The Nina Turner Show: Educating and Engaging with Ally Sheedy

Actor Ally Sheedy, known for her roles in The Breakfast Club and X-Men, discusses being a teacher in the age of Trump and her one-woman show on civil rights activist Lynda Blackmon

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Story Transcript

Nina Turner: Let’s get down to the real business of taking care of the people! We can’t have a testimony without a test, and we are being tested whether we have courage enough, conviction enough, people power enough to stand up and do what is right for ourselves and generations yet unborn.

Joining me now is Ally Sheedy. She is an actress, a director, a writer, a mom,and just an all-around creator of all things good. You may remember her from the Breakfast Club, Elmo’s Fire, High Art, Little Sister, and wait for this: The X-Men: Apocalypse. How are you?

Ally Sheedy: Good, how are you?

Nina Turner: I am fabulous now that you’re here.

Ally Sheedy: You’re happy you’re in New York.

Nina Turner: Yeah, glad to be in New York. You are a New Yorker through and through.

Ally Sheedy: Yes, I am a New Yorker through and through, yep! Born and raised. I guess growing up here, there’s just so much here and I did live in Los Angeles for a period of time when I was working, but in Los Angeles everything, at least then, felt to me that it was all about film and TV world and I missed New York. There’s publishing here, people do a million different things for a living. There’s people in this street, you can just get on a subway and go wherever…

Nina Turner: Your mama’s here.

Ally Sheedy: My mama’s here, yes. So when I had Beck, my kid, I moved back and raised him here and never left again.

Nina Turner: Yeah, well I’m just delighted to be here in your home, your hometown with you. So you’re a teacher and a lot of people don’t know that about you. What is it that motivates you to teach and can you talk about how some of the latest events, the election of President Trump and some of the emotions that your students were feeling at the time, and how you maybe used art, the art of teaching to try to get them to see a brighter future?

Ally Sheedy: I didn’t know that teaching was something that was just going to open up in my life, just happened. I didn’t know I was going to love it so much. But when Beck went off to college, so, I’m now in my fifth year of working with students. When Beck went off to college, a friend of mine was associated with LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts here in New York and said to me “Listen, you’re not just gonna sit around looking for this job and doing whatever you’re gonna do looking for the next thing and have nothing creative to do. When Beck goes you’re gonna feel an emptiness and so why don’t you just go in? The school would love to have you.” And I went in, fell in love with the students, I was working with them on scene study, so suddenly, I was surrounded by a hundred seventeen year olds.

Nina Turner: You’re not surprised by that?

Ally Sheedy: No, and I was just like, great! I have a hundred babies now!

Nina Turner: From all walks of life?

Ally Sheedy: From all walks of life. Those kids are, that school has, it’s everything. It’s visual arts, it’s music, it’s tech, it’s dance, and I’m in the theater department and I started working with them on scene study and I get to do my particular thing there with the kids.

Nina Turner: But you’re sharing your gift and I know you and I talked a lot about what’s happening in the world right now…

Ally Sheedy: Right.

Nina Turner: And I remember getting a call from you, just really frantic emotionally about the toll that this particular political climate was taking on your students. Can you share a little bit about that and how I know, pretty much high alert, but now I think things have calmed a little bit even as we work and they have a position in there too, to work to create a better world. But you were really concerned about them as a mother, as a teacher?

Ally Sheedy: I was devastated, and when the, I was working when the election happened, I was working both at Bard College and with my high school kids. And I have a lot of undocumented kids that I’m teaching in the various classes. And at Bard, there are a lot of kids that come from another country to come and study here, so it was a great big mix and aside from the students in general, especially the high school students who didn’t get a chance to vote in this election and they didn’t understand what happened. But the emotional devastation in the school, a great deal that I was feeling from the kids had to do with being undocumented, being set back. There was one girl that, the one that called you that was because she just started to cry, she’s said “I’m terrified, and my parents are gonna get sent away and I’m gonna be here by myself.”

Nina Turner: She’s a dreamer, so she’s in that protected category that President Obama set up. But her fear and the fears of some of her colleagues was her parents. So what is that like, how did she explain that fear to you and to maybe some of her classmates about “I might be okay to stay here, but my parents might not.”?

Ally Sheedy: She said “They’re gonna take my parents away from me. They want to send my parents away. I’m gonna have to leave, I can’t stay in this country anymore. They’re gonna take my mom.” You know, this is a teenager. She was basically saying to me “Can that really happen? Is what he said can that really happen?” And I said we’re going to have to …

Nina Turner: “He” being President Trump?

Ally Sheedy: Yeah, Trump. And I said we’re going to have to see how this one falls but what I can tell you is that you are a living in a place right now and in a city right now where there is people, I believe, people will find places of sanctuary and that asininity particularly I think people are going to go out into the street to keep that from happening. I can’t see some force coming in here and pulling people out of their homes. I just can’t even envision that and it’s frightening because now it seems that it is some of what’s happening.

