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Project Citizen: Using Film to Raise Social Consciousness

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Kelvin Shawn Sealey: A 42-year-old teacher and educator currently completing his doctoral work at Teachers College, Columbia University, Sealey is the co-founder of the Film and Education Research Academy, a research unit of the College’s Center for Education Outreach and Innovation.

Kelvin Shawn Sealey: A 42-year-old teacher and educator currently completing his doctoral work at Teachers College, Columbia University, Sealey is the co-founder of the Film and Education Research Academy, a research unit of the College’s Center for Education Outreach and Innovation.

John Broughton, Teachers College assistant professor of psychology and education

John Broughton, Teachers College assistant professor of psychology and education

Video

NEW YORK, NY  Oct. 22, 2004 -- Celebrities bestriding the stage, microphone in hand.

Sparks flying as host, guests and audience trade opinions that can - and do -- get personal.

A strong flavoring of Hollywood and other aspects of popular culture.

It's the format that made superstars of Geraldo and Oprah (not to mention Jenny Jones, Montel Williams and Maury Povich). But the host is a doctoral student in Interdisciplinary Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University, and the guests include intellectuals such as Cornel West and Gloria Steinem.

Welcome to Project Citizen, a unique live talk show series at Teachers College/Columbia that uses short clips from popular films to guide discussions of heady social issues such as the new awareness of architecture in the post-9/11 West; the views of disabled film stars on stem-cell research; and how women's bodies are depicted in the movies. On November 3rd, the series will bring Steinem, feminist scholar bell hooks and the Korean theologian Hyun Kyung Chung to the Columbia campus to discuss the latter topic.

Project Citizen is the brain child of Kelvin Shawn Sealey, a 42-year-old teacher and educator currently completing his doctoral work at Teachers College (his thesis is titled "Education and Spectacle: Performative Pedagogy in Late Modernity"), and his advisor, Professor John Broughton. It grew out of an earlier initiative launched by the pair: The Film and Education Research Academy (FERA), a research unit of Teachers College's Center for Education Outreach and Innovation (see www.tc.edu/ceoi/fera). Both efforts reflect Sealey's fascination with film as a medium for focusing Americans on issues of social justice.

"This is a key moment in our history, when large numbers of Americans are comfortable and feel no need to think about those who aren't," Sealey says. "Meanwhile, there appear to be people around the world who hate us so much that they would do anything to kill us. So we need to make Americans aware of social justice issues - whether it's AIDS, or poverty, or sexism - both at home and beyond our borders. Popular film is a wonderful vehicle for doing that, because it often engages these themes even as it appeals primarily to people's desire for escapism."

Project Citizen is still in its infancy - the event on November 3rd is only the second of the series, following West's appearance last spring (see www.tc.edu/ceoi/fera/cornelwest.htm). Yet Sealey's long-term vision ranges far beyond the auditoriums of Columbia University. His goal is to hold Project Citizen events on a series of college campuses; to cue discussions not only to film but also to television content, video and video games, music and the Internet; and ultimately to package the various "shows" for viewing on cable or public television. He also hopes to develop a similar series for high school and middle school audiences, and to involve students in the production process.

Sealey is seeking sponsorship from leading computer and communications companies - an effort that reflects his interest in "social enterprise," or the use of capitalism to fund projects related to a social mission.

All of which may sound like the daydreams of a starry-eyed graduate student, but Sealey has the cultural and organizational chops to get it done. His previous projects have been funded by the Kellogg, Knight and Ford Foundations, as well as by the Roberts and Northland Institutes. His edited works include the book Restoring Hope: Conversations on the Future of Black America, a collection of interviews by Cornel West with nine leading American public figures, and a volume of essays about social enterprise. He has  taught at Hunter and York Colleges, TC and Columbia, and served as Dean of the Packer Collegiate Institute upper school in Brooklyn; founded (and sold) a communications software company; and founded the Obsidian Society, an organization that continues to support the work of artists, educators, and institutions that seek to improve African American life.  Sealey's forthcoming book with Peter Lang Publishers will be entitled, "Film, Politics & Education."

Teachers College is the largest graduate school of education in the nation. Teachers College is affiliated with Columbia University, but it is legally and financially independent. The editors of U.S. News and World Report have ranked Teachers College as one of the leading graduate schools of education in the country.

Video produced by The Office of Public Affairs, Columbia University

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