Rosenwald Premiere a Success

March 23rd, 2015

The Ciesla Foundation is excited to announce that Aviva Kempner’s newest film, Rosenwald, formerly called The Rosenwald Schools, had a preview at the Washington Jewish Film Festival that she started twenty five years ago on February 25th at the Avalon Theatre in Washington, DC..

Before the screening, Carole Zawatsky, CEO of the DCJCC, and William “Bro” Adams, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities,  and Kempner delivered brief statements. Rosenwald was a huge success and received a standing ovation from the audience in the completely packed house.

In the audience was Max Cutler, who is 23 years old.  He was very impressed with the Julius Rosenwald story and emailed his comments about the film.

“He perfectly embodies the Jewish ideals I was raised to believe are important.  He didn’t just change lives.  America as we know it today is a direct result of what he did because of the influence he had on blacks.  Like the person who invented preservation techniques for blood marrow. Everyone should see it.  What he did with his life is exactly how I would want to live my life.  The fact that he did it with little recognition speaks more to the values he embodies and why he did it.  Not for the recognition.  He really just is what an ideal Jew should be.  It re-affirms what I believe and gives me a goal to strive towards.”

After the screening, both Kempner and civil rights activist Julian Bond, an interviewee and a consultant to the film, gave brief  statements.  She explained how she had heard Bond speak about Julius Rosenwald at an event at the Hebrew Center at Martha’s Vineyard years ago. That talk inspired her to make a film about the philanthropist.

Bond told a story in which his father was once driving in the south when his car suddenly got stuck in a hole filled with mud. Julian’s father assumed that someone had put the mud there just so they could charge him money to be pulled out. Two black men came out from behind the bushes and noticed that he was wearing nice clothes and was driving a nice car. When they asked whom Julian’s father was working for, he replied, “I work for the Rosenwald Fund”. The men responded, “Oh, you work for Captain Julius? There’ll be no charge”.

Overall, the premiere was a huge success and The Ciesla Foundation wishes to thank all those who contributed to and supported the making of the film.

Final music for the film is still being composed and arrangements are being made to obtain the footage and stills for the film. You can go to

Renovating the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments

March 10th, 2015

Julius Rosenwald started making moves toward providing low-cost housing to African Americans in 1914. The African American population of Chicago was greatly growing during the Great Migration, which resulted in the 1919 race riot.  This caused Rosenwald to “devote funding to offsetting the Black belt housing crisis,” resulting in the building of the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments (nicknamed “the Rosenwald”). The building was closed in 2000 due to a leaky gas pipe, and it’s physical condition has deteriorated ever since. However, nearly 15 years later, a permit has finally been received to renovate the apartments, and the development team is hoping that they will be completed by 2016. The new complex will be called the Rosenwald Courts, and the official groundbreaking ceremony occurred in February.

Read more about it here, and don’t forget to check out The Rosenwald Schools to hear more about the Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments.

Howard University Screening Recap

March 2nd, 2015

This has been a very busy week!

On Friday, Howard University and the Washington Jewish Film Festival hosted a screening of The Rosenwald Schools in the School of Communications.  In the audience were some Howard faculty, donors, and even former students and family of former students who attended Rosenwald Schools in Maryland, Arkansas, and North Carolina.

Howard has a strong connection with Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald fund, serving as a great benefactor to great historical figures like Ernest Just and Charles R. Drew. It was given over $280,000, more financial assistance than any other black college had been given between 1917 and 1936.

As interviewees and other viewers watched the finished product, they laughed and learned even more than they though they would, commending director Aviva Kempner on a job well done. Following the screening, a panel discussion featuring Kempner, Political Science professor Jay Stewart, and biographer Stephanie Deutsch who answered several questions using knowledge from their area of expertise. The panel was insightful to both the audience members and the panelists as they all reviewed history from both research and first-hand experiences.

Several questions were posed, but the most common were how to preserve the history and legacy of Rosenwald Schools in addition to the importance of philanthropy. Siblings who are also Rosenwald alum, Newell Quinton and Alma Hackett, were featured in the film and attended a school in Eastern Shore, Maryland. Making a point to preserve the history of their school, they share their story with their local community and reach out to other students who were a part of the legacy.

Newell Quinton and Alma Hackett speaking during the panel discussion at Howard U

Ultimately, the pivotal role philanthropy and a desire for access to education stayed with each person who viewed the complete film. How rural communities managed to work with JR and local white officials to build a school was beyond amazing and more people need to be exposed to this part of American history.

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Jacob Lawrence Panel Discussion on February 27th

February 20th, 2015

Next Friday at 2:30pm, The Phillips Collection will be hosting a panel discussion titled, “Jacob Lawrence’s Struggle”. Moderated by UVA Professor of Modern Art and former Phillips senior curator Elizabeth Hutton Turner, this panel will further critique and analyze his Struggle Series, created between 1954 and 1956. It will feature guest panelists from George Mason University, University of Maryland, and the National Museum of African American History.  David Driskell, who will be featured in The Rosenwald Schools, is one of those panelists.

Conveniently held during the 39th Black History Month, they will discuss the art’s contribution to social awareness during the Civil Rights Movement. As a Rosenwald grant recipient, Lawrence was given the opportunity to travel to the segregated Jim Crow south and use his experiences as inspiration to create great and memorable that is still observed today.

Jacob Lawrence photographed in the early 1940s

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To see the full list of panelists and find more information about Jacob Lawrence and The Phillips Collection, click here.

