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This sample is a very rough cut that introduces moments in Rosey’s life, establishes the look, the cinema verite’ styled footage and outlines some of themes that will be developed in telling the story of Rosey's life and his impact on people past & present.
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“I hope that it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life but that great consciousness of life…” Jack Kerouac November 1951
Roosevelt Thompson lived to be 22. An African-American kid from Little Rock, Arkansas, Rosey never finished his formal education, never had a career, never married, yet he became a hero to thousands of people. Why? How? This is his story.
“It occurred to me that here was a man who died at the age of 22, yet he made enough of an impact on people so that a library is named after him decades after his death. I know he made an impact on me; I just didn’t know there were so many others out there like me until I started asking questions. Rosey changed people for the better everywhere he went. Just how alive Rosey is today, twenty-five years after his death, will astonish you.” Slade Mead, College Friend
Rosey is born just a few years after the Supreme Court landmark ruling of Brown v Board of Education, the court case which called for the desegregation of public schools. It is not an easy change for many and, outside Little Rock’s Central High School, people take to the streets to prevent integration from happening. To restore order, President Eisenhower calls in armed Federal troops and, in the fall of 1957, nine courageous African-American students walk the gauntlet through a mob of anti-desegregation whites into the white Arkansas school and into the history books. The children become known as the Little Rock Nine and the event marks an inflection point in history- the moment where equal opportunity is extended to include education. Rosey is raised in this racially charged era and he grows up just a few miles from Central High School. Years later he would walk through the same doors as did the Little Rock Nine and continue their story, putting his own signature into the history books. As Ernest Green, one of the Little Rock Nine, describes the significance of Rosey in relation to his own fame, says… “Rosey is more important than I am in that I was chosen by history to make a difference. In Rosey’s case, he is the one that chose to make a difference.”
Rosey is the second of four children – and although he lives below the poverty level his is a strong, loving family. His father is a respected pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and his mother is an elementary school teacher. Rosey is a skinny kid, often unhealthy, and he faces a childhood where the family’s poverty limits his opportunities. He is shy, curious, and humble, yet he has a voracious appetite for reading. It is the early 60’s and race is a dominant issue in the news and in the lives of many blacks, including the life of a 7 year old Rosey. One day Rosey and his Mother are walking down the sidewalk near their home and a white child, Rosey’s own age, runs up to him and calls him a nigger. Rosey is deeply hurt by the event and in that moment of pain he faces a critical choice: Should he respond with anger or with compassion? Rosey chooses compassion. It is a defining moment for him and from that moment Rosey reads, studies, learns and works at figuring out how to move through the world to accomplish his purpose. Years later, Rosey would talk about this racial name calling experience and how at that moment he had committed himself to help that white child shed his racism -- to work toward a vision of a better world free of ignorance, prejudice, and hatred.
The Thompson’s family is a close knit family. During the week his father ministers to his flock and in between he works on the Sunday sermon. The kids go to school, read, or play. On Sundays the ritual involves everyone. Each Thompson family member puts on their best outfit and travels with their father as he ministers to as many as 14 parishes in the communities beyond Little Rock. In each congregation, Rosey dutifully attends the Sunday school classes with the other kids. One day the local Sunday school teacher humbly concedes Rosey can explain the lesson better, and she asks him to lead the class. In time more parishes come under Rosey’s tutelage. While his father preaches to the parents, a twelve year old Rosey is listening, teaching, and honing his communication skills to the children. As Rosey’s confidence grows, so does his courage to move his message of tolerance and equality higher up in the social strata. Governor David Pryor tells the story of the day his son Mark, a 7th grader with Rosey, brings Rosey home to the governor’s mansion to have dinner with the Pryor family. “My son brings home a young friend–and it might very well have been the first time a black child has ever sat at the dinner table in the Arkansas Governor’s mansion-- Mark introduces Rosey and Rosey apologizes and says, “Excuse me Governor, but I may not get time later so I’d like to discuss your education policy with you.” He goes on to point out the parts that made sense to him—He knew the details of our plan better then some of my staff did. I was amazed.”
Rosey is learning to move effortlessly in and out of the African-American and White communities in Little Rock. He cultivate friendships and earns the respect of people, not just in Little Rock but throughout the South. He is chosen for conferences and activities such as Boy’s State, the Model UN and the Senate Youth Program. Rosey starts “collecting” allies. In sports, Central’s football Coach describes how…”Rosey was the defacto team leader. He would analyze the other team’s approach and then coach his teammates on how to strategically deal with them.” Rosey at just 5’7” earns all-state honors as a linesman and helps significantly in leading the football team to win the state championship.
Rosey is acutely aware of the significance of his attending Little Rock Central High School and he takes full advantage of the opportunity. His is a living symbol of the promise of equal opportunity. His scholarship, leadership, and his athleticism become legend. When he runs for president of the student body, the other candidates in recognition of his abilities- simply decline to run for the office. He becomes the first African-American student body president in the history of the school, while gathering more and more scholarships and awards. At one point, