Category Archives: Media

Jeremy Dreyfuss, Clement Mubungirwa And Refugees

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 Dreyfuss

Jeremy Dreyfuss

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.

Clement Mubungira with the family that welcomed him into their Louisiana home.

Clement Mubungirwa with the James family, who welcomed him into their Louisiana home. Clement’s mother, Masika, is next to him in the front row.

“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.

Clement Mubungira is crowned Homecoming King.

Clement Mubungirwa is crowned Homecoming King.

“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)

Clement Mubungira

Clement Mubungirwa

Double L’s Secret Llibrarian

For over 3 decades, Westporters have known — and loved — the Double L Farm Stand. Lloyd Allen’s Post Road spot is the place for locally grown fruit and veggies, grass-fed beef, banter and community.

For more than 5 years, it’s also been a library.

Every 2 or 3 weeks, someone leaves a book just underneath the front window. Most are by best-selling authors, and/or from the New York Times bestseller list.

Some of the books left underneath the farm stand's front window.

Some of the books left underneath the farm stand’s front window.

Lloyd has no idea who his secret donor is. Nor does he know why he or she does it.

But he’s built a very nice lending library. His customers love it.

And — just like Lloyd’s produce — it’s growing very nicely.

Part of Lloyd Allen's lending library.

Part of Lloyd Allen’s lending library.

YouLobby: Staples Grads Power Grassroots Democracy

The Trump election — particularly the aftermath of his inauguration — spurred yuuuuge numbers of Americans toward action.

Amid the marches, rallies and Facebook posts, a common theme emerged: To effect change, people must engage in the political process. Protests are one tool — but actually contacting elected representatives is key.

So who you gonna call?

For folks engaging in their first form of activism — anyone, really — knowing how to reach your legislators is not always easy. (That was true during America’s previous protest movement too: the Tea Party.)

That’s where YouLobby comes in.

The home page of YouLobby.org.

The home page of YouLobby.org.

The website is a 1-stop shop to help citizens contact their senators and representatives. It offers a range of issues — healthcare, climate change, education, women’s rights, immigration, civil rights, the Supreme court, constitutional crisis — to weigh in on.

And it provides a sample call script, for users who can’t find the right words to convey their disappointment/distrust/dismay at the latest news.

YouLobby is the brainchild of Aaron Eisman and Kira Ganga Kieffer. Both are Staples High School 2004 alums; both graduated from Brown University 4 years later.

They took very different paths to their current project.

At Staples, the 3-year Authentic Science Research course (and mentor Dr. A.J. Scheetz) sparked Aaron’s curiosity. He also served as yearbook editor.

brown-logoAt Brown he concentrated in applied math, with a focus in economics. He did biochemistry research at Yale for 2 summers.

After college he worked for 5 years as director of technology at an asset management firm,where he taught himself to code, and manage online data and cloud computing.

Then he made a career change, into medicine. Two years working as a research coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital reawakened his passion for science research, which he continues to do at Brown’s Alpert School of Medicine. He’s in his 2nd year — while also doing research in biomedical informatics. The aim is to use healthcare data to improve clinical outcomes.

Kira was a 4-year writer (and senior co-editor-in-chief) for Inklings, the Staples newspaper. Steve Rexford encouraged her to do investigative reporting, and break stories that might be unpopular with administrators. She co-founded an after-school reading club for girls at Beardsley Elementary School in Bridgeport, and worked for United Way — early experiences in social outreach and community engagement.

A history and religious studies concentrator at Brown, she became passionate about studying evangelicalism and politics. She examines those very timely topics now, as part of Boston University’s doctoral program. In between, she spent 6 years in corporate marketing.

Kira and Aaron, at Staples High School's senior prom.

Kira and Aaron, at Staples High School’s senior prom.

Oh, yeah: Aaron and Kira dated as Staples seniors. They’ve been together for almost 13 years — and got married in 2015.

Over the past few months, politics was all they talked about. They grew increasingly concerned about the health of American democracy; threats to women’s, LGBT and civil rights; the need for universal healthcare; the denial of climate change; the importance of environmental protection and industry regulation; immigration and refugee crises; racial and religious intolerance — you know, all those minor issues.

