<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
 English | Español November 19, 2017 | Issue #64


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Building an Authentic Journalism Movement

School Takes Lessons from Civil Rights Leader James Lawson and the History of the Highlander Center


By Kara Newhouse
Class of 2010, School of Authentic Journalism

February 21, 2010

MERIDA, YUCATAN: Rev. James Lawson, who coordinated lunch counter sit-ins to desegregate Nashville in the 1960s, shared his lessons in movement-building with the School of Authentic Journalism during a question-and-answer session February 6 in Mérida, Yucatan. His discussion of practical skills training and strategic networking in the civil rights movement reflected the current work of the School , which has also been shaped by lessons from the Highlander Center in Tennessee.


2010 Authentic Journalism Scholars Milena Velis and Wendy Martínez interviewed the Rev. James Lawson during a February 6 luncheon in Mérida, Yucatán. Left to right: Luisa Ortíz (México, english to spanish translation), Velis (Philadelphia), Lawson (Nashville), Martínez (Honduras), Sandra Cuffe (Canada, spanish to english translation), Narco News publisher Al Giordano.
D.R. 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky
Replying to the question, “What is a leader?” Lawson said, “It’s important to use the device of not a handful of people carrying on the major tasks, but of deliberately increasing the numbers of people who learn all sorts of facets of the local struggle.”

Student Edwin Alvarez, who works with the School of Leaders in Honduras, connected Lawson’s ideas about leadership to the purpose of the School. He said, “The leader isn’t born, the leader is made. This school is also training people from the different backgrounds, different countries, different communities.”

According to Lawson, success in the Nashville sit-ins did not happen spontaneously, but came from steeping participants in Gandhian nonviolent tactics. For example, he led role-playing games to practice confronting the violence that protestors might face when sitting at white-only lunch counters.


2010 Authentic Journalism Scholar Edwin Alvarez, who works with the School of Leaders in Honduras, connected Lawson’s ideas about leadership to the purpose of the School of Authentic Journalism. He said, “The leader isn’t born, the leader is made. This school is also training people from the different backgrounds, different countries, different communities.
D.R. 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky
At the School for Authentic Journalism, students working in video and online media practice their authentic journalism skills by covering the events that they are experiencing. At Saturday’s discussion, Wendy Martínez and Milena Velis, two of the school’s students, asked Lawson questions in front of their peers, including work groups that photographed and filmed the session.

Velis, a print journalist and radio host, said that the assignment challenged her to hone her formal interviewing skills: “Usually my style is to be more informal and to have a conversation and be able to go back-and-forth. This was more scripted.”

The lessons in movement building that the audience took from Lawson can also be learned from the Highlander Research and Education Center, a retreat site for training in grassroots organizing and coalition building. According to School president Al Giordano, the Center was famed in the 1960s and 70s for its influence on icons like Rosa Parks and Pete Seeger. Giordano said that he modeled the School for Authentic Journalism in part after the center, because, “When you pull people out of their everyday worlds and put them together in one place, all kinds of things are made possible.”


The rev. Jim Lawson shared his experiences as a community organizer and movement strategist with 65 students and professors of the School of Authentic Journalism.
D.R. 2010 Noah Friedman-Rudovsky
Like the work of the Highlander center among organizers, the School builds a strategic network among authentic media makers. In addition to guest speakers, the school’s teachers and students share their knowledge and experiences during daily plenary sessions. When those conversations end, Giordano addresses the audience by saying of each speaker, “She’s available to you, and make yourselves available to her.”

Lessons flow throughout work groups and into social time, but the strategic element of this network will be proven by the continuation of the connections made. Student RJ Maccani said, “Now whatever form of media I might try to work in, I have people I know I can call to figure out how to do it.”

As Giordano puts it, “None of you are alone when you go back home. It frees you up to perhaps take risks that you wouldn’t otherwise take.”

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America