Recently, my wife, daughter and I attended the screening of the two documentaries “Unlocking the Doors of Opportunity: The Rosenwald Schools of North Carolina” and for South Carolina, “The Bridge That Brought Us Through,” produced by Jere Snyder and Tom Lasiter of Longleaf Productions, at the Charlotte Museum of History. I narrated both documentaries and was an on-camera host for “The Bridge.”
Rosenwald Schools were an effort to provide African-American children in the South elementary education in the early 20th century. Often, their local governments, dominated by post-Reconstruction and Jim Crow leadership, refused to fund schools for them at levels that would allow them to be productive. In South Carolina for instance, for every dollar spent on schools for Black students, NINE dollars was spent on white students.
Julius Rosenwald was then CEO and part owner of Sears Roebuck. He partially funded the Rosenwald Schools. Working with legendary Black educator and activist Booker T. Washington, they created a plan in which the Rosenwald Fund, local government, and Black communities themselves would combine their funding to build new schools, mostly in the rural South, for Black students.
As we moved to a question-and-answer phase between the two docs, they kindly asked me to come up and be acknowledged. While watching the first and while speaking, I was somewhat emotionally overwhelmed, making connections to my own family.
People in my generation and older remember Sears, and its catalogs and Wishbooks. I remember that both my mother and father worked at Sears for years before their retirements, and I did as well, though only tangentially during my early employment at Discover Card.
Looking at the map of Rosenwald schools in the South, it hit me that some of my family may have even attended one of those schools, in Louisiana or Tennessee. The films also thundered home how desperate African-American families were to get their children educated with some semblance of fairness and equity, to give their children a chance in this country even when much of the country was opposed to their advancement in any sector of life.
Finally, I am reminded that this is the history many people want to snuff out or keep hidden, at seemingly any cost. Not just the cruelty and inhumanity of denying children a fair chance at education, but the lengths people, American citizens who had very little reason to trust that their government would help them or champion their cause, would go to for the “American Dream.” These communities often contributed more than Mr. Rosenwald did to raise their schools, despite enduring double taxation.
Jere and Tom want to do films for every state that had Rosenwald Schools. And I want to be a part of it for as long as they will have me. Of course, when you are a voice actor, you want to do exciting work; the bigger the brand, the better! We get to shine up our websites with the brand logo, boast a little to our families, and get an ego boost from our colleagues. And there is nothing wrong with that. They are the ones that make our money, pay our bills, and keep us going. We need them.
But we also need these voiceover jobs too. These are the kind of jobs that can fulfill you. Inspire you. Make you feel like your work means something. This is voiceover that can touch your heart and soul, and hopefully those of the people who hear it. They don’t come around that frequently. But when they do? Grab them and don’t let go. It will be good for you, I can tell you from experience.