DONOR SPOTLIGHT: Interview with Rocco Landesman

Why do you think this film [Country Music] is important now?

Country music as a genre has a very broad appeal. It really reflects American history and American values, and I think the history of country music is the history of our country. Music is the way many of us relate to each other and our community.

Could you tell us just a little bit about your personal connection with country music?

I remember getting my driver’s license in 1964 and driving along hearing the song “Dang Me” by Roger Miller. The lyrics went, ‘roses are red, violets are purple, sugar is sweet, so is maple surple,’ and I thought, ‘what is this?’ This is someone using language and playing with words in a way  I haven’t heard before. I started listening to more country music and found that the stories being told were stories I could relate to. What is special about country music is that the very structure is storytelling. There are characters and stories the way there are not in rock music.

Later, when I decided to do a Broadway show written by Roger Miller, I started to see the strong affinity between country music and show tunes — both being very lyrical, with characters and stories.

Ken Burns’s films always have two stories going on at once. You have the human story right in front of you, and then there is the backstory of what’s going on in the country. So when you’re hearing about Charley Pride and how he broke into country music, you are also hearing the story about race relations in the country. When you are hearing about Merle Haggard, it is the story of breaking out of poverty and the history of rural America. When you see Buck Owens, you are seeing the Bakersfield version of American history.

With Ken Burns there is always a story within a story, and that is why his films resonate, because there is always more going on in any moment than you may first realize, and he really has a way of letting the story tell itself.

Supporting documentary film isn’t the most conventional choice for philanthropy. Why do you think it has impact?

With Ken Burns documentaries, you have a tremendous reach. First, they are entertainment, and people watch them on television and are entertained, but they also have pedagogical value. There is an educational and instructional value to everything he does. Your money really gets leveraged throughout the culture in a way that other philanthropic investments would not be. It is fun to be part of something that is so compelling.

 

DONOR SPOTLIGHT: Jonathan and Jeannie Lavine

The Crimson Lion Lavine Family Foundation proudly contributed a leadership gift to The Better Angels Society in support of the Ken Burns documentary, The Vietnam War. As with all of our philanthropic activities, our mission is to deliver financial resources to a variety of nonprofits focused on leveling the playing field for individuals and families, with an emphasis on access to quality educational opportunities and addressing economic inequality.

Our support for The Better Angels Society was motivated by our desire to make important, unbiased history available to millions of people as well as assist Ken’s undertaking of one of the most divisive, controversial and unresolved periods in our nation’s history. Ken’s telling of this epic conflict does unique justice in honoring our brave military and their many sacrifices but also presents a candid portrayal of the losses suffered on both sides of the Vietnam War.

It is our hope the story of Vietnam, as told by our nation’s greatest film historian, will provide new insight and have long standing implications for how our political leaders, our citizens and especially our young people view the Vietnam War and inevitably, their views on engaging in future conflict around the world.

“OUR SUPPORT FOR THE BETTER ANGELS SOCIETY WAS
MOTIVATED BY OUR DESIRE TO MAKE IMPORTANT,
UNBIASED HISTORY AVAILABLE TO MILLIONS OF PEOPLE..”

About Jeannie and Jonathan Lavine

In addition to their contributions to The Better Angels Society, Jeannie Bachelor Lavine and Jonathan Lavine actively support initiatives that promote access to education and equal opportunity for all individuals. The Lavines are supporters of organizations including City Year, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, uAspire and LIFT. In 2017, they made a record-breaking contribution to WBUR to support the opening of City Space, a cultural events center. As graduates of Harvard Business School, the Lavines are active in the Harvard community, and recently contributed a record-breaking donation to support fellowships at Harvard Business Schoolfor first generation students. The Lavines channel their philanthropic involvement through personal giving as well as through the Crimson Lion Lavine Family Foundation.

