Re Imagination Nation, We Imagine US

Episode 1: La June Montgomery Tabron, Linda Sarsour and Ava DuVernay

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Published on: March 22, 2023

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In this episode, we explore the importance of imagination and solidarity. First, we speak with the creator of SCoRE (Solidarity Council on Racial Equity), La June Montgomery Tabron, who reimagines how we can work together to create a world that is truly equitable for all. Then, Maria is joined by SCoRE members Linda Sarsour and award-winning film director Ava DuVernay, who explain their vision for a more just world and the work they are doing to make change happen.

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Maria Hinojosa: [00:00:04] Hey, welcome to Re-imagination Nation. I’m Maria Hinojosa. You know, Ava DuVernay, because she’s a pretty extraordinary film director and you may not know activist Linda Sarsour, a Muslim woman from Brooklyn, she helped to create the women’s march. Today, we’re going to be talking with both of them. They are part of an organization called SCoRE, the Solidarity Council on Racial Equity. And you’re like, what’s that? Well, SCoRE was brought together by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. We started before the pandemic began, a group of 20 thinkers and really doers. And we were coming together to talk about what we could do as leaders focusing on solidarity and racial inequality. And then the pandemic happened and our meetings became virtual, and then the protests over the murder of Jorge Floyd broke out and the conversation within score turned to how these thinkers and doers wanted to take this moment to transform and reimagine the country that we actually wanted. So part of the idea was to create this Podcast and I sat down with all of the score members to talk to them about how we should create a better world centered around democracy, racial equity and solidarity. So today we are going to hear from the activist Linda Sarsour and from the film director Ava DuVernay. But we’re also going to hear from the person who kind of envisioned and created a score. That is the June Montgomery Tabram. She’s the first woman, first black president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the creator of SCoRE. So, La June, welcome to Re-imagination Nation. 

LaJune Montgomery Tabron: [00:02:03] Thank you. I’m so honored to be here. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:02:06] So this Podcast is really all about the idea of imagining and creating a more equal and more equitable world. Right. And there’s a lot of hope for in that process of reimagining that maybe we can find a way to solve some of these things. So I’m thinking with all that in mind, you come up with this idea to create a group of thinkers, and it’s called the Solidary Council on Racial Equity. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came up with it, how you see its purpose and how you’re seeing the work of SCoRE? 

LaJune Montgomery Tabron: [00:02:43] Now, SCoRE was a vision that I had. I said I’m probably one of the darkest moments of twenty sixteen. In that moment, the nation was being divided. The expression was so clear and profound. Division and divide and conquer. So in that moment of my darkest despair, I just thought about solidarity as the opposite of that. And I saw that no one was talking about where people were coming together together in solidarity. We could show and create the narrative of racial equality that works for everyone and the people to solve. It would be people of these different ethnicities with their expertize and their brilliance. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:03:37] You know, at the very beginning of the pandemic, it was, I think, April of 2020 and it was a conversation that we were having via Zoom. And it was in that moment that I felt a little hopeful. And so in that spirit, I’ve asked a lot of the score members, can you paint a picture of what the future looks like? This reimagine future? And it’s kind of like I suddenly hear the little birds, you know, in the background, like a little cartoon. And everything is like pastel colors. And everybody’s happy when the moon is dreaming. What does that future, where there is solidarity, where there is racial equality, where there is in fact love? Paint that picture for us. 

LaJune Montgomery Tabron: [00:04:24] So let me go back to my childhood. And I spoke about how fortunate I think I was that I did live in a family where we pursued our opportunities and we had those opportunities. But my vision of true racial equity is to go back to that neighborhood where every friend I had, every family on my block had the same opportunities. Their schools were not disinvested in, no matter what school they attended. They had resources and those children were nurtured to dream and all pursued their highest dreams. And that diversity of dream and vision created an ecosystem of thriving people and thriving families. So, you know, when I envision what racial equity looks like is a place where the designers of the systems bring that love and that understanding of humanity and the system, this design is designed for everyone not to advantage and disadvantage others. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:05:43] La June, thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it. 

