I learned at the beginning of this month, Black History Month, a piece of Black history to which I had never been exposed. On March 2, 1955, a woman named Claudette Colvin was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat on a bus she was riding home from school. Her arrest was made nine months prior to Rosa Parks’ arrest for the same offense and Colvin is widely considered “a pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement.” In all my years of education- throughout high school, college, and graduate school- I had never heard of Ms. Colvin (I’d often heard of Ms. Parks.) Thanks to a friend’s social media newsfeed, I now know about this pillar of the movement whose fight for what is right was quietly executed without much fanfare but was crucial to a change felt first within her community and then- the world.
Jason Farmer is a Memphian who has been quietly going about creating change within our community and, much like Colvin, doing so without much fanfare. There is no advertising or announcement on his “next move,” no entourage accompanying him when he covertly slips into one of the venues to screen a project he has helped create- whether that venue is here in Memphis or at the Sundance Film Festival. In fact, he is so unassuming- in the best of ways- that you could walk right past him while he’s dining at one of his favorite local, Black-owned restaurants and have no clue you almost rubbed shoulders with a bona fide filmmaker.
Farmer grew up in Memphis’ Foote Homes housing project and, as shared during his presentation with USA Today Network’s Storyteller Project, was born into a family poverty that spanned four generations. His mother instilled in him and his siblings that they had the capacity to change the course of their history; he could be anything he wanted to be, including president of the United States, and she supported her words with actions by bringing home discarded law books for him to read. His father supported her (and them) by ensuring that though [they were] poor [they were] never homeless. He “lead us in the most difficult times…placed a value on education, hard work [and] respect,” reflects Farmer who went on to join the Marine Corps and become a “citizen of the world.” He then came home, the place his heart never left, and attended Shelby State Community College before transferring to Christian Brothers University. His family’s course of history was changed but Farmer would rather not focus on his story. He is focused on enabling others to tell theirs.
“I want to empower them to tell their story because I can’t tell it for them,” he explains during our recent lunch at The Office@Uptown. As founder and CEO of Black Lens Productions, he brings together collaborative teams capable of telling profound stories on screen that can impact lives the way those discarded law books impacted his. What began as a father supporting his son’s dream of becoming a filmmaker (yes, Jason Jr. already has several short films to his credit) has turned into a creative entity supporting the dreams of filmmakers who have the vision but not necessarily the resources. As an executive producer, Farmer plays a pivotal role in bringing together a team to execute these filmmakers’ visions, whose purposes aren’t simply to entertain but to shine a light on the crucial change needed in many of our communities. One of his current projects, a documentary, chronicles the life stories of girls who are part of Memphis Inner City Rugby, a nonprofit “rooted in a community battling the life ills most urban areas combat: broken homes, crime, exposure, underemployment, teen pregnancy, drugs, violence, gangs, and hopelessness.”
In addition to his production company, Farmer is a member of both the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and Indie Memphis Board of Directors. He is very often seen, but rarely heard, at area events supporting our city’s artists- and this is by choice. For him the priority lies in creating change through channeling onto the big screen stories that speak loudest to our souls. Stories that will be remembered as vital to our history, even if their protagonists quietly, unselfishly, shunned the spotlight so that the course of others’ lives could be rewritten.
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