After the election, the couple began calling their representatives. They attended the women’s march on Washington. It was their first protest, and they were hooked.

“We decided these causes are worth fighting for,” Kira says. “We needed to work to make our country work better, and treat all people witih respect.”

While struck by the massive crowds of diverse people, all standing in solidarity, Aaron and Kira worried that grassroots energy might fizzle out. Driving back to Massachusetts, they talked about the importance of engaging their representatives.

They decided to make a tool to help. They came up with the “YouLobby” name, and when they got home they bought the domain name. Aaron put his coding skills to work. Kira did the same with her marketing talents.

Kira’s mother gave important feedback: She said the daily script made it easy to call.

Two weeks later, they launched.

Kira Ganga Kieffer and Aaron Eisman in Washington, the day after the inauguration.

Kira Ganga Kieffer and Aaron Eisman in Washington, the day after the inauguration.

The website is simple. Other sites do similar things, but without the ease of use, visual appeal and social media presence of YouLobby. A Facebook page sends out daily updates, and the pair use the hashtag #EveryCallCounts on Twitter and Instagram.

Aaron and Kira’s site also offers important bullet-point facts and arguments, and a homepage “Issue of the Day.”

Reaction was overwhelmingly positive — and instant. Within 24 hours, users from 29 states were calling their representatives. Over 500 zip codes have already been entered.

These days, Congress is inundated with phone calls. Citizens turn up in record numbers at town halls and constituent meetings. YouLobby is doing what it can to keep the pressure on.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. And no one knows that better than Kira’s mother.

She had never called a representative in her life. Using YouLobby, she now calls every day.

And the aides who answer the phones know her by name.

Kami Evans Empowers Women

If you’re a Westport woman on Facebook, you know Kami Evans.

A local mom, she’s created “Kami’s Kloud.” Thousands of followers — okay, not all of them women — check in frequently. She connects businesses with non-profits and charities, helping build community. (She also creates many separate social media groups and pages, again connecting people with good causes.)

Kami — who could be called a “mom-cierge” — does not favor one event over another. But this one is definitely close to her heart.

Kami Evans

Kami Evans

On March 29, she presents a Women’s Empowerment Forum. Focusing on love and money, it features guest speaker Siggy Flicker (author of “Write Your Own Fairy Tale: The New Rules for Dating, Relationships and Finding Love on Your Own Terms”).

In addition, financial expert Jennifer Scheffer will share tips and tricks about managing finances and personal assets.

“More than ever, it’s important for women to come together to benefit humankind, their families and themselves,” Kami says. “You’ll leave with knowledge and inspiration, to balance your hearts and wallets.”

You’ll also aid a good cause. A portion of the proceeds go to Person-to-Person, a longtime, low-key local helping organization.

(Reservation deadline for the March 29 Women’s Empowerment Forum [10 am to noon, Delamar Hotel, Southport] is March 1. Click here for tickets.)

Move Over, “Hamilton.” Forget It, “Camelot.” “Dear Evan Hansen” Rocks.

“06880” could post stories every day about Justin Paul, and never run out of things to say.

We could, but we won’t.

Nevertheless, the latest news about the 2003 Staples High School graduate — who with his songwriting partner Benj Pasek is a Golden Globe winner, Oscar nominee, movie and stage and TV sensation, and basically the hottest thing on the musical theater horizon since Rodgers and Hammerstein — is pretty impressive.

The original cast recording of “Dear Evan Hansen” — a Broadway smash — debuted at #8 on the Billboard chart. That’s higher than any cast recording since 1961, when “Camelot” appeared for the 1st time at #4.

To answer your question: “Hamilton” first showed up at #12.

That’s today’s Justin Paul news. We’ll be back soon with more, for sure.

(Want your own “Dear Evan Hansen” cast recording? Click here!)

Staples: The High School That Rocked!

It’s a story so outlandish, folks who were there don’t believe it: In a 2-year period in the mid-1960s, the Doors played a concert at Staples High School.

So did Cream. The Yardbirds. Sly and the Family Stone. The Rascals. The Animals. The Beau Brummels.

