Wangari Naathai’s Kenyan grassroots story told in “Taking Root,” KETC film series at Missouri History Museum

Tonight at the Missouri History Museum, as part of the Community Cinema Series, a packed auditorium viewed “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Naathai.”

“Taking Root” tells the dramatic story of Kenyan Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Naathai, whose simple act of planting trees grew into a nationwide movement to safeguard the environment, protect human rights and defend democracy–a movement for which this woman became an iconic inspiration.

This was part of the Meet Up run by the museum. I shared a lovely conversation with Pat before the film, as we enjoyed the light refreshments and informational tables around the room.

She’d asked me what drew me to the film. “I’m an Africanist,” I said. “So….” She heard me say, “I have an African Soul.” While I would not say this, it struck me with some truth, and so I didn’t correct her.

The film is extraordinary…showing the power of one steadfast and gutsy woman who not only changed communities, but brought down an entire government.

It’s an extraordinarily moving film. Hard to watch in places. I was sitting in a cluster of African American women who had been sent there on an assignment by an anthro class at UMSL. At one point, one woman said, “I don’t know if I can take much more of this.” I said, “Hang in there. Remember that she prevails.” That tenacity against all odds is so moving. Truly she is one of my heroines, as is Madame Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia. And, most African women I’ve met, for that matter.

After the film Denise DeCou, Executive Director of the National Conference for Community and Justice of Metropolitan St. Louis (NCCJSTL), and Phil Valko, Executive Director of the Urban Studio were joined by leaders from Amnesty International and The Green Space for a spirited discussion with the audiance.

For those with the stamina, the discussion continued on into the evening at The Royale (3132 S. Kingshighway).

How did the Nobel choose Wangari? How did she connect trees, civic education, and Peace?

In 2004 instead of awarding its prestigious peace prize to an individual dedicated to ending armed conflict, the Nobel Committe re-interpreted the 1895 will of Swedish philanthropist Alfred Nobel–who founded the acclaimed prize and expanded its definition of ‘peace.’

For the first time in its history the committee recognized environmental preservation, community empowerment, and democratic governance as central elements in the promotion of peace and human rights. The committee noted that forests are a natural resource that sustain life in Africa, and that deforestation leads to poverty, ethnic conflicts, and needless human suffering. Hence, the Nobel Committee selected a Kenyan environmental activist, Wangari Naathai, as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Wangari founded the Green Belt Movement, a voluntary organization dedicated to environmental preservation, women’s rights, and community.

Community Cinema Series offers monthly special sneak preview screenings of films scheduled for upcoming broadcast on the Emmy Award-winning PBS series Independent Lens designed to help people learn about and get involved in some of today’s key social issues.

The screenings are offered free of charge. The films themselves are broadcast at later dates as part of Independent Lens on Channel 9.

Community Cinema is presented by KETC/Channel 9 and the Missouri Historical Society, in collaboration with Independent Lens, ITVS and FOCUS St. Louis

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