As countless hopeful refugees feel whipsawed by events that seem to change hourly, individual stories are providing human faces for a crisis that can seem far away and difficult to grasp.
Jeremy Dreyfuss knows one of those stories well. And he told it even before the current refugee crisis seized America’s imagination.
He’s a 2011 Staples grad. In high school he discovered a passion for film and TV production in the Media Lab. Instructors Jim Honeycutt and Mike Zito encouraged creativity, and provided a welcoming space for free expression.
Jeremy went on to study film and TV at Boston University. Today he works at Business Insider in New York, helping lead a Facebook-based lifestyle publication for millennials. It’s fun, creative work.
But there’s another part of his resume that’s worth noting. “Seeking Refuge: The Story of Clement Mubungirwa” is a video that shows — simply and powerfully — the effect America has on refugees.
And the impact one refugee can have on America.
In his junior year at BU, Jeremy wanted to tell a multi-layered story. He’d always loved sports, so he searched for something more than just “an athlete doing something impressive.”
He stumbled on an article in a Louisiana paper about a boy from the Congo. Clement had escaped from brutal war, wound up in Baton Rouge, overcome adversity, found football and was propelled into a new life. About to begin his senior year of high school — with a possible college scholarship ahead — he suddenly was denied the chance to play. He’d repeated a grade because his reading level was low. Now — too old — he was ruled ineligible for sports.
Jeremy reached Clement by phone, and was taken by what he heard. The filmmaker flew to Baton Rouge. He met Clement, the family that took him in, and others. He returned one weekend in October, with his camera.
“I thought the story would be about a kid from a war-torn nation who used sports to find a community,” Jeremy says. Clement was cheering for his team from the sidelines, and that’s what the filmmaker expected to focus on.
But it was Homecoming weekend. Clement had been nominated for king. That became the magic moment of Jeremy’s video.
“When Clement’s name was announced as the winner, the crowd erupted,” Jeremy says. “All the other candidates embraced him. It was a joyful moment.
“He’d been robbed of the opportunity to play his senior year, but he was not robbed of an amazing community. He’d found a home, and they were touched by his special character.”
While studying abroad in London that winter, Jeremy spent nights and weekends editing his film. He entered 5 festivals, winning first place in Oklahoma for documentary, and 2nd in a student contest in Los Angeles.
As for Clement: He enrolled in a school in Texas, but returned to Baton Rouge. He’s working now, trying to go back to college. Pro football is no longer an option. But, Jeremy says, the joy Clement found leading his team from the sidelines may spur a career in coaching.
Though Jeremy made his video before the current immigrant controversy, he believes its message resonates strongly today.
On one level it’s about “the transformative power of sports: making bridges and breaking language barriers,” he says.
But it’s also about how by embracing a refugee like Clement, the citizens of Baton Rouge helped him reach his potential — and grew in the process too.
Jeremy loves his job at Business Insider. But he hopes to keep exploring ways in which sports can unite people of diverse background, and open amazing new paths for refugees.
“There are a lot of stories like Clement’s out there,” Jeremy says. “It’s important for people to understand how great immigrants can make us all.”
Click here to view “Seeking Refuge: The Story of Clement Mubungirwa.”
(Hat tip: Jim Honeycutt)