Plus over the next few years, the Byrds, Rhinoceros, Buddy Miles, J. Geils,  Peter Frampton and Taj Mahal. And Steve Tallerico, before he became Steve Tyler.

I saw most of those bands. I’ve written about it, on “06880.” So has Mark Smollin, a 1970 Staples grad, in his great book The Real Rock & Roll High School: True Tales of Legendary Bands That Performed in Westport CT.

Still skeptical? Now there’s even more proof: a video documentary, called “The High School That Rocked!”

high-school-that-rocked-poster

It’s a labor of love from Fred Cantor, a 1971 Staples alum who missed most of those performances, but is now making up for lost time.

Rock has never died — witness all the young rock lovers born decades after Jim Morrison died — and Cantor enlisted the help of a very recent Staples grad to bring his vision to reality.

Casey Denton (Class of 2014) led a high-level Emerson College camera and sound crew, then edited the final prodcut.

Doors posterThe video includes research Cantor had done for Smollin’s book, and over a dozen interviews with people who were there at the concerts. (Spoiler alert: I’m one of them. Our recollections seem pretty accurate, despite the admonition that if you remember the ’60s, you weren’t there.)

Cantor focused on a 2-year period, when 6 bands now in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame all took the Staples stage. He is convinced no other high school that could make such a claim.

The video also includes Staples grads from that era who made their mark in the music world. One is Paul Gambaccini, perhaps Britain’s most famous music presenter. Another is Charlie Karp, who at 16 years old was influenced by the concerts to leave Staples and join the Buddy Miles Express. A third is Emmy winner Brian Keane.

Cantor is working with the Westport Cinema Initiative, Westport Historical Society and Levitt Pavilion, to bring “The High School That Rocked!” to a wide audience here.

He’s also entering it in festivals (film, not rock). The first is Film Fest 52 at the Bethel Cinema (Wednesday, March 8, 6 pm VIP party meet and greet, 7 pm film, followed by a Q&A and reception). It will also open the SENE Film, Music & Arts Festival in Providence on April 25.

You don’t have to have seen any of the Staples concerts — or even to have been alive then — to love this film.

But if you were there, you’ll appreciate the final credits.

They say the film was produced by “Sally’s Record Dept. Productions.”

Ginger Baker, Cream's drummer, at Staples. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

Ginger Baker, Cream’s drummer, at Staples. (Photo copyright Jeremy Ross)

 

CNN Covers “White Privilege” Controversy — And Adds A Prize

The Great White Privilege Essay Contest Debate reached CNN this morning.

A few minutes ago, Michael Smerconish interviewed TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey on his TV show. The segment was long, detailed, fair and balanced.

And — before it ended — the host invited the eventual essay winner to come on the show.

(That should spur entrants from Westport high school students! Interested? Click here for details. To view the segment on the CNN website, click here.)

michael-smerconish-cnn

(Hat tips: Lyn Hogan. Barbara Wanamaker and Lisa Metz)

Danny Pravder And Kid Cudi Rock Jimmy Fallon

If you watched the “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” last night, you saw Kid Cudi perform a fantastic version of “Kitchen,” backed by a full string section.

If you watched really closely, you could see Danny Pravder on piano.

Danny Pravder (right), backing King Cudi on national TV.

Danny Pravder (right), backing Kid Cudi on national TV.

The 2012 Staples High School graduate earned a B.A. in math and computer science from Skidmore College. But music is his passion.

A few weeks after graduation, he drove cross country to try to make it in L.A.

Days later, Kid Cudi needed a pianist for “Does It,” a track on his new album “Passion, Pain and Demon Slayin’.” Music director Steve Velez — who Pravder had met 2 years earlier, on a classical music tour of Vienna, Salzburg and Prague — suggested the recent arrival.

Danny Pravder

Danny Pravder

Pravder nailed it — then improvised a coda for “Releaser,” another track. A few takes later, they had the version used on the album.

That January, Pravder joined a chamber collective called the Da Capo Players. Velez is the music director and cellist for that group too.

When Kid Cudi was booked for the Jimmy Fallon gig — with those strings — Pravder was invited too. He flew to New York on Tuesday. They rehearsed that night.

There is no piano on the original “Kitchen” track. Pravder improvised, on live TV.

