Poverty, Inc. Screening


At 7pm on November 10th, students, faculty, and Holland community members filled almost every seat of the Knickerbocker Theatre for a screening of the 2014 documentary Poverty, Inc. Directed and produced by Michael Matheson Miller, Poverty, Inc. questions the impact of modern charities, foreign aid, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and their influence on local entrepreneurship in lesser-developed countries.14963341_1231221350271595_6968857888606075548_nFollowing the screening, we were lucky enough to have Haitian entrepreneur Daniel Jean Louis discuss his experience with foreign aid in Haiti and answer questions from the audience. Louis spoke of his upbringing, saying, “Growing up in Haiti taught me about the complexity of this world…[and] I kept asking questions: why is Haiti poor, what makes poverty, and what can be done about it?” Louis continued to say that “poverty is the inability for people to maximize their potential.” He stressed that aid can create a “culture of dependency,” and that instead we need to focus on how we can help the local businesses and entrepreneurs in their own countries rather than intervening and bringing in foreign products. While Louis acknowledged that foreign aid is an immediate solution, he stressed that it hinders local businesses that produce the same products.

Several audience members asked pertinent and insightful questions that resulted in collective nods through the crowd. For example, one individual asked, “How can you help us know where to more effectively give our money?” To this, Louis 15036539_1231221400271590_8392368188183801609_nrecommended doing adequate research and looking into audits and financial statements that thoroughly documents how the organization uses the money. Further, he stressed that often personal connections (such as a friend involved in an NGO) could provide further information, stating that “it’s on the education of the donor community.” Another question, asked by a high school student, was, “What would you recommend young people doing [about NGOs]?” Louis responded by once again stressing education, which seemed to be one of the big themes of the night.

As the event came to an end, many people stayed to speak with Louis, and the lobby of the Knickerbocker bustled as people continued speaking about the event. It was great to see so many individuals interested in learning more about the poverty crisis and how they can help!


By  Katie McMorris

Coffee and Conversation


 The fourth Big Read Holland Area book discussion this year took place on November 8th at Biggby Coffee. Lead by Professor Tato and the Big Read Student Committee, several Hope students as well as a high school student joined together to look at many dimensions of Danticat’s memoir.

Those in attendance had a rich discussion focused on the themes in the book such as relationships, immigration, silence, and religion. There are many facets in this story that allow the reader to look at it from many different angles.

14980770_1228645033862560_8936384943494165642_nThe topic of immigration was heavily discussed and the various perspectives on this controversial issue were addressed. Immigrants’ stories are not taken into consideration by Americans and border patrol when they make it to the United States. Danticat’s memoir does an excellent job of stating the issue, while also allowing the readers to add their own emotion.

This book discussion gave participants insight into the book based on other readers’ thoughts and take on the story. Participants were exposed to other perspectives that allowed them to learn more about the book and Danticat’s story.

By Audrey McKenzie

La Belle Vie: The Good Life


“It’s in each of us. It’s our own interpretation.” 

On Monday, November 7 at 7:00pm, a screening of La Belle Vie took place at the Knickerbocker theater. It was followed by a Q and A with the filmmakers, Rachelle Salnave and Jean H. Marcelin. Nearly 200 people attended the event, consisting of community members and Hope students and faculty.


In a catchy and artistic documentary, Rachelle captures the identity struggle she and others face as members of the Haitian diaspora. Feeling disconnected from her cultural identity, she travels to Haiti and finds her roots by examining the complex society. The documentary also explores the political instability of the country, the earthquake and its effects, education, poverty, and the role the diaspora plays in present day Haiti. This documentary was fun and full of life with captivating images put together in an interesting collage that well-represented the culture. It primarily explores the idea of La Belle Vie, or the good life, and different perspectives of this parallel to the American Dream. Rachelle Salnave and Edwidge Danticat both share their personal experiences and stories and how their identity is tied to the culture of Haiti. The documentary and the book share an interesting symmetry of cultural identity and the struggles Haitians have faced in this complex and beautiful country.14956649_1228629253864138_6183068912035010439_n

By Kaley Obney

Story. Art. Community.

What happens when a few high school teachers and students team up to create an event for the whole community?


After months of meeting and brainstorming, these hardworking students and their dedicated teachers watched their idea come to life: a community-centered art project that could echo the themes of our 2016 Big Read, Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. They teamed up with Ann Chuchvara and Mandy Cano, two talented artists, to design a project that community members could all create together in response to real-life immigration stories from West Michigan.

At 2 o’ clock on a warm Saturday, cultureWorks welcomed around 65 people through their doors. Guests stuck a nametag to their shirt on their way in. Lots of students from local students were in attendance, as well as families and Holland residents who were ready to listen and make.


