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"Stolen Childhoods" exposes child labor abuses

March 1, 2006

KALAMAZOO--The Lewis Walker Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnic Relations at Western Michigan University has joined forces with a noted documentary filmmaker as a way of raising local awareness about the world's growing number of child laborers.

The Walker Institute is coordinating a series of Kalamazoo appearances by Len Morris, who directed and produced "Stolen Childhoods," the first feature documentary on global child labor. Morris will be in town Wednesday through Friday, March 8-10, to give three free public presentations related to that seminal 2005 film and to meet with area students and teachers.

Narrated by Meryl Streep, "Stolen Childhoods" brings to the screen the personal stories of poor children, bonded laborers and slaves. Eight countries are represented in the documentary, including the United States.

The film also addresses local, national and international solutions under way to end child labor and celebrates the resilience of kids whose lives are no longer lost to work. Viewers are able to gain an understanding of the causes of child labor, what it costs the global community, how it contributes to global insecurity and what it will take to eliminate it.

Morris' public appearances

Wednesday, March 8, remarks and a discussion following the screening of "Stolen Childhoods," 7 p.m., Brown Auditorium, Schneider Hall, WMU.

Thursday, March 9, talk on "Making the Documentary," 7 p.m., VanDuesen Room, Kalamazoo Public Library.

Friday, March 10, talk on "Poverty, Labor and Children," 10:50 a.m., Dalton Theatre, Kalamazoo College.

The filmmaker also will participate in a special workshop March 8 for a selected group of Kalamazoo Public Schools teachers and in a student congress sponsored by PeaceJam March 9, during which he will discuss the importance of social advocacy for the world's children, as well as his filmmaking, with local high school and college students.

Morris has produced, directed and edited a wide range of television documentaries for more than 20 years. He has won an Independent Filmmaker Award from the American Film Institute and is a director member of the Directors Guild of America. His films have been syndicated and broadcast on HBO, TNT, PBS and other cable and international networks, while his independent production company, Galen Films, has produced numerous award-winning documentaries.

Dr. Deborah H. Barnes, Walker Institute director, says "Stolen Childhoods" is the focal point of the institute's spring semester programming.

"This film examines the plight of 246 million poor and exploited working children around the world and in the United States. Filmed from their vantage point, we enter the world of children who are enslaved, abducted, sexually exploited, starved and/or forced to work under the worst possible conditions," Barnes says.

"Their youth stolen, these children of color are denied education and deprived of their innocence, in many cases, by industries which rely upon child labor to keep production costs low and profits high. Seasonal labor is also a vital element of southwest Michigan's agricultural economy, so we must ponder the many ways racism presents itself and consider how to improve the lives of children of color at home and abroad."

Barnes notes that Morris' visit is being supported by several organizations at WMU and in the local community. WMU co-sponsors include the Center for the Study of Ethics in Society and two student groups--Cognoscenti and the Progressive Student Alliance. Community co-sponsors include Great Lakes PeaceJam, Kalamazoo College's Underwood Stryker Institute for Service-Learning, the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, the Kalamazoo Public Library, Youth United Way and the YWCA.

"Part of the Walker Institute's mission is to work with the community to make educational opportunities available in a variety of venues," says Barnes, who also chairs the Kalamazoo Summit on Racism. "We've set up a number of activities with Mr. Morris in order to serve that mission. We've also included the workshop for teachers and the student congress in response to the Summit on Racism's goal of increasing the cultural competence of Kalamazoo teachers."

For details about Morris' Kalamazoo appearances, contact the Walker Institute at (269) 387-2141. For details about "Stolen Childhoods," visit the Web at www.stolenchildhoods.org.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
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Kalamazoo MI 49008-5433 USA
(269) 387-8400