I wanted to tell her “I’ll protect you, we will all protect you. Nothing is going to happen to you,” but what’s so, a people of this election, it’s just too much to take in. I felt like this can’t be happening, this isn’t gonna happen to these kids. At the same time, not being able to say: “I promise you that there’s everything in place to protect you.” At the moment when she said that to me I absolutely said to her with 100% conviction this just can’t happen. That as time has gone by and I’m reading every, and I know she’s got this, she’s got her papers in place, and there’s another kid who’s telling me that they’re afraid if their mom’s not home and somebody knocks on the door they turn the lights off. And the little sister goes and hides in the closet. There was a kid at …

Nina Turner: Thinking that ICR, that they’re going to be taken away. So how does the fear of some of your students really connect with the failure of the federal government, not just under Republicans, but under Democrats to really come up with a real immigration reform that we’re in this limbo because Democrats and Republicans failed to deal with our immigration concerns in this country?

Ally Sheedy: For some reason, for various reasons, for whatever the political calculation has been, nothing got put in place to, especially for me, I’m just speaking of where I live and what I’m doing to protect the young people of the country. And my first thought when there were just sort of two days of silence after the election was “Get up! Somebody get out!” Somebody has to get on television. Somebody has to get out there and say something to their children because now they’re hearing this and thinking, “This is what happened, we’re abandoned.”

And there is still a lot of fear and going up to college, and then the other kid who came here to study from India. He said to me, “I can’t be in class today because I’m from India, and I’m not wanted in this country anymore. And I think, I don’t know if I’m going to finish my education here. I don’t think I should, maybe I should go home. If I go home, will they let me back in?” It’s one thing to be a bit older and first of all to have been somebody who was actually able to vote, none of these kids were able to vote in the election, but also there’s just been … I guess I’ve been under this illusion of the two, we have basic moral, ethical structures in place and somebody can’t go into this kid’s house or the other kid’s dorm room and tell him “No, you have to get out.” We can’t let that happen in this country. That doesn’t happen here. Not here.

Nina Turner: But is there a disconnect between our values and morals and what actually happens? I mean you do believe, Ally, that Democrats failed?

Ally Sheedy: I think Democrats failed and Republicans failed. I think we all failed. This is the big fail for this to have happened, and for these kids to be in this kind of an emotional danger. There are no adults in the room, that’s what I was calling to ask you. Where’s the adult in the room? Where’s the person who can come out and say “We’re not going to let that happen. This doesn’t happen in this country, this is not who we are as a people.” I guess there was a complacency of not having that policy put into place. There was a feeling of meh…

Nina Turner: You wanted people to come out and say something but are we not that country or are we that country? I think about what happened to the Japanese, what happened to African Americans, there was a point in time in this country where ethnic whites, if they were not from the northern part of Europe, I’m thinking of Irish in particular, signs on windows when they were, NINA, not me, but NINA: No Irish Need Apply. Is there some kind of disconnect between the rhetoric and the promise of this country and what actually happens generation after generations? Are we really so far removed from what really happens in this country when crisis and people want to point the finger at somebody else?

Ally Sheedy: I thought we were removed from that, I thought that was in the past. That kind of thing isn’t going to happen, it can’t happen here. And now every day, open the newspaper or see what’s on television: it’s another horror story. These deportation forces are showing up. It’s really happening, this is happening, that’s happening, environmental regulations being rolled back, there’s so many different things happening politically but for me because I was also saying this too, I feel like I’m right on the front lines here with these kids. This is my daily experience, is dealing emotionally with these kids and what do I want to say? What I said that first day, which is: not in this country, it’s not going to happen in this country, nobody’s going to do that here. And now I think we haven’t taken care of it and we, obviously I was wrong. The election happened and there are people cheering about ripping parents away from kids and sending them out of the country. It’s really hard to conceive.

Nina Turner: Have we lost love and empathy for one another or maybe we didn’t have it to begin with? Was all of this an illusion? Because there would be some people, Ally, that would say to you “Ally Sheedy, we are a nation of laws. And so if someone came in here illegally, it’s their own fault and we have a right as a country to adhere to our laws. Now we feel bad about their children but they’re here illegally.” What would you say?

Ally Sheedy: I have read those kind of quotes in the newspaper. We read them in the newspaper all the time, right? There always interviewing somebody who’s saying something like that. I think it’s immoral. I think it’s immoral, I think it is unethical. I think it’s a travesty to say that refugees from Syria who have nothing can’t come into this country. That we’re not going be a haven, that we’re not going to welcome anybody here. Yes, we should be taking care of our own people and we can take care of the children who are here, and we have room for refugees to come. What is this? This is an enormous country! There is an expansiveness and an inclusiveness that we can have in this country and I don’t subscribe to the idea that somebody gets something that means it comes away from me.

Nina Turner: Well, you’re going to run for office, huh?

Ally Sheedy: Nope.

Nina Turner: Why wouldn’t you take on the challenge in elective office?

Ally Sheedy: I would rather teach, I would rather be with my students. I’d rather be able to have these kind of conversations but you’re not the first person who’s asked me that. I don’t… No.

Nina Turner: You’re going to keep making a difference in the space that you’re in?

Ally Sheedy: That’s exactly right.

