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The courage to tell their stories

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press

Wednesday, May 25, 2016 8:01 AM
“Where’s that guy?” the 19 students from countries around the world asked their teacher Robin Brennan-Perez’s at South Side High School.

The “guy” is me. Robin invited me to show my new half-hour documentary, “Anne Frank and the River Traveler,” to her class who applauded the presentation and the next day asked where I was.

The film documents the week-long, 141-mile canoe trip in April 2014 from Fort Wayne to Toledo organized by the local grassroots organization Save Maumee. Robin stopped the movie at different points to ask questions and explain some of the language since some of the students were fairly new to this country and still learning the language. When she asked how many would like to go on a trip like this, most said yes.

Based on their enthusiasm, I am working to organize them to volunteer for a river cleanup before school is out for the summer. She led them in a discussion on the meaning of the word “grassroots” and how it relates to making a difference, They related to Bill White’s story, the river traveler in the title, and his connection to Anne Frank. He was 13 in 1963 when his parents sent him to a Catholic Military boarding school that sits on a hill overlooking the Maumee He hated it, wearing uniforms, marching in cadence, and being indoctrinated with values he abhorred. He found inspiration in reading Anne Frank’s diary.

Bill believed they were teaching him to accept the misery that injustice creates, and remarked on the contrast between the school and the people on this spiritual journey, all volunteers, whose pay is to look in wonder at the eagle soaring over the river in the mist of the breaking dawn, to sit under a blanket of stars staring through the flickering flames of the campfire, to sense our connection to the thread of life that connects all living things.

They were on the trip to save the Maumee from the attitude and values that cause human beings, both individually and collectively under the guise of corporations, to treat our river, our water, our life flow, like a garbage dump.

Perhaps no place in America more vividly demonstrates these values than Flint, Mich., where drinking water tainted with lead was passed off as safe by the governor and 18 state regulatory bodies, the people who are supposed to be protecting us.

Writer and Flint native Michael Moore in a letter to President Obama wrote, “It’s a hate crime, and mass poisoning of black and poor people that never would happen if this were Bloomfield Hills or Grosse Pointe or any other white town. It was done in order to give a billion-dollar tax cut to the rich. Every child here now has some form of permanent brain damage…”

An activist for clean rivers makes this point in the documentary, telling me that Ohio lawmakers say that regulating agriculture runoff (i.e. manure) in the rivers is crucial but do nothing to stop it because they are bought and paid for by the very corporations who are guilty of doing it, and profit royally from it.

According to Moore, nothing has been done in Flint, either. Of the 75,000 pipes that need to be replaced, so far only nine have been, and recently 47 members of Congress voted against funding to help the children of Flint. But they have no problem authorizing funding for more troops to Syria.

It is this connection of war to dirty water that that led Robin to say she believes the documentary is creating “cosmic ripples” for discussion, but the credit goes to Anne Frank.

“I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone, are guilty of the war. Oh no, the little man is just as guilty, otherwise the peoples of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There’s in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage. Until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.” — Anne Frank “The Diary of a Young Girl”

Anne Frank and the river travelers are separated by time and an ocean but are connected by something more powerful: their courage to tell the world their story and in so doing, bring hope to all of us.

Thank you, Robin, and you 19 kids for adding to that hope.

“That guy,” aka Terry Doran is a resident of Fort Wayne.

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