Hello, GAB readers, and welcome to our discussion of Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan! Fortunately for us, many members of the team that worked on Echoes were willing to participate in a roundtable interview for our book club, so this discussion will take place in two parts. The first part, what you are reading now, is a description of who is on the team that helped create this amazing book, as well as their answers to the questions posed to them. Please use this interview as a starting point for discussions about the book, and please include your thoughts about the interview in relation to the book in the comments section. Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan is a fascinating graphic novel created by James Disco and Susan Clark and illustrated by Niki Singleton. The book has much to say about masculinity and human rights, making it the perfect book for our GAB Book Club, so please read the interview and feel free to discuss it, along with the book, in the comments!
Part two, which will be posted later today, will include discussion topics for a true book club discussion.
The Echoes Team (in alphabetical order):
Dr. Susan Clark (SC) – Has been with the team since the beginning on this arduous journey to publication. Susan is a teacher, therapist and has worked in the Sudanese community in Dallas for over a decade.
Bert Cole (BC) – Has been instrumental behind the scenes on behalf of our Human Rights Social Movement. She is the Director of the Dallas Tennis Association’s USTA NJTL (National Junior Tennis & Learning Program). They serve both inner city kids as well as refugee children.
James Disco (JD) – PTR Professional, Human Rights/Arts Workshop Coordinator and Co-creator of Echoes.
Dr. Rick Halperin (RH) – Chairman of the Board of Amnesty International USA and Director of the Embrey SMU Human Rights Program. Rick is a leader in Human Rights Education. He co-wrote the introduction for the book which connects Echoes with the ongoing Humanitarian Crisis in Sudan.
Dan Limbago (DL) – Financially supported the publishing of the book. He is the National Manager of the National Junior Tennis and Learning network. The United States Tennis Association helped make Echoes a reality. The USTA NJTL Program was Co-founded by tennis great and human rights activist Arthur Ashe.
Maria MacMullin (MM) – Director of Development for the Dallas Holocaust Museum. The Museum has been a supporter of Echoes and we hope to make our work part of the Texas Mandated Holocaust/Genocide Curriculum.
Dr. Carol North (CN) – An expert in Man Made Disasters. She interviews the Boys in a Special Section in the book. It’s an insight into how these Boys survived where others did not. Dr. North is a Professor of Psychiatry at UT Sw Medical and the Dallas VA Hospital.
1. Please explain your involvement with Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan. How, exactly, are you involved? Why did you get involved? What brought your awareness to the project?
JD: I was a volunteer doing Refugee Setups for Catholic Charities and met some of the Lost Boys. Upon hearing their stories, I felt the journey of the Lost Boys should be told and came up with the notion to do a Graphic Novel. I am a tennis coach in the DTA NJTL program and thought this book was a good fit for the kids we serve.
BC: I met James Disco through following up on a contact lead; his name was given to me by Eric Clay the USTA TSR at the time. I followed up to see if I could meet with him to discuss the needs of an organization he was involved with at the time and fell in love with the kids I met on court that day I went over to see what was going on with the neighborhood he was working in as a volunteer. From there James wanted to give the rights to a graphic novel he was working on and the Dallas Tennis Association and the Slam Jammer kids got involved in raising money to help get this done. Through all of this I met the young men from the Lost Boys and another world was introduced to me in a way that news cannot express. Meeting with them and getting to know them has been great and the relationship is really one to cherish.
DL: Through the USTA/NJTL, I made the decision to financially support the publishing of the book. I am involved with the Echoes project because Jane Morrill and Bert Cole and Tina Anderson from the Dallas Tennis Association approached me, asking for a small amount of funding to help complete the publishing of the book. I am the National Manager of the National Junior Tennis and Learning network (NJTL) and the DTA is one of our biggest chapters. Nationally, our 660 chapters provide tennis and education to more than 250,000 underserved youth each year, and the staff at the DTA positioned this book as an excellent academic and cultural learning tool for Dallas youth, and potentially for all of our youth across the country.
CN: Susan Clark asked me to be involved because of my expertise in trauma mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder.
MM: In August 2011, the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance (DHM/CET) hosted Angelo – one of the boys featured in the novel – for a speaking engagement at the museum, so that he could tell his story. It is not widely known that Dallas has a community of Lost Boys who are survivors of genocide. The DHM/CET is involved in order to create more awareness in the Dallas community about the genocide in the Sudan.
2. You obviously feel that this project was very important. Why do you feel this way?
RH: Echoes of the Lost Boys of Sudan is an important historical account for all children and all people—to help eradicate the most dangerous words in the English language, ‘I didn’t know.’
MM: The book is a new way to teach the lessons of genocide. Through the use of graphic art, the book is a good method for reaching youth, who otherwise may not read about genocide or current state of the Sudan.
DL: The story of the Lost Boys is incredible and horrible and at the same time. The fact that some of those Boys have come to live in Dallas and want to give back to Dallas underserved youth by telling their story is a great example of their character. I believe that supporting projects like these are good on many levels, not the least of which is to expose Dallas youth to a larger world that they may not otherwise have known about.
CN: They have been through a remarkable experience. Their story represents the stories of many, many more boys who also suffered through their predicament. And their story has great relevance to the audience of the book.
BC: This project not only helps the Lost Boys but two other neighborhoods, Roseland Homes Community and the Vickery Meadows Community. It also has helped young men and women from our program to understand the blessing of what they have always taken for granted (freedom, food, etc.). By having the young men tell their story really helps the young and old to understand on a more personal level the adversities and trails the boys underwent.