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

The Preservation of Abraham Hall

February 20th, 2015

Abraham Hall

Abraham Hall

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Built in the late 1880s, Abraham Hall has stood as the “center of social activity” in the black-founded community of Rossville. The Benevolent Sons and Daughters of Abraham, a social welfare society, founded the building. In an article written in the Gazette, the staff at the Prince George’s County Department of Parks and Recreation informs the public that they will soon be digitalizing the document archives that tell the history of the building that has been in existence since 1889.

First serving as a church temporarily and then as a school when the Muirkirk Rosenwald School was being built, this center became so much more. It was the location for town hall meetings, a place to hold wedding and baby showers, and a place for adults and children to fellowship.  From those moments, artifacts have been collected and are currently on display in the center.

This month Abraham Hall is being honors at Laurel’s Montpelier Arts Center titled “Glancing Back & Looking Forward: 100 years of African American Culture and History in Prince George’s County”.

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern



February 17th, 2015

On Friday February 27th 2015, The Rosenwald Schools will be screened at Howard University. Founded in 1867, Howard is a historically black university that served as the capstone for many African-Americans to pursue professional careers in the fields of law, medicine and many more during a time when most blacks were only expected to work in education and agriculture. It is also the academic home of several Rosenwald grant recipients.

After the screening, there will be a panel featuring Jay Stewart, Professor of Political Science and Stephanie Deutsch, author of You Need a Schoolhouse, Booker T. Washington, Julius Rosenwald and the Building of Schools for the Segregated South. Admission is FREE. The screening will begin at 11:00am. It will take place in the School of Communications located at 525 Bryant Street NW 20059 on the 3rd Floor in Screening Room West. All are welcome to attend!

Photograph of the Howard University School of Communications

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Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Book about Ethel Payne is Reviewed by The New York Times

February 17th, 2015

Recently, The New York Times wrote a review on Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press by James McGrath Morris, a biography about an African American woman who broke journalistic barriers by getting out news via the Chicago Defender, “America’s premier black newspaper”.  Created in the first half of the 20th Century when blacks did not have much access black newspapers, it was banned in many Southern states.

Pullman porters, men and women who were the underground heroes, transported bundles of the newspapers on various trains going southward to be delivered by hand instead of via the mail. This increased the circulation of the weekly news to over 130,000. As the “pre-eminent black female reporter of the civil rights era”, Payne overcame the obstacles racism presented and wrote about various hot topics in the African-American community such as voter registration drives, adoption by black families, and the Vietnam War.

In the documentary, Representative Danny Davis goes into detail about the Chicago Defender and its influence during the same time that Julius Rosenwald’s philanthropic efforts assisted in the building of Rosenwald schools.

To read more about the Chicago Defender, click here.

Photograph of Ethel Payne

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Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Lunchtime Talk at Library of Congress on February 24th

February 13th, 2015

On February 24th, 2015, the Library of Congress will host a conversation with a biographer, journalist and filmmaker about Julius Rosenwald’s philanthropic efforts. His contribution helped to build YMCAs for African Americans in the US. With assistance from Madame C.J. Walker, a notable entrepreneur and activist in African American and American History, they made an undeniably positive impact in the lives of many blacks in America.

The panel discussion will include Peter Ascoli, the grandson and biographer of Julius Rosenwald. Journalist A’Lelia Bundles, great-grandaughter of Madam C.J. Walker will present. Also Aviva Kempner, who is the founder of the Washington Jewish Film Festival and the director and producer of The Rosenwald Schools, a documentary that explores the life and legacy of Julius Rosenwald and the Rosenwald Fund will take part in the conversation.

The Library of Congress is located on Capitol Hill at 101 Independence Ave SE, Washington, DC 20540 and the event will be held from 12:00pm to 1:00pm in the James Madison Building on the 2nd Floor of the Law Library. Admission is FREE, however it is requested that everyone RSVPs. To RSVP, click here.

Erica Marshall, Winter Intern

Postal Museum Honors First Black MIT Graduate

February 13th, 2015

Valerie Jarrett, the daughter of Barbara Bowman who is an interviewee for the documentary, comes from a rich legacy. In addition to being top aide to President Obama, she is the great-granddaughter of Robert Robinson Taylor, who most believe is the first African-American to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, (MIT) and one of the first black architects in the country.

On February 12th, he was officially honored as the next face that will be shown on the Black Heritage stamp at the National Postal Museum in Washington, DC. According to The Washington Post, the ceremony featured the Howard Singers from Howard University, a historically black university that has educated some Rosenwald grant recipients.  A’Lelia Bundles, who is also an interviewee in the documentary and great-granddaughter of Madame CJ Walker, was the MC at this event.

There is also a new exhibit titled “Freedom Just Around the Corner: Black America from Civil War to Civil Rights,” that opened yesterday and will run until February 15th, 2016.  Described by the museum as “A chronicle of the African American experience told from the perspective of stamps and mail,” the exhibit will surely be a treat for those who want to know about black history in America from a different perspective.

For more information about to the National Postal Museum, go to:

Photograph of Robert Robinson Taylor’s stamp

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Erica Marshall, Winter Intern


February 12th, 2015

Twenty five years ago I started the Washington Jewish Film Festival, and I am thrilled my newest film will be debuting at this anniversary.

We are still obtaining the best version of footage and stills, plus raising the final tax deductible contributions to cover all the expensive last costs for the film.