Our two international interns from Humanity In Action, Julie Vainqueur and Lukasz Niparko, articulate their responses to Ava DuVernay’s powerful documentary, 13th.

Julie Vainqueur, writing from a French, Afrocaribbean perspective.

I want to communicate about issues that matter, to listen to the unheard, amplify their voices, and to educate others about the social injustices of the world. After viewing this documentary, I decided to organize an event with the ACLU of Ohio, to further discuss these issues with the community at large.

From Despair to hope: the outrageous portrait of a society, drawn by Ava DuVernay

After watching Ava DuVernay’s documentary, 13th, my first thought was “I don’t want to get out of this building, I don’t want to be in those streets where my identity, my fate has already been decided years ago”. Fear and despair.

Don’t think that I am naïve, I am aware of the situation for Black People in the US and beyond. I am a French-Caribbean woman. And what brought me to the US, and to the ACLU, is my love for social justice and my desire to help underprivileged communities gain the equal rights and protections that they have been denied for hundreds of years. Outrage.

Outrage aside, this documentary is beautifully eloquent. The power of this documentary, is its ability to show the bigger picture, to connect the dots, to explain the code words and motives behind certain political speeches, and to illuminate the inherent contradictions within the American society. Anger.

Then you realize, when looking at this portrait of America, you see the whole picture, and quickly move from fear and despair to anger. How can people not see? How can they not know? Why don’t we know? Why don’t we realize? Catharsis.

13th zeroes in on Black people in America, the criminalization of a community, mass incarceration, politics, lobbying, and our entire judicial system. Our criminal justice system fails so many people, and leaves so many communities vulnerable to fall into the loophole (or trap) that is the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution. However, 13th also tells the story of the African American Community, their unwillingness to give up, and their fight for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Resilience.

No matter how down and depressed you may feel after viewing this documentary, remember that it is not the end, The emotional journey begins with despair, then leads to anger, which drives the call to action and the rewarding road ahead of racial equality and justice. We all need to see the bigger picture and understand the problems within the system, so we may be empowered to fix it. 


You won’t want to miss our documentary night on October 5, at 5:30pm. RSVP and engage in a discussion of power, race, and culture. 

Lukasz Niparko, writing from a Polish perspective.

Fighting discrimination is always on my agenda; I shared 13th in order to make others aware and empowered to organize and combat racial discrimination and the prison industrial complex in the United States.

I Simply Cannot Wait to See it!

Based on our own unique experiences of our identity, each of us perceives films differently, but when we speak about Ava DuVernay’s documentary, 13th it makes us assess our own standings within society.

I am not a US citizen, and my relationship with this country comes from high school and college opportunities, where I lived in a certain ‘bubble’ of privilege (yes, also white-privilege). First, in New Mexico, later in the Upstate New York, where many societal issues of the US were not as obvious in these rural communities. That is why coming to Cleveland, which is an inspiring and dynamic city, that serves as a ‘case study’ of US society, – changed my perspective.

While working as a Humanity In Action fellow at the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, where prison industrial complex is frequently discussed in our organization, it became so evident to me that race plays a major role in keeping that ‘industry’ alive. Working together with people like our policy associate, Katrice Williams (who will be speaking after the screening of 13th on October 5th), I’ve learned so much about the criminal justice system in America. Katrice works to register voters while they are incarcerated, fights racial discrimination on a local and a state level, and listens to communities discuss the many challenges the state of Ohio faces. Additionally, attending the Cleveland mayoral debate at the City Club made me realize that the volume of problems addressed in 13th are reflected right here in Cleveland. After all, Ohio ranks sixth in terms of incarceration rates across the US. It is in our neighborhoods where children like Tyre King and Tamir Rice were killed by police. At the mayoral debate it was obvious that crime and policing are the most important items on the agenda for Cleveland; much higher than education and jobs that are in my opinion the best in providing safety and prosperity. It is a vicious spiral of criminalization – it makes you wonder whether politics, both federal and state, cannot function without crime?!

The statistical data presented in 13th, combined with deep stories and factual evidence should be alarming, and it is. In fact, while confronted with these statistics I wondered why there was not a major uprising in the US yet?! It is simply not normal to be the main incarcerator on this planet - as we learn in 13th – that 25% of world’s incarcerated persons live in the US, the land of free. This shows a stark disbelief in resocialization and rehabilitation, which is what penitentiary systems should be based on. After all, restorative justice is not some leftist agenda, it is the way justice should work! But, 13th makes us think beyond that – it points out the entire lost generation of African Americans due to incarceration, and following release, the systematic sanctions that denied them fair access to jobs, housing, and education.

After learning about how slavery morphed into the incarceration of hundreds of thousands people, it is not a stretch to say that in fact slavery in the US never ended, but became the prison industrial complex. That is why we need abolitionists to fight for change. It is a privilege to get to know some of them here in Ohio. In addition to abolition, what is needed are education and jobs, as one of the mayoral candidates said: “jobs best stop bullets...”

The most troubling point of 13th to me is that it shows more than 150 years of continuing enslavement of African Americans (after the passing of The Thirteenth Amendment in 1865), but the problem is – the story line of 13th rings true every day, every hour, in our communities and on our streets. More than anything I hope to see a future film made by Ava DuVernay - on how we came together and ended the current horrors of mass incarceration. A film depicting the eradication of slavery once and for all. I simply cannot wait to see it!