Lindsey Seavert, BA’01, was working as a general assignment reporter for KARE 11, an NBC affiliate television station in Minneapolis, when she covered the drive-by shooting of a 2-year-old.
Seavert had regularly covered violent stories in north Minneapolis and returned to the studio frustrated that she couldn’t tell a larger story about the struggles of the area.
“A lot of the headlines were 90-second stories. You couldn’t get to the complexities of the community,” she says.
When Seavert met the principal of Lucy Laney Elementary School—a “fierce and brave” woman named Mauri Melander Friestleben, who gave a speech to the community following the child’s death—Seavert decided to focus on a different type of story.
Co-directed with cinematographer Ben Garvin, her documentary, Love Them First: Lessons From Lucy Laney Elementary, follows Friestleben and the school’s faculty as they strive to “undo history” and see their school removed from the state’s dreaded list of underperforming institutions.
“I knew there was something special going on there. I looked to the light and saw this school for what it is—a beacon for the community,” Seavert says.
The story also spoke to her as a mother of a then 5-year-old. “This area is six miles from my home and my kid doesn’t have to duck for cover on the playground,” Seavert says of the violence in that area.
Seavert and Garvin spent a year at the school, watching as the teachers worked to raise not only test scores but the self-esteem of a group of students who had been told they went to “a bad school.”
It took a while for Seavert to gain the trust of the faculty and students. She and Garvin were careful to let the participants in the film tell their own stories. “We were two white journalists going into a primarily Black community … we didn’t want to do reporter voice-overs. I didn’t want my voice to narrate a community that I didn’t know a lot about.”
In one memorable scene, 11-year-old Sophia is asked what grownups should know about her school. She replies, “Even though there are a lot of dangerous things over in this area, a lot of students are proud to call this place home. I’m one of them.”
Since its premiere, Love Them First has gone on to earn a number of accolades, including Columbia University’s 2020 Alfred I. duPont Award and “best feature story (large newsroom)” at the Education Writers Association’s 2019 National Awards for Education Reporting.