Mount Holyoke, in collaboration with Massachusetts Fair Housing Center of Holyoke, will screen the controversial and powerfully moving film The Letter: An American Town and the Somali Invasion Wednesday, May 3, at 7:30 pm in the Blanchard Campus Center Great Room.
The film focuses on Lewiston, Maine, which found itself at the center of a national debate when 1,100 Somali refugees were relocated there in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. The film chronicles a letter written by the then mayor, Larry Raymond, asking the Somali refugees to tell their friends and family not to move into the city. This letter created quite a controversy, pitting anti-immigrant white supremacist groups against local groups in support of the refugees. The tensions climaxed on January 11, 2003, in simultaneous competing rallies that required the largest police action ever seen in Maine to ensure the safety of the town residents.
This film has won Best Documentary at the Boston Film Festival. It was chosen as the Opening Night Film at the 2004 Amnesty International Film Festival and has garnered various other prestigious nominations throughout the U.S. and around the world.
Following the screening, attendees are invited to remain for a discussion about the film as well as racism and discrimination persistent in our own communities. Staff from the Massachusetts Fair Housing Center (MFHC), a nonprofit organization working to defend the civil rights of residents of central and western Massachusetts and ensure equal access to housing, will be leading the discussion. MFHC has been investigating claims of housing discrimination and educating the community about fair housing for the past 16 years. "People believe that the civil rights movement is something that happened in the past," said Erica Johnson, program director at MFHC, "but I can assure you that the movement is still going on and the staff of MFHC is working every day to ensure all people have access to housing."
This event is supported in part by Arise for Social Justice in conjunction with their second annual Tent City Week and Center for the Environment.
The event is free and open to the public. For more information about Massachusetts Fair Housing Center, please contact Erica Johnson, MFHC program director, at 413-539-9796.