“This is not a movie, this is a movement!” “Sixx KingCEO, Sixx Degrees Films

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Deborah B. Pryor interviews Taleeb Starkes, co-executive producer and writer of the film

*For some, there will come a time when being a mere “observer” will not be enough. It may suffice when you find yourself absorbed in mindless entertainment, and it may even be necessary in the endless opportunities to learn something new. But eventually, when confronted with something so personal it keeps you up at night, you will have no recourse but to get up off your ass and actually DO SOMETHING.

This is, after all, how change happens.

In the 51-minute documentary being featured at the 20th annual Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, California, “Mothers of No Tomorrow – Genocide American Style” Sixx Degrees Films aims to initiate that change as they tackle the unnerving yet necessary issue of Black on Black crime. The film chronicles the lives of Ja’Vese Phelts-Washington, Leslie Willis-Lowry and Monique Rivarde – three mothers whose lives changed forever after the murder of their sons.

(Scroll down to see the trailer for “Mothers of No Tomorrow.”

Chris Spence (Ja’Vese’s son) was a 20-year-old health-conscious, trophy-bearing Philly linebacker shot once in the chest after an altercation inside a local lounge with a bad reputation. Songha Thomas Willis (Leslie’s son) was a 27-year-old who finally gave in to a friend’s invitation to join him at a club – only to be accosted outside that club for the flashy gold chains worn by his two friends who got away. Bobby Tillman (Monique’s son) was a handsome, happy-go-lucky 18-year-old, stomped to death at a house party by four guys who simply had nothing else to do at the moment.

During the Q&A that followed a screening of the film, with Leslie Willis-Lowry and Ja’Vese Phelts-Washington in attendance, there was no denying the extreme emotion in the room from the audience members and filmmakers alike. Through tears he was unable to control executive producer, co-writer and director, Sixx King told the audience,

“We have to be the vanguards of our generation…of our future. Black men have to stand up for our communities, for our children. This is what [this film] is about.”

In speaking about the motivation for making the documentary, King recalls hearing a news story about the death of Songha Thomas Willis twelve years ago. He says it was a story that stayed with him, one that he could not ignore.

“I had this rush of emotion come over me, and I started searching for his mother, looking for her…I thought about my own mother, and I knew that my…mother would never want to make my obituary and bury me. It made me hurt, it made me emotional, it made me revolutionary.”

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Sixx King, Ja’Vese Phelts-Washington, John Salley and Leslie Willis-Lowry

Kings mother, Abiona Adadevoh, was also in attendance.

“Circumstances, circumstances that are prevalent in the African American community; homicides, Black on Black homicides specifically,” is what Taleeb Starkes, Co-executive producer and writer of the film tells EURweb journalist, DeBorah B. Pryor inspired the film. “As fathers, as members of the community, we felt we had to do something. We took the story of three women who symbolize what mothers who lose their children to senseless violence go through. We chronicled the pain…and eventually their resiliency.”

Starkes says that as men, such pain as a mother losing her child can never be understood. “But these women never lost their capacity to stop being mothers, to stop loving,” he says.

King wants to make one point very clear: This is not just a Black problem, it is an American problem. “More than 7,000 Black people are murdered in this country each year, which is significantly more than the total 6,754 American soldiers killed in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001,” he explains. “Once other people segregate this issue out and attempt to make it a Black problem, they are able to detach themselves from it. Domestic terrorism is decimating all of our communities,” he concludes.

A proud father himself, King developed “Youth, Politics & Empowerment,” a program designed to introduce young people to film and television with a political flair. In making ‘Mothers’, he admits he ran his team ragged during the entire year-long-plus process, and commends NBA Champion John Salley, who shares Co-executive producer credits on the film. “John graciously came onboard [and] lent his name to get this project going,” Says King.

As everyone continues to wonder where or how did things go so wrong, the words of one audience member, an intern who says she works as a counselor to young gang members, may shed some light and give some perspective. “They are kids who don’t know love…They have no examples…many of them are being raised by their grandmothers because their mothers are dead or incarcerated. They want to belong, so they join a gang. At 14-years old, many of these kids still wet in the bed…They ask if they can call me ‘Mom’ but I tell them ‘no you have to call me officer and respect that’. They leave my office and resume the big, bad attitude they feel they need to be part of the group.”

“The next step now is to get it in the schools, to get it distributed,” offered David Massey, an audience member at the Q&A who Co-chairs the Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers and said that he would help in whatever way he could.

The challenge with independent films and many Black films in particular, is that many of them start out being financed by the filmmakers. There is no studio behind them. For this film – whose viewership should include teens at juvenile centers, gang-intervention facilities, and jails and prisons, any decent distribution will come from word-of-mouth. Audiences have more power through word-of-mouth than they give themselves credit for.

“We are doing a social media campaign,” says King. “We’re asking for people to go onto Face Book – “Mothers of No Tomorrow – and use the “FB Group” because social media is so powerful. If you are on Twitter, its twitter/forourmothers…This story needs to be told. I can’t wait on Universal. I can’t wait on a big studio,” says King.

“Mothers of No Tomorrow-Genocide American Style” will have its final run at the Pan African Film Festival on Friday, February 17, 6:35PM in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza/RAVE Theaters, 3650 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Los Angeles. The film is presented under the Short Series 10 programming.


Phillynews.com and Globalgrind.com contributed to this story.

PHOTO CREDITS: Jhonn de la Puente, Sixx Degrees Films

DeBorah B. Pryor began her career in journalism in New York City more than 30 years ago. She has been a contributing writer for EURweb since 2003. She is also an adjunct instructor, and will be teaching her popular workshop “Public Speaking for the Private Person” at UCLA Extension on Saturday, March 3rd, and at Glendale Community College on Saturday, March 10th. Visit her website at http://www.dpryorpresents.com for more information.

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