In 2008, Mountainfilm in Telluride screened the short documentary Alagados, which tells the story of a charming young Brazilian man named Renato Santos who has enormous potential and a penchant for living on the edge. “Alagados” means "flooded" in Portuguese and is the name of the tough neighborhood where Santos and his family dwelled. The film ends on a hopeful note, but director Sylvia Johnson was clear in her Q&A at Mountainfilm that she was concerned about the future of her main character. Unfortunately, her worries were validated late last week as she relates in the following note:
Friday March 22, 2013, was a day of celebration for the Alagados Project. On the day of her 29th birthday, Joice [one of the Alagados Project scholarship students] received her college degree and celebrated her graduation. It was a major milestone for her, the Project, and the community, and we couldn't be more proud of her.
Sadly, that same night, Renato Santos, the main character in my short film, Alagados, whose story inspired The Alagados Project, was shot in a rival gang shoot out. He died early Saturday morning.
My heart breaks for his family and a community so burdened with injustice. I will always remember Renato as a fighter — smart, strong, quick witted, and really fun. Renato knew what the consequences of his actions could be, and numerous times he tried to change his path, but ultimately he wasn't strong enough to overcome his circumstances. Like many other youth from this community, he is a victim of a vicious cycle, often already implicated on the simple basis of the social context he was born into. This isn't just a Brazilian phenomenon. There is so much work to do yet in this world to drive out racial injustice, social inequality, and real poverty.
The loss of Renato highlights for me the importance of what we do, the significance of what someone like Joice has overcome to get where she is, and how essential equality and opportunity are. While we have been able to help other young people, in the end, we weren't able to do enough for Renato.
Written on a photo that has always hung in my parents' home are the words: “Peace is not an object found by chance, it is the result of equality between men.” For these young people, education is a big step in the direction of greater equality.
Thank you to all of you for the part you've played in making an impact in the Alagados community. I encourage you all to seek out ways to promote equality in each of your communities.
In search of peace,