POV Partner Pillsbury United Communities – Oak Park Center hosted a screening of Tough Love in Minneapolis, Minnesota through POV’s free Lending Library. Community Engagement and Education Intern Isaac J. Park asked Parent Engagement Specialist Nikki McComb eight questions about community organizing and her thoughts on the film.

Can you briefly explain Pillsbury United Communities’ mission and its investment in parents involved in the child welfare system? Additionally, what is the main role of the Oak Park Youth and Family Center in the larger Pillsbury United Communities network?

Pillsbury United Communities envisions that all individuals and families are well and living in thriving communities. Our investment in families and parents is recognition of their importance in making our neighborhoods stronger, safer and healthier. Oak Park has a long history as a gathering spot in North Minneapolis. We are building on that tradition by offering opportunities that are informative and focusing on supporting parents to be their best selves for their children. Oak Park is unique in its approach by its effort that places parents at the center of its work, co-creating with them programs and activities that support their individual and collective needs. The movie and discussion series have been wildly successful in providing a venue for families to be together and discuss the many relevant issues raised in the films. This illustrates our goal of learning and growing together as a community.

Pillsbury United appears to engage in many different services. According to its website, Pillsbury United Communities began with the settlement movement during the Progressive Era in the late nineteenth century. How have today’s needs changed since then; particularly in regards to the demographics served and the poverty levels in the Minneapolis area?

Pillsbury United Communities has seen many changes in the past century, both in the communities it serves and barriers faced by those living in poverty. The systemic challenges may be more subtle, however its impact continues to have a crippling effect on low-income, immigrant and communities of color–Minnesota has devastating racial and ethnic disparities across the board in health, education, and employment outcomes. It is imperative that gaps are closed or the number of people living in poverty will continue to grow. This is completely unacceptable. Pillsbury United Communities is operating today with even more clarity on its role in addressing disparities by co-creating with community [members] innovative and strategic solutions that improve our communities by addressing the systemic barriers and practices that low-income people face each day.

Despite the inevitable change that time brings, we maintain that communities do better when they are involved in creating solutions that work for them; that change happens when people are engaged and are able to see the choices available to them. Our history has taught us that this change is most likely when there is a connection to community and a sense of belonging.

What role did you imagine the film Tough Love to play in advancing Pillsbury United’s mission?

We aim to serve families and provide them with knowledge and information on these issues; the film brought together some social workers as well as active child protection workers and families who are in the process of trying to get to the reunification stage in their own CP situations. This opened up deep dialogue and discussion and we will all convene again as a group to do more surrounding this issue.

In the film, Alena Ciecko, the court-appointed attorney for Patrick Brown, suggests that the Family Treatment Court (FTC) was holding Mr. Brown to a higher standard than most other parents. Later to the camera she says she often feels the need to convince the court of “what the [child welfare] system is supposed to be about: about safety, not about perfection.” Do you see parents from your community having a similar experience? When might the courts’ scrutiny be warranted?

There has been at times a double standard in cases in our community. Scrutiny should be warranted when a child is in clear and present danger.

What kind of discussions did the audience have after the film screening?

We engaged in deep discussion about very specific situations that parents who have had children removed have had to face. The room was full of tears and anger, and people [were] seeking understanding and getting questions answered and asking new questions.

What was your own takeaway from Tough Love?

There is a lot of work to do surrounding this issue, not only for families to become more educated but for those who are doing the work as well.

How are the families that Pillsbury United Communities serves similar to the ones of Hannah and Philly or Patrick? What challenges do they face that are unique to the community or the greater Minneapolis-St. Paul area?

The similarities are not unique or much different at all. The barriers and obstacles families face are housing, addiction, domestic violence, health disparities and more. I think communities all over the world have many of the same barriers.

What advice might you have for parents and children who are just entering the child welfare system for the first time? What advice do you have for those in positions of power (e.g. judges and policymakers) who decide their outcomes?

Every case is different. This is a question that I feel could only be answered on a case by case situation. I do however believe that those in positions of power must be people who are really invested in the outcome being reunification and change.

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POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 400 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.