‘Listen Up!’ Sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley say



Lisa Martin
Jonathan Burnett, front, center, Azubuike Film Project director, is shown with the cast and crew of the “Listen Up” videos taking a break at the Putnam Museum in Davenport.

By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger

DAVENPORT — Last fall Lisa Martin, director of communication for the Congregation of the Humility of Mary (CHM), attended a screening of an Urban Exposure Independent Film Project written and produced by high school students.

That got her to thinking about the possibility of collaboration between women religious and Azubuike African American Council for the Arts. Could they work together for the celebration of National Sisters Week — March 8-14?

The answer to her question ultimately led to the campaign “Listen Up,” sponsored by Catholic Sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley. The campaign features three, 60-second videos directed and produced by Azubuike using local teenage and adult actors. Filming took place in Davenport at the Putnam Museum, Kwik Star and Mid City High School, Martin said.


Humility of Mary Center in Davenport will show the videos during an open house March 9 from 2-4 p.m. Visitors will have an opportunity to meet Azubuike members and women religious from various congregations who will talk about their lives and ministries.

Azubuike’s mission is “to reconcile the racial divides that exist in our community by giving at-risk youth a voice to express themselves.” Martin said she was impressed by the videos and thought about them for days after.

Coincidentally, members of the CHM leadership team had just returned from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) meeting. They were excited about LCWR President Sister Teresa Maya’s opening talk. So was Martin. “I read the speech and was inspired by these calls to action: to lead, to engage with young people, to confront prejudices, to value community, to value diversity, to be open to guests and new ways of thinking, and to be open to those who need to be heard.”

Martin met with Gaye Burnett, Azubuike’s founder, and asked if her students could produce a series of one-minute videos focusing on Maya’s call to action. The answer was quick and affirmative. Other communication directors from local groups of women religious agreed to help with the project.

“We met via Skype with Gaye’s son, Jonathan, an experienced filmmaker living in Los Angeles. Azubuike helped us with our vision and the voice of youth we were looking for and rounded up the kids to make it happen,” Martin said. “The video shoots took place on weekends because of the kids’ school and work schedules. It was a pleasure being able to pay the young cast and crew for a job well done.”

Videos were shot in January and are in the final editing stage. “They are poignant vignettes of discriminatory and potentially violent situations sparked by ignorance and fear. The situations are resolved by listening,” Martin said. The videos will also be shown on social media and in movie theaters beginning March 8.

“We are delighted to share a message of listening with the wider community,” said Sister Sandra Brunenn, prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island, Ill. “Listen is the first word in St. Benedict’s Holy Rule. We are called to put aside our own prejudices to listen deeply to one another. Through deep listening we can create peaceful community.”

Sister Johanna Rickl, vice president of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, said the message is meaningfully communicated through the creative assistance of Azubuike. “We found a voice to help deliver the message of unity,” Sr. Rickl said. “Azubuike’s mission is to reconcile racial divides and to spark a much larger conversation about race relations in the Quad Cities through the arts. We are grateful to them and their actors and crew, many of whom are at-risk youth, for their help.”

Sister Janice Cebula, president of the Sisters of St. Francis of Clinton, said, “Too often we jump to conclusions about people we perceive as being different from us. We hope the videos will encourage viewers to stop to think about their own prejudices, value diversity and step out of their comfort zones.”

Funding for “Listen Up” comes from members of the Catholic Sisters of the Upper Mississippi River Valley that includes the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Davenport; the Benedictine Sisters of St. Mary Monastery, Rock Island, Ill.; the Sisters of St. Francis, Clinton; the Sisters of St. Francis, the Sisters of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Sisters of the Presentation and the Trappistine Sisters of Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey, all of Dubuque; the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, Sinsinawa, Wis., the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, LaCrosse, Wis.; The Hilton Foundation and Mercy Sisters West Midwest Community.

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