Jeannie Bachelor Lavine serves on The Better Angels Society Board of Directors. She holds an M.B.A. with Distinction from Harvard Business School and a B.A., Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Harvard College. She is a former management strategy consultant with global consulting firm the Boston Consulting Group. Through the Crimson Lion Lavine Family Foundation, she and her husband have supported the Equal Justice Initiative and are regular sponsors of the Massachusetts Conference for Women in Boston. They also established the Lavine Family Cornerstone Scholarship Fund to support undergraduate financial aid at Harvard, as well as the Lavine Humanitarian Studies Initiative (HSI) to support the training of humanitarian aid workers at Harvard School of Public Health. Together with Jonathan Lavine, she serves as co-chair of the Campaign for Harvard’s School of Public Health. Jeannie Lavine has served on the Board of Dean’s Advisors for the Harvard School of Public Health since 2012. She chairs the Class of 1988 Gift Committee at Harvard and is a member of the the Class of 1988 Reunion Committee. She also serves as a member of the FAS Major Gift Committee, and the Committee on University Resources (COUR).

Jonathan Lavine is Co-Managing Partner of Bain Capital, one of the world’s leading multi-asset investment firms. He also serves as the Chief Investment Officer of Bain Capital Credit, the firm’s credit arm. Mr. Lavine serves as a Trustee for Columbia University, and is a member of the Advisory Board for the Schuster Institute at Brandeis University. He chairs the Board of Trustees of City Year, a national organization that works to improve the high school graduation pipeline in the United States. He also serves on the boards of Opportunity Nation, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital. In 2016, he was appointed to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council by President Obama. Mr. Lavine has received the Alexander Hamilton Award, Columbia College’s highest honor, as well as Columbia University’s John Jay Award. He has been recognized with the Distinguished Community Service Award from the Anti-Defamation League. Mr. Lavine is a graduate of Columbia College and Harvard Business School.

DONOR SPOTLIGHT: Lynda and Stewart Resnick

Lynda and Stewart Resnick pledged a generous $1 million gift to The Better Angels Society to further the educational outreach associated with Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, The Vietnam War.  Continuing their long-standing commitment to strategic and impact-driven philanthropic work, the Resnicks’ gift ensured that high schools across America are equipped with the curriculum developed to accompany this watershed film series.  U.S. classrooms too often fall short in covering this defining chapter in contemporary American history, so to reverse this troubling omission, students will be given access and learning opportunities related to Burns’ project to advance their understanding of this complicated, controversial and pivotal point in our history.

“Few filmmakers have adequately  explored the emotional  
toll the Vietnam War took on our country.
Ken’s extraordinary filmmaking talent is perfectly suited to capture the true sadness surrounding this horrible conflict .”

PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH VIETNAM
Lynda Resnick’s personal interest in providing the next generation with a greater understanding of this period in our nation’s history stems from her own connection to the Vietnam War.  Early in Lynda’s career, her close friend Daniel Ellsberg used the copy machine in her advertising agency offices on nights and weekends to copy 34 volumes of “Classified” and “Eyes-Only” documents related to the war.  While Lynda did not actually read any of the material because she did not have the proper security clearance, she supported Ellsberg’s mission, believing their efforts would help bring the terrible conflict in Vietnam to a close.

A year later, a few days after reading reports in the news about Ellsberg and the “Pentagon Papers,” two FBI agents knocked on Lynda’s door to serve a subpoena naming her as an unindicted co-conspirator and ordering her to appear before a grand jury the next day.  After multiple appearances before the grand jury and a trial, both Ellsberg and Lynda were acquitted.

As Lynda recalls in her best-selling autobiography Rubies in the Orchard, for “two years I was pursued by a very nasty prosecutor, and my life was dominated by the Pentagon Papers case.  Eventually, the case against Dan was dismissed and the cloud of potential prosecution lifted.  I crawled out of a very dark place.  Not so the nation.  The misery of Vietnam was soon compounded by the shock of Watergate.  Together they took the air out of the country’s sails.  The war ended and Watergate passed, but the cynicism lingered…a deeper and more abiding cynicism than America had ever known.”

PASSIONATE AND IMPACT-DRIVEN PHILANTHROPISTS

Lynda and Stewart Resnick’s passion for ensuring the next generation has the skills to succeed in a more complex and global world have led them to completely transform communities in the island nation of Fiji and across the Central Valley of California, where many of their agriculture industry employees live.  Through Lynda’s hands-on philanthropic work in community development, education and health and wellness, the Resnicks are transforming the paradigm of poverty in the Central Valley region.

