Archive for December, 2009

In memory of Hannah Landers

By | Straightlaced

At every screening of Straightlaced where there is a Q and A afterwards, someone always, understandably, asks, “Who is Hannah Landers?” Because at the end of the film, a title comes up that says:

In memory of Hannah Landers
September 28, 1990 – May 6, 2008


In May of 2008, Sue Chen, my co-producer, had booked a plane ticket for Hannah and her mom to fly out to meet us in San Francisco so we could film a second interview with her. But days before they were supposed to come, Sue received a horrible phone call, and learned that Hannah had been killed in a car accident. We all were devastated.

We finished the film without that extra interview and all knew immediately that we would dedicate Straightlaced to Hannah’s memory, and by extension, to the spirit of her activism.

Then we started working on the world premiere. Much to our surprise, Hannah’s parents, Richard and Michelle Landers, were really excited to fly out to San Francisco to be there; they wanted to be part of the big audience that would be seeing the film for the first time.

Hannah had told us that her dad was an administrator at a Baptist church. I confess that of few of us here had some preconceptions about what kind of views a person who held that job might have about the point of view in our film.

We wondered: how would the Landers feel about the film? How would they feel being in a theater filled with close to a thousand Bay Area activists?

It turned out our concerns were for naught. The Landers’ response was so moving to me, and taught me a powerful lesson about my own stereotypes.

“We enjoyed the entire evening and sincerely appreciate the time we spent with you and the other Groundspark board of directors members and staff,” Michelle wrote to one of our board members. “Everyone was so wonderful, gracious and hospitable – we are very glad that we made the trip.”

“The film is fantastic and we are even more proud of Hannah than we could have imagined. She was incredibly passionate and wise for someone her age and she spent a lot of energy fighting what she saw as the injustices of the world. She was a champion for the underdog and a spokesperson for those who wouldn’t or couldn’t speak for themselves. We miss her terribly, but are very inspired that her words and actions will continue to help young people.”

Fast forward several months. I am so proud to be able to tell you that on January 9th, Straightlaced will have its Kentucky premiere on January 10th, 2010 at the State Theater at the Kentucky Theater at 10:15am. Richard and Michelle have worked with Rebecca Woloch, the mother of another student in whose memory the memorial garden in the film is dedicated, to organize the screening. They will be doing a fundraising pitch at the event and want the proceeds to be split between GroundSpark, the Hannah Landers Memorial Scholarship Fund, and a local suicide prevention group doing work in Josh Shipman’s memory. Please download the event flyer for more information on the event.

We, too, are also inspired that Hannah’s words and actions are helping so many people—of all ages—along with those of all the courageous young people who appeared in Straightlaced, and all of our other Respect for All Project films.

Our new year’s wish for you is that you continue to feel inspired and courageous. To look inside yourself, to challenge your own stereotypes, and to find the strength to be a champion for those who can’t or won’t speak for themselves.

Thank you from all of us at GroundSpark. Let’s stick together in 2010.

Debra Chasnoff
President and Senior Producer

Help GroundSpark bring the stories of courageous young people like Hannah to communities across the country in 2010, by making a donation to GroundSpark today!

GroundSpark films make a great gift! Please buy one today or donate a film to a school that can’t afford one.

Parents Can’t “Opt Out” of Lessons About Family Diversity

By | Straightlaced

In a case that GroundSpark has been following closely, the Alameda County Superior Court ruled this week that lessons designed to address anti-gay and lesbian bullying in the district’s elementary schools do not simply constitute “health lessons” and therefore are not subject to the state’s policy of allowing parents to “opt out” of having their children participate in those lessons. Even more importantly, Judge Frank Roesch ruled that the state education code’s requirement that schools address discrimination and bias effectively supersedes any potential opt-out provisions. Our film, That’s a Family!, used widely throughout the country to support children from all different kinds of families, is part of the curriculum that’s been under debate.

GroundSpark’s Cristy Chung, Director of Community Programs and the Respect For All Project had this to say about the ruling: “This critical decision reinforces the importance of creating safe and inclusive schools for all children and their families. My hope is that we find a way for our communities to support one another and together teach our children what respect really means.”

This ruling is consistent with a 2007 ruling in Massachusetts clearly stating that while parents have the right to direct the upbringing of their children, that right does not extend to directing what a school teaches. (You can read more about this ruling in the It’s Elementary curriculum guide). And that preparing students for citizenship in a diverse society and fostering an environment in which lesbian and gay students can learn are sufficient justifications for implementing LGBT-inclusive curriculum.

Here’s a link to the news story on the ruling in Alameda County, CA.

And to see the trailer or stream That’s a Family!, please click here.

Why I joined the board by David Kundtz

By | Latest News

Hello to all the friends and fans of GroundSpark. I’m the new guy on the board of directors. Brittney Shepherd, our staff producer, asked me to introduce myself and answer the question: Why did you join the board?

David Kundtz, GroundSpark's newest board member

Meet me, David Kundtz, GroundSpark's newest board member!

To learn more about my background and and our other amazing members of our board of directors, go here.

I’ll begin with John Hume and David Trimble, contemporary heroes of mine. Both politicians, Hume is from the Republic of Ireland and Trimble from Northern Ireland. They are rightly accredited with bringing about peace to the long and violent conflict in Northern Ireland with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. Here’s a quote from Hume:

“Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace – respect for diversity.”

And here’s a quote from Trimble:

“There are two traditions in Northern Ireland. There are two main religious denominations. But there is only one true moral denomination. And it wants peace.”

We all want peace. Everywhere in the world. It’s possibly the most sought after and the most elusive of all human desires. And if you’re like me, you’ve often wondered, But what can I do to bring about peace? The thought can be overwhelming; I’m only one little person with very limited resources.

Which brings me, finally, to the answer to Brittney’s question: Why did you join the board? To increase and support and create peace. GroundSpark is a practical and real embodiment of the conviction that, in Hume’s words, “respect for diversity is an essential way to peace.” There will always be many factions, identity groups, and denominations but, in the words of Trimble, “there is only one true moral denomination. And it wants peace.” The work of GroundSpark is something we can all do to bring about peace. “Respect for All” says it all.

That’s the main and underlying reason for accepting the invitation to join the board. But there are many more. A few of them: Being part of a group of amazingly talented and caring staff and board members; being part of an organization respected and influential throughout the country and world; helping to give voice to children and families who are often invisible and ignored. Grateful and honored is how I am feeling as we look to the opportunities offered by the challenges of hard economic times and changing cultural realities. GroundSpark is doing immensely important work. May it continue and prosper.

Thanks for the chance to share some thoughts.

David Kundtz