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“Forgotten History”: Giving Voice to the Struggles of African-American Students and Alumni of Lawrence

By Alysa Levi-D’Ancona

Lights, camera…intolerance! Well, that doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but two talented individuals are working to bring to light the racial intolerance that still exists in the Appleton area, more specifically at Lawrence University.

Current student Zach Ben-Amots, ’16, as well as alumnus and artist-in-residence Catherine Tatge, ’72, have been working on a Lawrence-based documentary entitled “Forgotten History,” exploring the needs of African-American students at the university since their admittance in 1858.

Ron Dunlap, a retired administrator of the Appleton Area School District, spoke to Tatge’s Civic Life Film Project course in the fall of 2013, sharing his insight on the struggles of African-Americans in the school system. While his classmates chose to explore other topics for their ten-minute documentaries, Ben-Amots was struck by the racial isolation that Dunlap described, deciding to take on the project for the term.

What started out as a short film grew into more than Ben-Amots or Tatge could have ever predicted. Ben-Amots narrowed his scope from the Appleton area to Lawrence, interviewing African-American alumni from the 60s to the present day.

“I initially thought I would organize the film chronologically, but I discovered African-American students’ needs were rarely met,” Ben-Amots said. “Instead there has been a linear nature in telling this story, a recurring theme of not feeling accepted in this isolated community. The needs of black students at Lawrence today are the same as they were in the 60s and 70s, tainted by a lack of action.”

As an alumna, Tatge can attest to the racial tensions present when she was a student. While her artistic eye has been a help during the production of the documentary, she admits that this is Ben-Amots’ project. “Forgotten History” will premiere June 22 in Lawrence’s Memorial Chapel, with a panel afterwards and a separate showing for the reunion of African-American alumni in the fall.

“We had the same idea and collaborated. I’ve worked with him on shoots and interviews, but it’s all him,” she said. “And we were lucky to have synchronistic moments while making the film.”

Tatge’s not only referring to the lengthening of the documentary from ten to thirty minutes, but Nick Hoffmann, the chief curator of The History Museum at the Castle, has offered a spot for “Forgotten History” in an upcoming exhibit. Further, the documentary is to make its way into schools across the Fox Valley.

But while “Forgotten History” is promising to make its mark on the Fox Valley, Ben-Amots refuses to reel in the tension behind the subject matter. “It’s important to make this film, but the discussion can’t end there,” he urged. “My goal is to start the conversation in a way that spurs action and change.

«Lawrence has always been a leader in the Appleton community with regards to inclusion and diversity. This is made clear by LU›s acceptance of black students since the mid-1800s. However, African Americans still face many hardships in both Lawrence and Appleton. And those issues must be met before this community can consider itself truly inclusive.

“The best part has been digging deeper into the stories of these students and realizing that a story is there, but it hasn’t been told.”

We can be thankful that with the help of Ben-Amots, the stories of African-American students and alumni can finally be heard.

Zeltsman Music Festival Sure to Hit a High Note in the Fox Valley

By Alysa Levi-D’Ancona

We know your summer calendars have are already started to fill up with barbeques and trips to Lake Michigan. But trust us, you won’t want to miss out on the Zeltsman Marimba Festival this June and July, hosted by marimba specialist Nancy Zeltsman.

No, the marimba isn’t a fancy Latin-American dance. But it does originate from Central America and some parts of Africa. If you’re not quite sure what kind of sounds to expect from a marimba, imagine a lower-pitched xylophone made of wood. Though the instrument is in the percussion family, it requires knowledge of both the bass and the treble clef, kind of like a piano, but with five octaves.

That’s just how Zeltsman got started. She began on the piano when she was five, and at thirteen, she was asked if she was interested in trying out percussion. Within two years, without missing a beat, she’d fallen in love with the marimba.

Now Zeltsman spreads her love of the marimba through the Zeltsman Marimba Festival. This summer marks the twelfth year that the festival has taken place, and Lawrence University has had the honor of hosting the event for half of those years. The first time the festival resonated was in 2001, back when it was still called the Princeton Marimba Festival. Now the festival is on the move to places like California and Amsterdam, but it has made Lawrence its biennial home.

“I began the festival having the privilege of being invited to a lot of places and wanting to combine artists and pieces together,” Zeltsman said. “I want to put together an inspiring event.”

And the event has gained momentum since its first run. Now, Zeltsman hosts it as a two-part event. The first part consists of an intensive training seminar for serious musicians who love marimba, in past years ranging in age from sixteen to fifty.

For two weeks the festival is private, as famous international marimba and percussion specialists teach a group of around forty participants. The second half of the event is open to the public, as it promotes marimba music to the community in an open concert series. The range of music includes contemporary, modern, pop, adapted classical, and jazz.

Though the festival is meant to encourage you just sit back and enjoy the music, Zeltsman admits that the festival always amounts to so much more. “People make meaningful connections,” she said. “It’s always so meaningful to me when people tell me, ‘This was life changing.’”

The marimba may not have the rock aesthetic of a guitar, but as Zeltsman acknowledges, it’s a warm, pleasant sound that, unfortunately, isn’t that widely known.

But with an open mind and a leap of faith, Zeltsman can guarantee an entrancing entrance into the world of percussion.

The Zeltsman Marimba Festival begins June 29th. For more information, visit http://www.zmf.us.

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