- Published on Thursday, 12 December 2013 23:11
By Lisa Y. Garibay
UTEP News Service
Momentous synchronicity took place Thursday, Dec. 5, as UTEP became one of only 10 universities around the country to host a private screening of the film Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom – just hours after the Nobel Peace Prize-winning leader passed away at age 95.
The screening was awarded to UTEP’s ONE Chapter in celebration of its hard work on a series of action-oriented challenges during the fall semester, which included living without power and urging political leaders to support programs that save lives and create sustainable futures in the developing world. UTEP students, faculty, staff and their guests were invited to attend the screening.
In response to the breaking news of Mandela’s death, organizers immediately put together a candlelight vigil preceding the screening. A moment of silence followed the film for the many who remained once the lights came back up in the auditorium.
Theresa S. Ramirez, the University Honors Program coordinator and faculty adviser to UTEP’s ONE Chapter since it was established in April 2010, attended the screening at the Cinemark West theatres. She witnessed emotions ranging from somber mourning to joyful celebration of Mandela’s life and legacy.
“Prior to the announcement of Mr. Mandela's death, 108 names were on the RSVP list,” Ramirez said. “Within two hours, the number jumped to 140 people. I think the news of his loss sparked more interest in the film screening, both at UTEP and in the community at large.”
ONE is an advocacy organization co-founded by U2 lead singer Bono to fight extreme poverty in developing nations with a particular focus on Africa. More than 3.5 million members worldwide are engaged in raising public awareness and working with political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs.
The Weinstein Company, which is distributing Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom in the United States, partnered with ONE to encourage discussions on college campuses nationwide about Mandela’s life and legacy.The action was driven by words Mandela once delivered to the world’s youth: “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice … It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”
Matt Higginson, ONE’s senior manager for college organizing, said, “We are thrilled to share Nelson Mandela’s story with this next generation of activists. Mandela’s conviction that poverty is not natural, but man-made, has inspired and mobilized these college students to take action and rally their campuses against extreme poverty. We believe these students are the great generation that Mandela spoke of. They will fight to make poverty a thing of the past.”
UTEP ONE chapter president Audrey Russell, a junior majoring in communication, has been involved with the chapter since attending events her freshman year. After two years of contributing to the organization’s advocacy work throughout the local community, Russell was elected president of the chapter and spearheaded the campus effort to win the chance to screen Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom. She was impressed by the breadth of social advocacy that she and her peers undertook on a daily basis throughout the semester to win the chance to screen the film.
“The process took place over the entire semester,” Russell said. “UTEP students took part in advocacy actions for different campaigns since the school year started. We shared everything from powerful quotes about ending poverty and disease to reminding our political leaders to keep Africa and impoverished countries in mind in their decisions. We handwrote letters, gave class presentations to the community and UTEP students, and created tweeting campaigns to our Congressmen about our issues.” She also pointed out that the national ONE Campus office in Washington, D.C., walked the UTEP chapter through each step.
“All of our members have been heavily involved with educating other students on issues of global poverty and preventable disease as well as helping their own community,” Russell said. Students volunteered for community service events, manned information tables on campus and solicited donations. The collective action of approximately 30 committed UTEP ONE members tallied up so many points for UTEP that it was recognized as one of the top 10 universities nationwide when the contest closed, which then gave UTEP’s ONE the pre-screening opportunity.
Charles Horak, longtime El Paso film critic and host of KTEP-FM’s (88.5) “On Film” program, echoed the uniqueness of such an event.
“It is indeed rare that El Paso receives preview screenings, partially because of our market size,” Horak said. “In the case of Mandela: A Long Walk Home and other important, smaller films, studios will on occasion present such previews as a way of building word of mouth in a market or region. As many cities no longer have local film critics, I think this strategy has become more important.”
What held even more significance was the chance for students to learn more about a history of which they may never have been aware before viewing this film. And its presentation on a big screen (versus viewing it on a TV, computer or mobile device) powerfully reinforced the difficult struggle for basic human rights that Mandela and other Africans fought for throughout the 20st century.
The film is based on Mandela’s autobiography of the same name, which chronicles his early life, coming of age, education and 27 years in prison before becoming president of South Africa and working to rebuild the country’s once-segregated society. Idris Elba (Prometheus and hit BBC series Luther) stars as Mandela and Naomie Harris (Skyfall) stars as his wife Winnie. The film opened Nov. 29 in New York and Los Angeles and will open nationwide Dec. 25.
“While there is sadness that Mr. Mandela is no longer with us, the current interest in his life and story will undoubtedly drive more people to see the film and learn about his incredible journey,” Horak said.
Russell hopes the momentum from the screening and celebration of Mandela’s legacy will encourage her fellow Miners to contact ONE to see how they can contribute.
“[ONE] is open to so many different topics; you can learn and apply knowledge in science, literature, humanities and so many other areas of study to the work this organization does,” she said.
Noting that even one student’s interest and manpower can make a difference, Russell quoted the words of renowned anthropologist Margaret Mead, which she says have inspired ONE members on many occasions: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”