When I heard this vignette, I realized the full potential of the documentary Paper Tigers to change how people think about childhood adversity and mobilize them to demand trauma-informed practices and policies—in schools, in healthcare and beyond. It was a brief encounter on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, between a woman who works on behalf of children in foster care and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy who the afternoon before saw the film at a private, pre-premier in Washington, DC. His response to her words of concern for children whose life circumstances are so difficult was heartfelt agreement that the need is great, adding that these kids face “paper tigers” daily and the stress can be overwhelming. We have to take new approaches that address ACEs and build resiliency, he said.
In many ways the May 12 pre-premier of Paper Tigers was a classic grassroots event—held at an economical venue reflecting the host’s values (the Quaker Meeting of Washington), included a high-spirited reception (not fueled by alcohol to be in compliance with church rules) in the church’s lower level assembly room, and was accomplished with the help of volunteers, neighbors, and friends who hauled in beverages, cleaned up, took photographs, welcomed guests, and solved problems (e.g., propped up the projector with books from the church library). On the other hand, the guests represented influential associations, foundations, and government agencies and the speaker line-up could have just as easily been for the world premier of Paper Tigers being held at the Seattle International Film Festival on May 28. The film’s co-executive producer, Dana Schwartz, spoke, as did Patrick and Amy Kennedy.
The event was co-sponsored by ACEs Connection Network and The Kennedy Forum and was held in conjunction with a May 12-13 conference, “Trauma Informed Care: Inspiring Hope, Building Resilience Through Trauma-Informed Communities” where I gave the day-one keynote. This pre-premiere in Washington was in a sense a dress rehearsal for community meetings to be held around the country after the screening in Seattle. It was also an opportunity to identify and bring together organizations with an interest in collaborating around the issue of trauma, and to raise the visibility of the new Washington, DC Metro Area Trauma-Informed Community initiative and recruit new participants. A core group of individuals in the region has been meeting regularly and recently formed a group on ACEs Connection. Working with Chacku Mathai, Director of the Star Center, Leah Harris launched the initiative earlier this year. Harris is a trainer for the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care.
Another member of the DC Metro Trauma-Informed Community steering committee, Allen Sweatt, described how learning about the ACE Study and trauma gave him a greater understanding of his own life and enriched his work as a peer specialist, helping others along the path to recovery. He acknowledged the role that Marcia Stanton of the Phoenix Children’s Hospital has played in teaching him about trauma in a train-the-trainer course in Arizona a few years ago and her continuing guidance on how to infuse trauma concepts in organizations and communities. In his remarks prior to the screening, Patrick Kennedy praised Sweatt for his service to his country in the military but also for his courage in speaking candidly about his struggle with mental illness and his professional and personal commitment to helping people in recovery. Sweatt is a certified peer specialist with Catholic Charities in the DC area.
Amy Kennedy spoke about the experiences she had as a middle school teacher with children who came to school with difficulties at home that prevented them from engaging fully in their schoolwork and the lack of training and tools to help teachers addresses their students’ problems. Dana Schwartz, co-producer of Paper Tigers, along with her mother Karen Pritkzer, who was executive producer, described how they worked with the talented and creative film director, James Redford, to bring to life the turnaround story of Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA. She has just received a Master’s in Social Work from Columbia University.
Details will be available soon about opportunities to screen Paper Tigers in communities around the country. ACEs Connection Network will be involved in coordinating these screenings.