve done. who put me there. And you will see in the documentary that everyone who spoke about her has a specific memory and something she did for them.
Stephanie Hasty, Barker’s former English teacher, said he was able to get answers from people who are afraid to speak. She said Barker showcased Ford’s life as an important educator in Lebanon and revealed how Ms. Ford’s silent resilience was a form of resistance.
“Getting people to share their stories, and I think in a small town, that’s very difficult. It is very difficult for people of color to communicate with white people because they are afraid that their story will not be told properly, or that you will, for lack of a better word, whitewash it and turn it into white stories of a saviour. And so, I believe that Abram went out of his way not to do these things, to let the stories of these people in Lebanon be told, so that we could see them as they were, especially as Mrs. Ford, seeing her as she was. . Some of the things the city showed – not so good, okay. I think the more we communicate about these things, the closer we get to this reconciliation that we keep talking about and I think Abram has done a good job of creating a bridge,” Hasty said.
As the winner, Barker receives $1,000 and is invited to a race symposium where award nominees can meet others involved in racial justice work. The award, founded by a group of former students, has existed since 2003.
Victoria Goldson, chair of the Princeton University selection committee for the St. Louis region, has supported the award since almost its inception. She has served as president for the past five years and said Barker’s submission stood out.
“I don’t really remember a winner outside of the St. Louis metro area,” Goldson said. “Previously, most of our winners were involved with their high school, doing different projects that usually involve tough conversations or advocacy for changes in schools or changes in school policies. Abram’s candidacy was very unusual, because first of all he was not in St. Louis, but Abram’s was also video journalism. It told the story of a one-woman activist who faced tremendous discrimination in the community and who truly became a resilient leader. I mean, she didn’t quit, she didn’t leave Lebanon. And instead, she was a true educator. She put the kids first and she made great connections with members of the community. So what Abram did was he really amplified his voice and his story for the community. And it’s a wonderful form of racial equity work. Often people think of racial equity work as just kids protesting or kids standing up for something they believe in, but it can also be kids amplifying their stories, amplifying voices of the past and the leaders of the past.
Eric Adams, another teacher at Barker’s school, said Barker took the documentary to the next level.
“You think you’re talking to our veterans about the richness of that history in those war stories,” Adams said. “Well, we have a lot of war stories in Lebanon. And these have to do with the evil that ensues, prejudice, racism. He really is the real deal when it comes to documentaries. What I hope is that people will see ‘Hello, Mrs. Ford’ as a positive story – as inspirational, but also as a reality check in our communities that we need to face our history.
The biggest lesson Barker said he learned through this film is that stories, like Ms. Ford’s, exist within communities like hers.
“And as time goes by, more and more people don’t talk about it, and they get lost. The importance of documenting these events is so that they remain alive, that they are always shared because Lebanon is not very good at recognizing its history. It’s not very good at remembering the less pretty parts about it. And even though the documentary doesn’t really address that, it does address a community that was kind of lost and isn’t very present anymore,” Barker said.
Elizabeth Barker explains what she hopes the award will teach her about her son.
“I hope that tells me they’ve been paying attention all along,” she said. “Being an educator myself, I hope students leave my classroom with, like, curiosity about the world outside of Laclede County and a desire to go out and hug people. I am a visual arts teacher. I think the visual arts are how we connect with ourselves and with others. With Abram winning this award, and with Abram also entering a field related to visual arts and being part of visual arts, I like to think that means that they’ve been paying attention all along, and they’ve we’re going to take things into their future and build on it in ways that Eric and I can’t imagine right now.
Abram Barker plans to attend the University of Missouri and earn a degree in journalism.
To listen to the Show Me Today interview, click below (11:00 p.m.).
To watch the documentary “Good Morning, Mrs. Ford,” click below.
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