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"Pride" - The Story of Jim Ellis and the PDR Swim Team

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Pride– The Story of Jim Ellis and the PDR Swim Team By Joan Brunwasser, voting integrity editor, OpEdNews March 26, 2007 I am a strong proponent of the philosophy that you are what you eat, read, watch, and surround yourself with. I've been more mindful of this lately, and have altered my routine by: 1. Not waking up to the news; 2. Not listening to the news all day long (although I read it online); 3. Reading books and seeing movies that are less violent and vulgar than my former fare. These changes have helped keep me on a more even keel. They serve as a counterbalance to the numerous hours a week I spend in the time consuming and emotionally draining endeavor of moving America towards true, meaningful election reform. I love movies! (Alas, far more than I like doing movie reviews.) I love the act of going to movies, and once I'm there, I love the entire experience; the anticipation, the red carpet (why is it always red?), the enticing aroma of popcorn, the previews, and the main attraction. I even love the moment of emerging from the theatre and reentering real life, which is an often startling contrast. I remember seeing The March of the Penguins on one of the hottest summer nights in Chicago history and having a hard time saying goodbye to that arctic landscape. I cherish the ninety-minute fix of pure escapism that movies provide when my problems fade away and an artificial universe appears instead. My husband is pretty easy to please, so I usually get to be the one to make our movie selection. You see, I feign democracy by asking him to choose, but stack the deck by reading aloud only the reviews of the movies that have piqued my interest. He certainly endorsed my desire to go see Pride, despite the half-hearted review we read in the Chicago Sun Times, and we were both very glad that we went. I had several reasons for wanting to see this movie. One is that I love swimming, as my recent article "(Almost) Everything I know I picked Up at the Pool" attests . Second, I was peeved by Bill Zwecker's tepid review. The reviewer has tremendous power, and damning with faint praise is enough to stop a potential viewer dead in his tracks. What particularly bothered me about Bill Zwecker's review was his conclusion:
The film's only drawback is its total predictability. You know how this is going to turn out, virtually from the first few frames...Even if you had never heard of Jim Ellis or the amazing things he has accomplished over these past four decades, you would realize that it all is building to a climactic end that will make us feel good.
Hold on just a darn minute, Bill. This is what you call predictable? A novice teacher in a new city, a really lousy neighborhood, a rundown facility, and the added perk of ever-present drug dealers...Why, yes, I'd say that molding a stellar high school swim team from those ingredients would be very "predictable" indeed. Exactly the word that I would have chosen myself. I've often written about how important it is for us to recognize our ability to make a difference in the world. It's when we doubt our personal efficacy that we fall into the doldrums of indifference and apathy, which is not good for the individual or the community. Conversely, when a community lacks hope or focus, it can drag down those within it who possess tremendous potential. Jim Ellis does not begin as an obvious hero. At the start of the film, he has just graduated as the only black on his college swim team, and finds himself in a broken-down community center destined for closure due to lack of community interest. He only ends up there because he can't get a job teaching math anywhere else. The fact that 33 years later, the real Jim Ellis is still coaching swimming at the Marcus Foster Recreation Center says it all. I'm sure that, after his many successes, he could have moved on to something more lucrative. But, Ellis found his niche and is a mentor in the best sense of the word – to the kids and the community. His program has become the prototype for inner cities across the country. According to the end credits, he has sent hundreds of inner-city kids to college on swimming scholarships, while revitalizing the community and giving it something to be proud of. PDR (Philadelphia Department of Recreation) also stands for Ellis's slogan – Pride, determination, and resilience. Who among us could not benefit from a healthy dose of these three qualities? And who needs them more than those at the bottom of the economic ladder who feel abandoned, unworthy, and incapable of striving for more? I salute Jim Ellis and his dedication. I'm thrilled that South African first-time director Sunu Gonera cut his teeth on this impressive story. And if some reviewers find it "predictable" that a bunch of ragtag, inner-city youths could pull themselves together to consistently represent their community by excelling at a new sport, then that just underlines Ellis's success. