By Deloris Wilson, MPP’14, Contributor
With a packed house, the John F. Kennedy, Jr. Forum welcomed a screening of the award-winning documentary, “The House I Live In.”
Acclaimed by The New York Times as “fearless,” the film examines the economic and political perpetuation of the War on Drugs, as well as its detrimental effects. With a crowd of community members, students, activists and professors; the film’s writer-director, Eugene Jarecki and director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School, Professor Charles J. Olgetree, participated in a Q&A following the screening.
The film’s purpose, stated Jarecki, is to galvanize those who can “make the social movement.”
Jarecki is committed to increasing community activism to combat the “industrial inhumanities” resulting from the War on Drugs. Critically examining how the capitalist system benefits from the prison industry, the film portrays the intricacies of power, race, socioeconomic opportunity and justice; noting the effect this interplay has on low-income communities across the nation.
Through the misuse of the criminalization of drugs to rectify a multifaceted problem, policies have failed to correctly address what is truly an issue of public health and access to economic opportunity, while disproportionately affecting minority communities, particularly the African-American urban poor.
This premiere screening and conversation was meant to serve as the kickoff event to raise awareness for the newly-created Urban Leadership Laboratory (UL2). As a joint-initiative of students of the Center for Public Leadership Student Advisory Board and HKS Black Student Union, UL2 is designed to stimulate ideas and strategies to improve life outcomes for people in low-income, urban communities. The program will consist of four separate sessions (criminal justice, education, entrepreneurship and health); each of which is a contributing factor to the cycle of urban poverty.
The sessions will feature a prominent practitioner to share best practices and early failures in order to collectively develop effective solutions alongside future leaders. While more information on this initiative is forth coming, it directly addresses issues highlighted in the documentary and provides a key opportunity for students to become involved, organizers say.
Brandon Moore, an MPP2 at the Kennedy School and an integral member in developing this initiative, recognizes the void in effectively addressing issues of urban poverty and seeks to make a substantial impact. According to his colleagues, Moore’s leadership in bringing this film to HKS and enlightening our community on this pressing issue is truly appreciated: After all, they say, if we continue to perpetuate a belief that our nation’s high rates of incarceration are due only to crime itself and not the discriminatory policies and practices surrounding it, we fail to properly address the problem at its foundation.
As Professor Olgetree noted, “This issue is not on anyone’s agenda.” This is exactly what UL2 will seek to change.