Though the camera focuses almost entirely on Kid Cudi, there was a brief piano solo — with a spotlight.

Danny Pravder (left) with King Cudi and members of the Da Capo Players, backstage at "The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon."

Danny Pravder (left) with Kid Cudi and members of the Da Capo Players, backstage at “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.”

Today’s snowstorm delayed Pravder’s return to California. But it won’t slow down his career.

Ahead are more studio projects. A future in dance accompaniment. World travels, performing piano.

And — no doubt — many more TV appearances, with the greatest performers in the land.

(Click here to see last night’s performance of “Kitchen” with Kid Cudi and Danny Pravder.)

Super Bowl’s Most Controversial Ad: The Westport Roots

On December 8, the script for a Super Bowl ad landed on John Noble’s desk.

The executive director for FIXER Partners — a 1981 Staples High School graduate — says, “It spoke to my core beliefs. That’s incredibly rare in advertising.”

He had just 7 weeks to help produce the spot. That would be a daunting challenge — let alone doing it over the holidays, knowing the audience would be yuuuuuge.

But Noble rose to the challenge. And the ad — for 84 Lumber — became one of the most talked-about in an already-crowded Super Bowl ad environment.

John Noble

John Noble

Fox deemed the ad — depicting a migrant mother and daughter’s long, treacherous journey to America (including a massive wall) too controversial to show.

So Noble and the company — a Pennsylvania-based supplier of building materials —  aired an edited 1:30 version. At the end, viewers were invited to “See the conclusion” at 84 Lumber’s website.

At the end of that 5:44 video, the words “The will to succeed is always welcome here” spoke to both the American spirit, and 84 Lumber’s desire to attract the best employees, wherever they are.

It’s already been viewed nearly 10 million times.

The moment the spot was shown Sunday night, Noble’s Facebook page blew up. Included were “some pretty negative right wing responses,” he tells “06880.”

Patiently, he posted that the spot was not about wide open borders, which “nobody wants.” Instead it’s about “good, honest, hard-working people.”

The big door at the end of the ad is “a visual metaphor for opening our country to those people. We want and need good moral people of all races, creeds and colors in this great country of ours.”

To Noble’s surprise, he engaged in “fairly positive and open dialogue” with some of the naysayers. “It felt good,” he adds.

Noble — whose father was a noted advertising executive — has been producing big commercials for many years. But this was the initial one for the company he recently launched, FIXER.

“It was a heck of a first project,” he laughs.

Building the wall, on the dusty Mexican set.

Building the wall, on the dusty Mexican set.

The University of Maryland and School of Visual Arts graduate cites Bedford Junior High School teachers Ed Hall, Sal Cassano and Barbara Candee as early influences.

“I wasn’t a particularly good student,” he notes. “In their own respective ways, each of those people coached or taught me that I would develop on my own schedule, and my own time. They were right.”

Noble’s mother recently celebrated a half century in the home she raised him in. Whenever he’s back east, working in New York, he stays here.

“Early evenings at the beach with a cold beer, chowing down an Art’s deli combo or a slice of Jordan’s garlic and onion pizza — life gets no better!” he says.

John Noble appreciates Westport — and America.

And he’s glad that he helped bring 84 Lumber’s message that this is the land of opportunity to a larger audience than even he imagined, 2 months ago.

(Hat tips: Ted Gangi, Brian Pettee, Chris Strausser, Russell Sherman and Suzanne Sherman Propp)

 

Zelda!

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald spent just a few months in Westport — way back in 1920.

But it made a lasting impact on their lives.

Now Netflix and Amazon Prime viewers can relive that crazy time through a new series called “Z: The Beginning of Everything.”

Christina Ricci plays Zelda, “the brilliant, beautiful Southern Belle who became the original flapper and icon of the wild, flamboyant Jazz Age.”

In episode 9, “Scott and Zelda work through rising marital tensions at their Westport house.”

Sounds interesting.

Even if it was filmed on Long Island.

Zelda today...

Zelda today…

F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, in front of what appears to be their Westport home.

and yesterday, with F. Scott Fitzgerald in front of their Westport home.

(Hat tips: Erica Peale and Jeff Mitchell)