Legacies of Leadership

For filmmakers and film lovers, the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in downtown Durham marks the annual homecoming of an intimate yet global community. At the 16th annual Festival, which concluded Sunday, attendees could indulge in almost 90 films, panels, and discussions. Eat your heart out, Sundance.

For civic leader, philanthropist and Women AdvaNCe founder Laura Edwards, the Full Frame Festival means more than just a local celebration of art, film, and culture; it means family.

North Carolina natives Laura Edwards and her four sisters grew up attending Full Frame’s earliest incarnation, the Double Take Film Festival. When their mother, Kay Bryan Edwards, passed away in 2004, the sisters knew exactly how to honor her legacy: they created The Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights at the Full Frame Film Festival. The sisters, who include Representative Pricey Harrison, present the Award each year to a film that addresses a significant human rights issue in the United States.

Kay Bryan Edwards fought throughout her life for social justice and human rights. She married at 19, had six children, returned to school, and, among her earliest acts of activism, participated in a sit-in at a Woolworth’s counter. According to Laura, “She had her hands in everything.” That is no exaggeration. Kay co-founded the Greensboro Opera Company and the Greensboro Day School, and helped to create the endowment at the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra. She donated 92 acres of land to the City of Greensboro in 1998 to create the Julian and Ethel Clay Price Park and the Kathleen Clay Edwards Family Branch Library.

Laura remembers that while living in Charlotte at the age of 5 or 6, her mother’s colleagues, an African-American man and a white woman, wanted to get married. Having been barred from marrying at the conventional locations, the interracial couple turned to Laura’s mother for advice. Kay promptly offered to host the whole wedding. Laura says that this story “left an impression on me that I will never forget. My mother upheld the ethics that to whom much is given, much is expected.”

The Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights continues to honor that ethical promise. This year, the Award went to After Tiller, a film about the 2009 murder of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller at his Kansas church. Directed by Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, this restrained yet poignant film exposes the ongoing struggle of the only four remaining doctors who perform third trimester abortions in the United States. With the utmost care, After Tiller also bears witness to the individual patients who choose to end their pregnancies.

Laura, who announced the Award winner Sunday on behalf of her family, notes that this film struck a personal chord. “What shocked me most was the graying of the doctors. That’s a recurring thing I’ve been thinking about: who’s going to do this important work next?” She went on, “The law of the land, Roe v. Wade, is being eroded to insignificance, even here in North Carolina.” Laura has good cause to worry. The state of Mississippi shut down its last remaining abortion clinic in January—and >>Alabama may be close behind it. She even added, “I’ll be damned if we turn into another Mississippi.”

Reproductive justice is under attack in North Carolina. Let’s honor the legacies of Dr. George Tiller and Kay Bryan Edwards. Let’s ignite our commitment, our activism and our perseverance in the battle to reclaim health, justice and equality for North Carolina women.

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