JD: It’s a journey of survival which all can relate to.
3. Who was your intended audience for this book? Younger readers? Older readers? Why do you feel it is important for the book’s messages to reach this particular audience?
JD: Middle school students and up yet, even younger children can connect with the story of the Lost Boys.
SC: Though the curriculum for this book is aimed at middle schoolers, the book itself is intended for a universal audience. The story being told is universal and timeless: the violent vs. the oppressed; the powerful vs. the weak; crushing, irresistible power vs. the indomitable resilience of the soul. Though these themes are not children’s themes, we hope that the middle school curriculum can plant seeds of both empathy and resilience in the younger readers and that the book itself will inform and inspire readers of all ages. In the after school projects where we have piloted the book with inner city kids, we discovered that in terms of gunshots, loss of parents, hunger, lack of shelter and fear for their lives, the life experiences of the inner city kids are not so far removed from those of the Lost Boys. This book offers the inner city students the Lost Boys as a new breed of child heroes, who made it out of hell to a better life. The book, in larger terms, by giving a 120 page close-up of these four young, human faces provides human rights activists everywhere powerful evidence of the costs of war.
BC: Both young and older kids need this book to be able to grow into stronger minded young men and women. It teaches them to make lemonade out of a lemon. They need to know that life will throw you curves and you just have to keep swinging.
4. For those of you who had interaction with Angelo, Santino, Michael, and Matthew, can you describe your experiences with these young men? What was it like to interview them? Were they on board with the idea of the book from the beginning, or did they take some convincing?
JD: I have known them since their arrival in Dallas back in 2001. The Lost Boys struggled adapting to life in America. I remember telling them that there is food in those cans. They were using them for decorations in their apartments. It was often difficult for the Boys to talk about their experiences. All of them were onboard with the idea of doing a book. Yet, it took a while for them to understand what a graphic novel was. Once they saw the sequential art they were really drawn to the medium.
MM: The DHM/CET had the privilege of meeting Angelo and hosting him for a public presentation. We did not really interview Angelo, but we did get to talk with him one-on-one about his experience. He was very willing to share his story and was able to explain the emotional complexities of his experience in a way that all audiences can understand. He really speaks from the heart and allows people to understand what it was really like to be hunted by murders and also to be saved.
CN: I was not involved in the beginning. I interviewed them after the project was well underway. They seemed very interested in trying to explain their experiences and to tell their stories. They said it was helpful to talk about it.
5. Why were these four boys the ones you chose to focus on for the book?
JD: Michael and Matthew were from the same village. Angelo and Santino are cousins. They have all been friends since their days in the Kakuma Refugee Camp.
6. The images in this book are at times heartbreaking. Although they are simple images, the looks on the faces of the people (particularly in images like at the bottom of page 39, where the boys are almost drowning) convey extreme fear. Images like the boy shot in the target sight of a gun on page 25 and the lion eating the boy on page 86 are haunting. Is this the effect you were going for with the graphic novel format? If so, why? If not, what was your intention?
SC: We felt strongly that this book should not be written like an evening news report for sensationalism or pity, but as an accurate representation of the human experience and quality of character of these boys. We chose the graphic novel format because art transmits live emotion without complications or resistance from the mind. When Angelo, Santino, Michael, and Matthew spoke to us, their words were simple but the emotional experiences represented by their words were complex and profound. We felt that to give the reader access to the deeper levels of their childhood and adolescent experiences, artwork was necessary. Also we know that in human psychology, fragments of extreme traumatic events are often captured and stored in memory outside of language. Survivors of trauma resonate with one another in ways other people do not. This deep resonance comes from a place beyond words. The artwork in the novel is intended to convey the unspeakable truth at the heart of the Lost Boys’ experience.
JD: Yes! This is the real story of these courageous young men. Using the medium of sequential art (graphic novel) you can be accurate in your depiction while keeping it PG-13
7. Gender Across Borders is an international community focused on gender issues around the world. What makes this book a good fit for our first book club book?
JD: The Boys had to raise themselves without parents. American women who have helped the Lost Boys are referred to as Momma. My sister for example is called Momma Liz by the Lost Boys in the book. Therefore, there is a void in the Lost Boys for the missing female parent even in those who have reconnected with their families in Sudan.
8. If you could tell the Gender Across Borders community anything in regards to this book, what would it be?
MM: Genocide awareness is an especially important and timely subject that is often not presented to students in the classroom. It is crucial to our future to educate the leaders of tomorrow on the effects of genocide. Echoes of the Lost Boys is an excellent tool for teaching this subject to the younger generation.
DL: This project is good on many levels. It is good to help get the positive story out about the Lost Boys to ‘set the record straight’ and highlight the extraordinary stories of these individuals who survived such a traumatic experience. Also, local Dallas youth benefit from hearing this story of overcoming adversity, the value of perseverance, and learning about history from the perspective of the oppressed. On at least one more level, it is good for the DTA, a small non-profit, to have a home-grown educational tool that they can use to promote themselves.
JD: Inner city kids and refugee children can relate to the story of the Lost Boys. You can make it in this world against all odds. Hope, faith and resiliency are how the Lost Boys survived and so can you.
BC: It’s a book for anyone who will take the time to sit and read it. They will not be able to put it down. It is a book that one will read, and you can feel what the kids are feeling, it’s almost like you become a part of their story. You just want to reach out and hug them and tell them it will be ok. It also let one know that anything is possible if you never give up.
Image courtesy of echoesofthelostboys.com.