It is with great sadness that we say farewell to independent filmmaker, poet, beloved teacher, activist and storyteller, Roland Legiardi-Laura who died April 20, 2016. We welcomed Roland into the ITVS family in 2008 with his documentary To Be Heard, which he co-directed and produced with Edwin Martinez, Deborah Shaffer, and Amy Sultan. To Be Heard tells the story of three high school poets from the Bronx who use their words to change their lives and impact the world. A gentle force of nature, Roland changed the lives of many through his storytelling, mentorship, and loving support.
With the assistance of ITVS and BAVC, and as an extension of the film To Be Heard, Roland created Power Poetry, the world’s first mobile poetry community for youth. At PowerPoetry.org poets share their work, comment and collaborate, get action guides, writing tips, and even college scholarships. As the website says: “Power Poetry isn’t just about poetry. It is about using poetry as a tool, a weapon, if you will, for personal change and social engagement.”In Roland’s own words:
“As a doc filmmaker, I have always produced my films with the intention of making the storytelling not only emotionally and narratively compelling but socially impactful as well…. [In just three short years, Power Poetry] has changed the lives of young writers in our country. They come from all 50 states…. They come from all backgrounds: The vast majority are young people from families of very modest means. They now have a national platform allowing them ‘to be heard’, and we have given voice to youth whose urgent and beautiful cries for personal transformation and societal change echo across the entire country.”
A mentor and believer, enthusiastic, patient, and wise, Roland made sure that young people led the charge behind the scenes as well. With a small, young but able team, Power Poetry has grown to a community of 250,000 poets who truly believe their words have power. Roland’s legacy lives on through Power Poetry and the teacher training Power Writers program (including this new free online course “How to Teach Poetry”). He created the To Be Heard Foundation to keep his work going. Roland will be deeply missed by many. On his Facebook page, students, colleagues, and friends left their heartfelt remembrances and tributes. From Power Writers co-founder Joseph Ubiles:
“…A warrior of the word has passed. an intellectual, humanist, classicist, modernist, dreamer and believer in the humanity of us all. A trickster rabbit, a sage. Returned now to starlight. Your place in our circle remains, a sly grin, a haunted chair, a demand for courage and compassion. A warrior recedes into the oceans of stars…."
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