Villanova Social Justice Documentary Focuses on Philly-Based Nonprofit “Mothers in Charge”, Pain of Losing Loved Ones to Violence

Student-produced short film “No Greater Pain” focuses on the story of Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder of the Philly-based nonprofit “Mothers in Charge”

VILLANOVA, Pa. – On a cold winter night in December 2001, what started out as a one-sided dispute over a parking space in Philadelphia resulted in an innocent young man’s death. The senselessness of the crime was all too familiar – but one mother decided to turn her indescribable grief into a mission to end the violence. A decade later, her story is told through a Villanova student-produced short documentary film, “No Greater Pain.”

“No Greater Pain” is the fourth film to come out of Villanova’s Center for Social Justice Film, housed within the Waterhouse Family Institute for the Study of Communication and Society (WFI). Founded in October, WFI promotes the study of communication emphasizing social justice, ethical leadership and community, and the ability of those key influencers to create a more just world.

The film tells the story of Dorothy Johnson-Speight, whose 24-year-old son Khaaliq was gunned down by Ernest Odom over a parking space in front of his own home. Viewers eventually meet four other mothers who also lost sons to violence – including Ruth Donnelly, whose 19-year-old son Justin was stabbed by the same man who killed Khaaliq. Each mother discusses the darkest days of their grief and their desire to end the cycle of violence. All women are members of the nonprofit organization, Mothers in Charge, which Johnson-Speight founded in 2004 to provide support for mothers and families affected by violence and offer violence prevention and education to at-risk youth and young offenders.

"One of the primary goals of this course is to familiarize students in a deep way with an important social issue and document a story of a person or persons striving for positive social change,” said Stephen McWilliams, one of instructors of the social justice documentary course. “Through the medium of film, we seek to increase awareness of important social issues and most importantly, encourage students to bring their talents to actively working for a more just, peaceful world.

“The film, though at times painful to make, is a powerful testimony to the strength of the women of Mothers in Charge,” McWilliams continued. “These women and the work they do are at the core of what we are attempting to achieve with our program.”

Villanova University hosted a special screening of the film on Jan. 28 in the Connelly Cinema Cinema. Future screenings will be announced at a later date.

Villanova’s Center for Social Justice Film allows students from all majors the unique opportunity to learn about filmmaking through hands-on training in real-world situations, and then use their experience to create documentaries that explore important issues facing society and become advocates for those issues.

Since spring 2009, five classes off students with little to no prior filmmaking experience have told remarkable stories that have changed the lives of both the students and subjects involved. “Price of Life” featured an ex-con now inspiring others to create a better life; “Meh Sha” followed a teenage Burmese immigrant as he confronted the challenges of new country; and “Coming off the DL” took an intimate look at the lives of two students with cerebral palsy who overcome the prejudice and fears of others to excel in the classroom and as managers for the Villanova men’s and women’s basketball teams. Later this spring a fifth documentary chronicling a popular Philadelphia street performer who encourages youth to rise above their troubles will be released.

The Waterhouse Family Institute for the Study of Communication and Society (WFI) is housed within Villanova University’s Department of Communication in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. WFI was founded on the principle that the study and practice of communication requires attention to values, ethics and social justice. WFI promotes the study of this mission-driven communication, emphasizing ethical leadership, social justice and community, and the ability of those key influencers to create a more just world. Established in October 2010 through a generous gift from Villanova University alumnus Lawrence Waterhouse Jr., ’59 A&S, WFI’s three main activities are connecting scholars and professionals through lectures and symposia, supporting student-centered projects and activities, and funding innovative scholarly research.