To begin the program, we were instructed to jot down certain words and phrases that stood out to us from the stories, since we’d be using them later. We listened to students read the stories written by people who had immigrated to West Michigan, and one community member read his own story. The audience laughed as the stories described light-hearted moments of miscommunication and cultural differences, but also listened intently to the struggles and obstacles that come with making such a big transition.IMG_1248IMG_1252

After the stories were told Chuchvara and Cano explained that the group would be creating an installation art piece that afternoon, made up of hundreds of individual reflections on the stories shared, and our fingerprints representing the many personal identities that make up the Holland area. The medium? Tracing paper. “It’s a weak, wimpy material,” as Cano put it, that represents the “fragility” of the immigration experience.


We all got right to work. Quickly the room was bustling with inky fingertips and the fragrance and symphony of Sharpies scribbling on strips of tracing paper. Words and images from the stories were scrawled everywhere you looked- “transition,” “chicken biscuit,” “hybrid,” “nervous.” The space had great energy, and it didn’t take long for feathery masses to pile up at the end of the tables. I was surprised at how quickly the collection grew, and there was something so profound about seeing all those snippets of stories grouped together. It reminded me of the way so many of our stories overlap and blend into one another.




I can’t wait to see the final product! The artists let us know that after pieces are strung together, it will be installed in the Holland Armory to be displayed during the Student Learning Exhibition on November 17. Hope to see you there!

By: Lauren Sweers

Children’s Author Reading: Anne Sibley O’Brien


On the bright and crisp Saturday morning of November 5th , Holland’s “The Big Read” continued with an author spotlight on Anne Sibley O’Brien.  With her new book, I’m New Here, O’Brien explored the complexities of being new in school, which older readers can parallel with Brother, I’m Dying.   

At 11:00 in the morning, about 70 adults and kids, ranging in ages from 3 to 11, sat captivated O’Brien’s beautiful story about three children from different countries finding a home in the United States.  

The event started off with a song, “I’m Feeling Wonderful”, in which the author introduced how accepting others makes everyone feel wonderful, and afterwards, Anne Sibley O’ Brien read her book, I’m New Here .    

She and the children had a wonderful discussion about what it feels like to be new or different in a place, with emotional responses.  One little girl replied that being different made a person feel like “ your heart might blow up”, and another little boy replied that being new can also be “fun and exciting”.


The children then drew how they might welcome someone new, such as playing with the person or inviting them to their house.   This was a delightful event that was enjoyed by all and encouraged everyone to get reading.


Anne Sibley O’ Brien is the author of 36 children books.  She lives in Maine with her children and grandchildren, and she has a blog entitled “Coloring Between the Lines”.  

By: Emma Jones

The Big Read Kick-Off 2016


Members of the Holland community, Hope College students and faculty, and employees of Herrick District Library gathered around 7 p.m. in the Knickerbocker Theater Tuesday November 1 to kickoff the 2016 Holland Area Big Read. The event was three TED-Talk style presentations given by three Hope College professors. The night began with opening remarks from Deb Van Duinen, coordinator of the student committee, and Mayor of Holland Nancy DeBoer about how reading brings us together as a community.

Dr. Jonathan Hagood began the talks discussing the historical context of Brother I’m Dying in his presentation “How Do We K now? Danticat and the Art of Historical Thinking.” He addressed the five C’s of history, which included change, context, causality, contingency, and complexity.

Second was Dr. Pauline Remy with her presentation “Kréyol, Folktales and Family Life in Brother, I’m Dying.” She discussed how Danticat’s writing reflects the vibrancy of the Haitian culture, and how faith of community and in God is at the core of the novel.

The final presenter was Dr. Natalie Dykstra whose talk was titled “Two Haitian Fathers: Where Memoir Meets Biography. She discussed how Danticat weaves biographical evidence and her own memories to create a stirring memoir.

The night ended with an audience Q and A and closing remarks from Eva Dean Folkert, a member of the Steering committee. Overall the event was a smashing success!

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By: Lauren Duistermars

Tim O’Brien: The Things They Carried

Thank you to all who joined us on Thursday to hear author Tim O’Brien speak. We had a great turnout both in the morning at the Knickerbocker Theater with high school students and Thursday night at The Commons of Evergreen.

Here’s a recap of his talk on Thursday night:

On the stories we tell:

  • they appeal to our emotions and heart, not just our head
  • they help us to heal
  • they give us comfort and company
  • they remind us we’re all a part of something
  • they bind us to the past and to the future
  • they bind us to our children and our loved ones

On writing:

  1. avoid flowery writing
  2. avoid excessive alliteration
  3. use active language
  4. don’t be afraid to lie (when writing fiction). Write about what could’ve/should’ve/almost happened

He reminded us that the truth evolves over time. The reasons for the Vietnam War were and are ambiguous, but we should honor our troops and make an effort to hear them share their stories.

