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Celebrating the Life and Impact of Mamie Till-Mobley
Marlborough was honored to host Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr. and Marissa Jo (MJ) Cerar for an ASM celebrating the life and impact of activist Mamie Till-Mobley.
On February 22, 2022, Marlborough was honored to host Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr. and Marissa Jo (MJ) Cerar for an All-School Meeting celebrating the life and impact of activist Mamie Till-Mobley. Mamie Till-Mobley was the mother of Emmett Till, an African-American boy who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955 when he was 14 years old. Following the brutal murder of her son, Mamie dedicated her life to education and activism; many say her outspokenness and choice to put her grief on the public stage changed the course of the civil rights movement in the United States.
Ensuring the world is aware of this impact is what inspired MJ Cerar to create the powerful ABC limited miniseries Women of the Movement, based on the books Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement by Devery S. Anderson and Death of Innocence: The Story of the Hate Crime that Changed America by Chris Benson and Mamie Till. Choosing to tell the story through the eyes of Mamie was an easy decision. Cerar told Marlborough students, “I was so inspired because she showed me that one person, one regular woman – she wasn’t born a superhero – could make a difference.”
Telling Mamie’s story authentically and truthfully was of paramount importance to Cerar and her team. When asked about the process of creating Women of the Movement, Cerar explained, “It was challenging but it was challenging because it was very important. It wasn’t just about entertaining people or selling commercials. It was about telling the story in a way that would make the family proud. We needed to get it right.” Cerar spent countless hours reading Mamie’s writing, watching speeches, and speaking with Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr – the last living witness to the abduction of his cousin, Emmett Till, Rev. Wheeler Parker knew Mamie Till-Mobley well when he himself was a young boy. When asked to describe her, Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr. said, “I knew her before [Emmett Till’s murder] and I knew her after. It’s amazing to see how she transformed.”
Cerar and Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr. both referenced this idea of a transformation in Mamie Till-Mobley after Emmett’s murder. As shown in the television series and described by Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr. during the All-School Meeting, Mamie was initially an extremely soft-spoken person and quite literally found her voice through the unspeakable tragedy she endured. She toured the country giving speeches, sharing her private pain publicly, and galvanizing civil rights activists. Rev. Wheeler Parker, Jr. shared, “She went forth, took a lemon and made lemonade, took a negative and turned it into a positive, without hate, ill-will, or animosity. She’s a prime example for the world to see and follow in her footsteps.”
With an eye on doing just that, Josie W. ’22 asked Cerar and Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr. what they thought Mamie Till-Mobley might tell current young people with a passion for activism and social justice. Both speakers noted Mamie’s focus on helping those around her, that she had an innate sense of responsibility to the community. Cerar elaborated:
“The death of her son taught her that she needs to think about her community, that if anything happens to Black people in the South, it’s not just the business of the Black people in the South, it is the business of all of us. We are all human beings and we all need to take care of each other. We are a collective people and we should be taking care of each other. That’s what I would assume, hope, think [that Mamie would tell the young activists of today].”
This All-School Meeting marked one of the final community-wide celebrations of Black History Month in 2022, however the Marlborough community will continue to uplift, celebrate, and acknowledge the contributions of Black and African-American individuals all year long. As Cerar reminded Marlborough students: “This is relevant, it will always be relevant. Not just in February [during Black History Month] or in March [during Women’s History Month], but year-round and forever. It’s about seeing the humanity in each other even if we don’t look alike, pray alike, or vote alike. [Mamie Till-Mobley] forced the world to see the humanity in her, in her son, and hopefully in those who came after him.”
Marissa Jo Cerar is an Emmy and WGA Award-nominated writer-producer who has built an impressive resume filled with some of the most powerful television series of the past decade. Marissa Jo grew up as one of eight adopted kids in a small town in Illinois, and she would go on to impart her unique life experience into her work, starting with her studies at Columbia College Chicago, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Film. With a passion for socially conscious storytelling, she has spent her career focusing her creative efforts on projects that explore the intersectionality of the human experience through character-driven and female forward stories.
Marissa Jo’s most recent project was the highly-anticipated ABC series WOMEN OF THE MOVEMENT, which she created and served as Showrunner and Executive Producer. The limited series premiered on January 6th, and told the powerful true story of Mamie Till-Mobley, who devoted her life to seeking justice for her son Emmett Till following his brutal murder in the Jim Crow South. Putting her own life on the line to seek justice in his name, the soft-spoken young mother bravely chose to bear her pain on the world’s stage, and as a result ignited the civil rights movement as we know it today. Intentionally told through Mamie’s point of view, Marissa Jo's vision for the series has brought nuance and depth to this true story through an intentionally humanity forward approach.
Additionally, Marissa Jo is in development on the drama series BLACK CAKE for Hulu. Based on the book of the same name, Marissa Jo opened the writers room on February 14th this year, is serving as Showrunner on the series, and will executive produce the project with Kapital Entertainment and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films.
Marissa Jo began her television career working as a writer and producer on hit series such as Netflix’s 13 REASON WHY, Freeform’s THE FOSTERS, FOX’s SHOTS FIRED, and the award-winning Hulu series THE HANDMAID’S TALE, for which she shares nominations for both the Emmys and Writers Guild Awards for Outstanding Drama Series for season three. Additionally, Marissa Jo's Black List feature script, “Conversion,” is currently in development with K Period Media and Kapital Entertainment, under MJ's multi-year deal with the studio, where she has several more projects in development as a writer and a non-writing Executive Producer.
Reverend Wheeler Parker, Jr. is Pastor of Argo Temple Church of God in Christ, the church that Emmett Till’s grandmother Alma Spearmon started in her home. The pursuit of justice in the lynching and brutal murder of his best friend and cousin on August 28, 1955 has been a central focal point of his mission and ministry for years.
In his quest for accountability he has participated in the 2004 FBI investigation of Emmett Till’s murder and the 2017 reopening, and along with activist Alvin Sykes, participated in the development of congressional legislation that established a cold case unit at the Department of Justice that allows the Department of Justice to reopen unsolved Civil Rights-era murders. This legislation was named the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act. It was signed into law by President George W. Bush and reauthorized in perpetuity by President Barack H. Obama.
As a public lecturer, Pastor Parker has presented in a variety of forums, including elementary, middle, high schools and Universities in the United States and Belize. He has led historical tours for social activists throughout the Mississippi Delta in connection with the Mississippi Center for Justice, and Delta State University.
His journey to justice has included a relentless advocacy for truth, as he has been deeply disappointed by the many erroneous news, books, and documentary reports that have been produced surrounding Emmett’s case. He has carried this commitment as a truth-bearer, with a message of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
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