James Baldwin speech inspires teachers to bring documentary to Staples

Josiah Tarrant, Staff Writer

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On a sunny Saturday afternoon, March 11, a large crowd filled the McManus Room at the Westport Library to enjoy a screening and discussion of the award-winning documentary, “James Baldwin:  The Price of the Ticket.” The event was a collaboration presented by the Westport Library and TEAM (Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism) Westport.

The event featured the producer of the film, Karen Thorsen, an Easton resident, who was introduced by Maggie Mudd of TEAM Westport. Also, on hand to lead the discussion and share personal anecdotes was Richard Marek, local Westport resident, and editor of four of Baldwin’s books, including “The Fire Next Time.”

Showcasing archived footage of the vibrant and outspoken James Baldwin, “The Price of the Ticket” tells the personal story of a man who, in his own words “hit the jackpot,” despite being disadvantaged, as black, gay and poor growing up in Harlem in the 1930s. The highly awarded film highlights the impact Baldwin’s religious roots and his self-taught education (reading every book from A to Z in the Harlem Library) had on his journey to become a powerful author whose thoughts on the black experience in America and views on human rights and social activism continue to be quoted today.

Baldwin, a friend of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, devoted his life to using his art and writing for social change. In the late 1940s, he fled to France to escape the poor racial climate in America and to continue his writing undisturbed. Baldwin’s highly praised books, including “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” “Giovanni’s Room” and “Another Country,” explore issues of slavery, racism, faith and human rights.

When a member of the audience expressed interest in having Thorsen present the film to Staples High School students, Thorsen replied, “We have been showing the film to students in Bridgeport and Hartford, and I would love the opportunity to bring this to Staples.”  

Staples High School economics and U.S. history teacher, Drew Coyne, who was not able to attend the movie showing, agrees with Thorsen. “Her documentary about James Baldwin would be an informative resource for our students, especially in the fields of American history, government and economics,” Coyne explained.

David Willick, another Staples social studies teacher, agrees, “I’m not sure of any reason why this should not come to Staples, it seems very interesting and timely.”

Those who watch “James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket” quickly understand why, through his writings, James Baldwin is among the great black leaders of the Equal Rights movement and why his work is still relevant today. With local access to the filmmaker and one of Baldwin’s primary editors, bringing the knowledge and messages of the film to the Staples community through a screening and discussion with them would be a natural next step in the national tour of this eye-opening documentary.

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