Thank you for another great year!

Give Back to Veteran’s Play Group

Thank you to all who joined us last night at Herrick District Library to see the Give Back to Veteran’s Play Group perform.

We read a book, participated in a craft, learned about the war, and worked alongside a service project called A Million Thanks and another local organization benefiting vets both locally and globally.

We look forward to our feature author, Tim O’Brien, to join us tomorrow at 7pm at The Commons of Evergreen.

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“Moral Injury After War”: Colonel Herman Keizer, Jr.

Thanks to all who attended Colonel Herman Keizer, Jr.’s talk last night regarding moral injury after war. He explained to us the ways that moral injury differs from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“PTSD is a fear-victim reaction to extreme conditions that damage the limbic brain. Moral injury is a reaction of the conscience.” – Herman Keizer

For those of you who have read the novel The Things They Carried, Herman Keizer suggests that you reread the story where he goes to Minnesota for a story on moral injury in the book.

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Telling Our Stories

The following is a transcript between my uncle and I about his experience in the Vietnam War.

Can you tell me about your experience and how you got involved in the war?

Well, I’m a retired soldier, I was in the military for 20 years. I went in the military of May of 1968 and retired June 1st, 1988.

Why did you enlist?

Well, back then, back in the 1960’s it was kind of a young guy’s duty. Almost everybody joined the military at that time unless they were medically disqualified. Which is different today, but back then almost everybody went in. A lot of my friends were going in. It was more red, white, and blue; duty to country.

When you enlisted, did you know you would be going to Vietnam?

The war went on, and it was a 13 year war, and it started right around 1962-63 somewhere in there, so when I went in 68 I had a feeling I had a chance I would go.

What happened once you enlisted?

Actually, it was two years. After I went in the military I went to aviation. So I had to go to aviation school down in Alabama. And then my first tour of duty overseas was in Korea. And then when I came back from Korea, it was less than a year later that I was sent to Vietnam.

Can you talk about Vietnam?

I entered Vietnam July of 1970, and I left in January of 1972. So I was there a total of 18 months. When I was in Vietnam I was what they call a helicopter door gunner.

What was Vietnam like?

Hot. Very, very hot. No showers, food was awful, all we ate was rations. It was just hot and miserable. The jungles were thick.

What was your role while you were there?

As a helicopter door gunner, we flew seven days a week. And I stood in the door and if we drew fire, we would return fire, and then we just went around looking for trouble. Ya know, seeing if we could locate the enemy on the ground in the jungle by blowing the branches back with our blades.

What would you say was your most significant experience while in Vietnam?

I would say, for the good part, I crashed seven times and never got hurt. That’s the good part. The bad part is, I lost so many good friends that were with me and you just can’t understand how somebody could be sitting six to eight inches away from you and didn’t make it but yet you did. That’s the bad part.

How was it that you weren’t hurt in all those crashes?

Don’t know. Just lucky stars. God watching over me I guess. I still think about those guys in the helicopter with me. Even today, even after 47 years I still have dreams about it.

What was your experience coming back?

Awful. People spit on us, calling us baby killers; just awful. There was no parade like they get today. There was no welcome home or anything like that. We kinda had to hide that we were in the military as best we could so we didn’t get bothered at airports and things like that. We’d been through hell. You gotta remember when you go over and you’re 19, 20 years old, you become an old man real fast. Old woman too, there’s a lot of female nurses over there too, they should be honored just as much as the men were. Putting body parts back together, I mean those girls worked hard.

What was something you learned or something you took away from this experience?

It’s just water under the bridge, a thing of the past. Now I’ve been retired for almost 28 years now, so just keep marching forward.  When I first came home I thought about how spoiled the Americans were. We have so much and we just take everything for granted, and sometimes I think we need to stop and take time, and appreciate what we do have. We get to go to sleep every night and get up every morning, don’t have to be looking over your shoulder. You go to school, you go to work, you can do whatever you want to do; a lot of countries don’t have that. We gotta really be thankful for what we have.

What does it mean to you that so many people are coming together to read and talk about a book about the Vietnam war?

I think a lot of guys who were over there are probably really grateful that a story like theirs is finally being heard. It’s not like today when those boys who come back from Iraq and stuff and they can talk about what they saw and what happened. We didn’t do that. When I got back from Vietnam it was like those two years didn’t exist. We didn’t talk about it – we kept our heads down and our uniforms hidden. A lot of people don’t know what happened in Vietnam because of that, none of the boys coming back talked so no one knew. I think it’s great that our stories are finally being told, and young people are willing to listen.

Bruce M. Bullock U.S. Army Retired