Nina Turner: And speaking of making a difference, your mother has an author by the, right? By the name of Lynda Blackmon Lowery and my God, the book.

Ally Sheedy: “Turning 15 on the Road to Freedom.”

Nina Turner: So, you were able to take that book, which is a must-read for all ages and turn that into a one-woman play.

Ally Sheedy: That’s right.

Nina Turner: What was that like and tell us a little bit about Lynda.

Ally Sheedy: Lynda Blackmon, now Lynda Blackmon Lowery, she was the youngest person on the march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, the voting rights march. She had started going out and marching with the children in Selma. She got beat up terribly on Pettus bridge on Bloody Sunday. She was allowed to go because she was determined to go to march and confront George Wallis, was what she was thinking. She was allowed to go on that very long march. She turned fifteen while the march was…

Nina Turner: And was the youngest marcher.

Ally Sheedy: Youngest one.

Nina Turner: Why don’t we know about her in history?

Ally Sheedy: Now we do!

Nina Turner: Oh my god!

Ally Sheedy: Because she never told her story. A couple of women who were researching a book on voting rights were in Selma, they found Lynda. They convinced her to give her oral history and she started talking and they recorded it, and they all put it together into this book. And she’s a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful being. Very funny, and has had so much experience that we can only imagine, or read about.

Nina Turner: She was beaten, I mean this wasn’t fun and games.

Ally Sheedy: No, no, she was beaten badly.

Nina Turner: She knows many adults in her life who suffered the same consequences. Now, why was that march primarily led, or at least the foundation of that march were younger people, contrary to what people think about this march? Because they see Dr. Martin Luther King, they see lots of adults but you and I both know, and through Lynda’s story that this march was primarily dominated by young people. Can you talk to us about why that is the case?

Ally Sheedy: It’s one of the things that’s so powerful, I think, about the play and about the book. When she writes that the Selma movement, she says, the Selma movement was a kid’s movement. It’s gonna make you cry because the Civil Rights leaders in Selma, they needed the children to go out and march every single day because the adults could have their picture taken and lose their jobs. They needed to organize the kids to go out on the street every day, every day, every day. And they would go to jail over and over and over and over again. And that’s when she talked about it: She was like “Now, I was in the Civil Rights Movement!” Do you know what I mean? She’s like twelve, eleven, twelve, thirteen and then Bloody Sunday happened. Then after that, I think for her it turns into a spiritual journey. She needed to go back on the march after she got so severely beaten. She felt that she needed to go back onto the bridge and cross the bridge.

Nina Turner: Did she go back for the fiftieth march across?

Ally Sheedy: She’s still there!

Nina Turner: She’s still there. I mean did she march during the fiftieth.

Ally Sheedy: She did, and she said she …

Nina Turner: With President Obama?

Ally Sheedy: And she said she showed Michelle Obama her scars. Michelle Obama felt sorry about it.

Nina Turner: So she has physical scars from standing up?

Ally Sheedy: Yes. All over her head.

Nina Turner: There has to be some kind of connection between her story and the young people that you teach every day in terms of instilling hope and also letting young people know that they don’t have to be twenty and thirty and even forty to make a difference. She made a difference as a teenager. What do you say to the young people that you are around on a regular basis to encourage, as Rosario Dawson once said, to encourage their courage about what their future can be? I mean there were three things that you could say, not just to your students in your classroom, but to the students and the adults who are watching us. What would you say to them about the promise of the future?

Ally Sheedy: I think number one is, and I’m speaking specifically right now to any young person watching, the number one thing is to educate yourself. Read everything, watch everything, figure out what’s real news. “What do I need to know about this?”

Nina Turner: Well, we’re on The Real News right now!

Ally Sheedy: That’s right. So you educate, educate. Get as much knowledge as you can. Then, the second thing is you engage. So you find out who are my people? Who are the people that I need to find? And find them, as we know, this happens, you find them and you start to…

Nina Turner: That’s how we found each other.

Ally Sheedy: Yes. So, you connect with them and make relationships with them. How do you engage? Those people will show you how to engage in your community. You go out, like Lynda did. You go across the bridge, you go out in the street. You speak, you stand up, you run for office. I don’t want to do it, but if you’re 16 and you’re thinking about it, do it.

So educate, engage and then the third thing is trust yourself, always. And that’s the thing with the kids that I have in class too. I feel like yeah, there will be directors and teachers and you’re all young actors but the thing is you must trust yourself. Capital S, right? Your gift, your voice, your truth, your intuition. You just let that guide you along. Nobody needs to explain to you what you should be doing. If you’re educating yourself and you’re engaging, you’re gonna know exactly where to go. What action you should take. And then you just keep empowering yourself that way. It’s the only way that anything changes.

Nina Turner: Yes, how beautiful is that? So educate, engage and trust yourself.

Ally Sheedy: Yep!

Nina Turner: Words not just for young people, but for more seasoned people as well.

Ally Sheedy: That’s true.

Nina Turner: Well, thank you so much for joining us today, Ally. It has been just been a blast. You’ve been watching the Nina Turner Show on The Real News Network. See you next time.