Yvette Johnson is an accomplished writer, filmmaker, speaker, and the Executive Director of the Booker Writer Project which facilitates workshops on unconscious bias. Her memoir, The Song and the Silence, was published in 2017. Of her book, the Library Journal wrote, “This rich complex family history will appeal to anyone desiring a greater understanding of the consequences of intolerance.” Johnson co-produced the documentary, Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story, which premiered at the internationally recognized Tribeca Film Festival. The film also won several industry awards including the 2013 International Cinema in Industry: Documentary Gold Award, the 2013 FOCAL International Award for Best Use of Footage in a Factual Production, and the 34th Annual Telly Silver Award for Social Issues.
In this writing and discussion-intensive course, students will explore how their personal stories relate to current issues in the national narrative on anything from global warming, mental health, parenting, social justice, prison reform, and more, much more.
When Frank De Felitta travelled to Mississippi in the 60s to make a film for NBC News, he came across a black waiter with something to say about segregation. As Booker's words broadcast across America, they stirred up a hornet's nest. Forty-five years on, Frank's son returns with Booker's granddaughter, to find out what role his five minutes of fame played in his tragic life.
YVETTE JOHNSON: Well, in about—it was about 2007 when I first learned that my grandfather appeared on the news. And originally, the way the story was told to me, I thought that it was sort of a “man on the street” interview, that he was walking down the street and that maybe someone from the 5:00 news put a mic in his face and that he just said something sort of provocative and then went on his way. It wasn’t until I connected with Raymond that I actually got to see the film for myself and realized that what he said was so composed and thoughtful.
On any given Saturday night in the ’50s and ’60s, the place to be for Blacks in Greenwood, Mississippi, was a little spot called Booker’s Place down on McLaurin Street. In those days, McLaurin was lined with darkly lit, poorly maintained one-room bars and juke joints where shootings, stabbings, and robberies were regular weekend occurrences, but Booker’s Place was different.
Booker Wright, a black waiter in a whites-only restaurant in Greenwood, Miss., neither protested nor preached as the civil rights movement of the 1960s roiled the Delta. But the film “Booker’s Place: A Mississippi Story,” scheduled to premiere on Sunday at the Tribeca Film Festival, portrays him as one of the small heroes of that grand movement.
His feat: He dropped his mask of servility in a 1966 television documentary about the state, admitting that he was “crying on the inside” as he kowtowed to customers who sometimes denied him tips and uttered racial slurs. “The meaner the man be, the more you smile,” he explains.