LaJune Montgomery Tabron: [00:05:46] Thank you. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:05:51] LaJune Montgomery Tabron to run is the president and CEO of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Coming up, powerhouse activist Linda Sarsour. She’s going to talk about growing up Muslim American in Brooklyn and she tells us about her reimagined world. The first thing I want you to do with me, take me back to when Linda is a little girl and when Linda starts imagining. There’s a whole other way of seeing the world or there’s a way in which I belong in this world in which my voice matters. Can you take us back? Because we want to get to that place. You’re this extraordinary dreamer. 

Linda Sarsour: [00:06:49] Public School one sixty-nine in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. My principle is that I need a Puerto Rican woman who was always wearing heels and walked and strutted up the hallways and just someone who saw me among a student population of about fifteen hundred other children. And I was the first to go to school in my family. I’m the oldest of seven children and my school was predominantly Latino, some East Asians that included Chinese and some Japanese in my school. And of course, they were pockets of children who were like me, who were parents, had come from parts of the Middle East. And I felt like that was the world that I wanted to live in. I saw a woman who was my principal, who was brown, and I saw children who look like they came from all parts of the world. And I felt like this is probably a good world to live in. And then being the oldest of seven, being able to watch my siblings who were literally all in one grade behind me, two grades behind me, I had a sibling in every grade in the school. And so being that kind of protector and trying to figure out how to navigate being a young Palestinian Muslim American daughter of parents who didn’t speak much English, having to translate for my parents at open school night at parent teacher conferences, helping my mom fill out all my school paperwork, being really independent as a child and then being able to advocate and have those conversations with my siblings is kind of how I found my voice. I found myself as a very young leader, put into a circumstance by being the daughter of immigrants, but also feeling like some sort of solidarity, because the children who are my age in my class were going through similar situations and going up into middle school and high school in New York City and then becoming a little more sophisticated about understanding what were really the stories of the people who are around me, parents working multiple jobs, you know, kids who may not have had the parents at home because they were incarcerated and just really starting to be a young kid, just trying to figure out like, what is this world that I live in? And then understanding that it actually wasn’t that great of a world. And who do I want to be in this world? And I believe that children, if given the opportunity to tell their stories, to give them the tools, the creativity to tell the world who they are and what kind of world they wanted to live in, that I could really make a difference. And so my whole dream growing up from the fifth grade all the way till I got even to college, was to be a high school English teacher and to teach young people of color how to tell their stories. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:09:43] We’re closer, much closer to racial equity, so what does that world look like through Linda’s eyes? 

Linda Sarsour: [00:09:51] That world with my great great grandchildren is a world full of joy, a world where we open our television sets or our God knows what will be around at that time where we can watch people feeling joy and watching other people also engaging in joy. My life with my great great grandchildren is about safety and security. It’s about being able to go anywhere, any time in any part of this country and just focus on the joy and not have to worry about our my great grandchildren safe, you know, can my great granddaughters wear hijab and just go to any place at any time of night and be able to experience joy and be together in safety and security? I see a time with my great great grandchildren when they are able to create their own generational wealth, that they don’t have to worry about all these extra things that our generation worries about, that we can’t even build kind of a pathway to success for our great grandchildren. By that time, our great grandchildren would already have maybe bought their own homes. Maybe they had their white picket fence and their little gardens outside of their homes. You know, when you never have to open a newspaper and read about a young black man or woman being killed at the hands of police, a world where there is no police, actually, a world where there is no ice, a world where there is no prisons because everybody has what they need. Everybody has more than adequate housing. Everybody has a job that they love that pays them in a dignified way, that allows them to not just survive, but to thrive. A world where we have an abundance of mental health services and health care and preventative health care and everybody has health care, and so we don’t have to deal with issues of gun violence and guns because there is no crime. There’s only a world of joy. And that’s the world that I want to live in. And I believe it’s actually a world that is possible. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:11:55] Palestinian, Brooklynite, Muslim, American activist and organizer Linda Sarsour. Ava DuVernay directed the film’s 13th Selma, among many others, and she’s also a part of SCoRE, she’s going to talk about racial equity now and about how she imagined her way and worked her butt off into unchartered territory as a black woman director in Hollywood. 