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, "Most of the things worth doing in the world have been declared impossible before they were done." It's when the impossible becomes the expected that we know we have truly made progress. Thank you, Jim Ellis! As far as I'm concerned, there can't be too many movies with this David v. Goliath theme in which little David overcomes many obstacles and pulls off a stunning upset. Why is this theme so potent? I think it is because we often feel overwhelmed by circumstance, convinced that, for the most part, the rich and connected will excel while the rest of us struggle to make ends meet and keep it together. For far too many, the American dream has become just that. The grim reality is that an increasing number of people are falling into poverty and hopelessness while the infamous top 1 percent carves out an ever-larger slice of the pie. That growing gap is an obscenity that is antithetical to democratic principles. We should celebrate any story, fact or fiction, which serves to motivate us to continue our fight for a fair and level playing field for everyone. The power of storytelling is that it makes us realize what is possible, however unlikely or distant it may seem. Isn't a level playing field exactly what we voting integrity advocates are fighting for? To take the power away from elected officials who are too intertwined with the interests of a few for-profit corporations, and away from electronic voting machine vendors whose use of proprietary secret software imperils our elections. To reinstate fair, secure, and transparent elections so that voters can see that their votes are being cast and counted properly. Again, a David and Goliath struggle. Pride makes me feel hopeful. I would like to nominate Jim Ellis for the OpEdNews "Local Hero" corner. This is an award sans plaque, rubber chicken dinner, or big check. But it does come with my heartfelt appreciation for his splendid accomplishments. He joins a number of illustrious Americans who have done so much to show us what is possible. Local heroes so far include Ion Sancho, Bill Burkett, Stephen Heller, Ann Wright, Helen Thomas, and "The Three Doctors." Doctors Hunt, Jenkins, and Davis were inner-city students who vowed to stick together and get through high school and medical school. They achieved that goal against all odds and went on to establish a foundation that works "to inspire and create opportunities for inner city communities through education, mentoring, and health awareness." They also wrote a book, The Pact, which is a personal recounting of their inspiring story. I would say that they are definitely on the same page as Jim Ellis. We went to the movie on the first Saturday night after its debut. The theatre was almost empty when we arrived, and while a few more people came in during the previews, it was sadly under-attended. I would have liked to see a full house with lots of minorities present. Maybe that's not realistic for a Multi-plex at an upscale suburban mall. I'm hoping that the tepid review in the Sun Times did not keep people away. I urge you to indulge yourself in this admittedly feel-good true story. It will have you cheering in the aisles, and is there anything wrong with that? P.S. I just realized that I didn't mention anything about who's in the movie – Terence Howard, Bernie Mac, and Tom Arnold in a great "guy-you-love-to-hate" role. I have no idea if any of the others are newcomers or established TV stars. That's the downside of not watching television. Who's who was less important to me than the story, which was the real star. And that, in my humble opinion, is the mark of a well-told tale. *** Here's a very brief summary of the "Local Heroes" Corner of OpEdNews. 1. Ion Sancho: Superintendent of Elections in Leon County, Florida, who fought state officials and Diebold to determine the security of the electronic voting machines used in his community. 2. Bill Burkett: A retired lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard who blew the whistle on W's National Guard service at great personal cost. 3. Stephen Heller: The actor who blew the whistle on Diebold's defrauding of the state of California, and faced three felony counts for his actions. 4. Ann Wright: retired US Army colonel and official of the US State Department who resigned from her post to protest the invasion of Iraq and is now a full-time anti-war activist. 5. Helen Thomas: On the White House Press Corps since the Kennedy administration, she is one of the few journalists who acts in the traditional and crucial role of the press to inform the public and protect our democracy. 6. Drs. Hunt, Jenkins and Davis: Please see above.


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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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