“Fifty years ago, we were living and breathing the war.  We knew the boys that were fighting, and it was a heart-wrenching era in our lives,” Lynda explained.  “This glimpse into the tragedy and sadness of Vietnam will help give students a real idea of what war can do to a society and its youngest generations, and how troubling this time in our not-so-distant past really was.”

“I am convinced that creating curriculum based on Ken’s emotionally charged and historically factual film will actively change the way the Vietnam War is taught in our schools and will make a huge impact on how much the next generation understands about this important, and still ongoing, chapter in American history,” Lynda said.

AN AMBITIOUS VISION REALIZED

The Resnicks’ goal in working with The Better Angels Society is not simply to fund creation of curriculum based on the series, but to ensure that thousands of schools which might not have had access to the film as a resource can actively teach the Vietnam War in a new and dynamic way. The Resnick’s generosity and vision have made it possible for curricula and other resources to be developed so that they are ready to be implemented by middle and high school teachers when the film is released in September of 2017.

Their gift will make it possible for print kits with the full film series on DVD to be distributed to 25,000 schools across the country, directly impacting hundreds of thousands of students and their teachers.  Among the resources will be Activity Packs (created in both online and print formats) that will include video clips, primary source material, activity ideas and lesson plans, an interactive quiz, a resource list, and connections to Common Core and national standards.  The kit has also been tested by classroom teachers and has undergone multiple reviews by the Society’s educator advisory board.

DONOR SPOTLIGHT: Lynch Foundation

For the last 25 years, The Lynch Foundation has focused its efforts on assisting educational and cultural programs, in addition to historical preservation. When Carolyn Lynch and Ken Burns met in 2009, it seemed only a matter of time before the foundation would pledge support to his work through The Better Angels Society.

Carolyn and Ken were both receiving honorary degrees from Boston College, and the two immediately connected about their shared passion for history and education, as well as Carolyn’s (and her husband Peter’s) love for movies.

When Ken approached The Lynch Foundation in 2011 to support the documentary Vietnam, along with the Ken Burns Digital Library and Mobile Classroom, The Lynch Foundation thought it was an ideal match.  The initiatives would support the foundation’s focus, highlighting important historical events and providing educational and cultural opportunities.

That was confirmed when Carolyn, Trustee Nancy Coolidge and Executive Director Katie Everett visited Florentine Films in Walpole, N.H., and saw screenings of the upcoming films The Dust Bowl and The Roosevelts: An Intimate History.  They were moved by both and saw the impact that these, and other films, could deliver.  Through the years, The Lynch Foundation has assisted organizations because of their missions, as well as their people – from leaders down through the entire staff.  Carolyn and Peter believe in people who through their vision and dedication can impact so many.  Ken Burns and the Florentine Films staff certainly embody that.

The Foundation recognized the importance and impact of these projects and approved a three-year grant totaling $750,000.

“IN SUPPORTING VIETNAM, THE LYNCH FOUNDATION BELIEVED THAT A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT ARGUABLY THE MOST SIGNIFICANT EVENT IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE 20TH CENTURY HAD THE CHANCE TO REACH AND EDUCATE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE.”

In supporting Vietnam, The Lynch Foundation believed that a documentary about arguably the most significant event in the second half of the 20th century had the chance to reach and educate tens of thousands of people.

In supporting The Digital Library and Mobile Classroom, The Lynch Foundation saw the power of delivering the work of Ken Burns to the 21st century, and the tremendous educational opportunities associated with it.  The Foundation continues to emphasize support for the integration of technology into the classroom through various initiatives.  Teachers are always seeking compelling, reliable sources and materials that can be taught in the classroom, and for years they have used Ken Burns’s films to educate by bringing to life history and important events.  The new website will allow them to have access to supplemental information that uses the latest technology to better educate and engage their students.

The Lynch Foundation views its philanthropic efforts as an investment, choosing charities that have innovative ideas, strong leadership and the ability to multiply its impact.  The Better Angels Society, with its support of film, history and education, has proven to be such an organization.  On behalf of The Lynch Foundation, I want to add that we are so thrilled to have assisted in their mission.  We consider it a special opportunity to be a part of the creation of content that informs, educates and engages so many.

Peter Lynch serves as President of The Lynch Foundation alongside his daughters Mary, Annie and Elizabeth as trustees.