Ava DuVernay: [00:12:36] I worked in the film industry as a crew member, one of the people whose names are on the scroll that most people walk out of when you’re at a movie and was proud of that and love that because I love movies. I love the process of making them. But after being on so many sets, I started to feel like I could do what that one person in the center of the action was doing, which was the director and really didn’t have a lot of precedent. Didn’t see I didn’t know of any black women doing it at the time, didn’t see them amplified in the press, didn’t wasn’t aware of black women who had been making films independently up to that point. And so they started to make my own things, small things on my own, never imagining that they’d ever really be seeing beyond the independent festival circuit. And, you know, things kind of took off from there. So it really made getting into film didn’t come from any desire to be famous or make a lot of money, because at the time there was no there was no precedent for that being able to happen for someone like me. It really came out of having stories that I needed to tell and things that I wanted to say and express. And that was my intention. And that intention has led me to many beautiful places. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:13:48] So how did you understand the possibility of using film, your voice, your storytelling as one of the many tools to talk about or achieve or get closer to racial equity early on? 

Ava DuVernay: [00:14:00] My interest wasn’t in using film as a tool. It was using film as a language to express myself. And it just happens that the things that I want to express have to do with black people, and that that includes the joy, the triumphs, the glory, the flavor, the love. But it also includes why all those things are so extraordinary, because they are emanating from a people who has been, you know, severely oppressed, tortured, murdered, ostracized and terrorized. And so that the desire to tell history, the reality, the modernity, the future of black people, you know, it’s hard to do that without addressing, you know, the place in which we stand and say which is America and the systems in which we’re ensnared. And so in doing that, as a filmmaker, I guess I’ve come to be known for for telling stories that are about racial equity and injustice. But really, I’m just following my my heart’s desire to tell the story of black people in all our incarnations. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:15:23] Who do you turn to in these moments, and as you turn to them are you also thinking, geez, we’ve got to go to hell to get to a place that helps us break through? We have to go through 2020 in the pandemic to get to a place where we can begin to reimagine. 

Ava DuVernay: [00:15:37] Yeah, where do I go to? I’m really looking to the people who are around me in this moment looking to care for them and to care for each other, make sure that folks are healthy and really taking inspiration, especially in these moments in these last couple of years from the freedom fighters right around us who is locally doing the work, who is right around you that you can support, that you can be a champion for, that you can advocate for. You can make it easier way for if we like the folks who we chronicle in the film Selma, you know, men and women who supported the folks who were marching, who were making the food, who are making sure that they were healthy, who were making sure that they came home to a world where there’s so many ways to be a part of a movement towards justice. And I talked to so many people and, you know, you read the work of scholars and activists and famous people and you think they’re so far away from you because they’re sages and their wisdom is so removed from our every day. And so I just love to look right around me and see what I can see and be inspired by what’s right in front of me. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:16:51] Ava, thank you for spending some time with me. 

Ava DuVernay:  [00:16:54] Thank you so much for having me. Really good to talk to you today. 

Maria Hinojosa: [00:16:59] Director, writer and producer Ava DuVernay. Re-Imagination Nation was produced by Futuro Unidad Hinojosa and PRX as part of the We Imagine US project executive producers are myself and Diane Sylvester, our senior supervising producer is Gregory Branch, Podcast producer is Andres Caballero, project editor is Khaliff Watkins. Our engineer is Leah Shaw, our production manager is William Oak’s IV, production coordinator. Jessica Ellis, Assistant Project Manager, Raul Perez. Our music was composed by Michael Ramos. The Re-Imagination Nation Project is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, a partner with communities where children come first. I’m your host, Maria Hinojosa. Join us for our next episode of Re-Imagination Nation. You can find us online at We Imagine or wherever you get your podcasts on. And don’t forget to check out our companion fiction podcast series, The Long Way Around. Next time on Re-Imagination Nation solidarity now and in this country’s history, a conversation with author and activist Heather McGhee and with professor of sociology at the University of Southern California, the fabulous Manuel Pastor. 

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