20 Apr ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO AND ESSEX COUNTY VOCATIONAL TECHNICAL SCHOOL DISTRICT HOST STUDENT FILM SCREENING Bloomfield Tech Students Win First Place in Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center National Video Contest

Essex County, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. and the Essex County Vocational Technical School District congratulated Essex County Bloomfield Tech Campus seniors Christopher A. Rodriguez and Julio Villegas for winning the 2015 Speak Truth to Power National Video Contest sponsored by the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center. The students’ five-minute film was about genocide and focused on Holocaust survivor and human rights activist Elie Wiesel.

“We are all very proud of Chris and Julio for winning the top prize in the RFK Human Rights Center’s student film contest. They took a very difficult topic and created a film that touched on the atrocities of genocide and the positive impact that Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel has had to find had on the world. It shows how insightful and high achieving our students in the Vocational School District are,” DiVincenzo said. “It was important to share their film with our Essex County audience to raise awareness of this emotional issue and to highlight the exceptional work of our students,” he added.

Both Rodriguez and Villegas thanked their social studies teacher, Jennifer DaSilva, and their film and video teacher, Emily Bonilla, for giving them encouragement, serving as role models and preparing them to complete a project like their film.

“I hope people are inspired by the message of our film. It transcends to all people,” Rodriguez said.

“We have to remember that every minute of every day, there are victims who are losing their identity and their lives. We don’t have to have this in our future,” Villegas said. “We don’t place a lot of thought or attention to these matters, but we must,” he added.

“In our lives, we all see abuse and human rights violations. We want to raise awareness that we all can be and we all must be human rights defenders,” said Karen Robinson, Senior Education Manager from the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center. “The mission of this contest is to inspire and challenge young people to see their world and change it for the better. The best part of my job is that I get to see bright students like Christopher and Julio who see a positive future,” she added.

The first public premiere of the film was made Tuesday, April 21st during the afternoon celebration in Newark. In addition, the will be shown at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City on Thursday, April 23rd.

Rodriguez and Villegas created their short film as part of their Diaspora course taught by social studies teacher Jennifer DaSilva. The object of the project was to highlight violations of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the achievements of a human rights defender.

Elected and school officials shared their pride about the students’ accomplishment:

“I want to thank our students for their courage and their hard work,” Essex County Vocational Technical School Board President Father Edwin Leahy said. “Every time you speak the truth, you don’t get a crowd like this. You have to continue to do what is right even if you don’t have a lot of support,” he added.

“Our curriculum provides our students with opportunity and challenges them to excel. Christopher and Julio took a classroom project and ran with it,” Essex County Vocational Technical Schools Superintendent Frank Cocchiola said. “They showed a mature sensitivity to a complex issue and an appreciation of history,” he noted.

“I am so very proud of our students for the work they accomplish and for representing Essex County Bloomfield Tech so well,” Bloomfield Tech Principal Eric Love said. “This is a great example of our students integrating what they learned in their social studies class with the technological skills they learned in their film and video class,” he pointed out.

“Today is an amazing celebration of education,” said Bloomfield Tech Social Studies Teacher Jennifer DaSilva, who gave the students’ the assignment. “Both students have flourished in our Diaspora class. Their film is extraordinary and helps raise awareness about the tragedies taking place in the world today,” she noted.

“I want to take this opportunity to reiterate my praise for our Vocational Technical School District. I commend the teachers, administrators and especially the students for all they attain,” Essex County Deputy Chief of Staff William Payne said. “To have Christopher and Julio earn this national recognition demonstrates the maturity and depth of knowledge about the problems in our world. It shows how our district is preparing our students to find solutions,” he added.

Also sharing words of encouragement were Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, Freeholder Patricia Sebold, Sheriff Armando Fontoura and Chief of Staff Phil Alagia.

The Speak Truth To Power student video competition encourages middle and high school students to become engaged in human rights. The video contest is sponsored by New York State United Teachers and the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights and is based on Kerry Kennedy’s book Speak Truth To Power. Students who participate in the contest must choose one of the individuals identified by the RFK Center Human Rights and create a three- to five-minute short film. The contest is looking for student films that utilize creative storytelling to teach others about a human rights issue. The format is open to documentary, stop motion, narrative, digital photo essay or other innovative explorations that involve filmmaking components.

Contact:        Anthony Puglisi
973-621-2542
Lauren Shears
973-621-1590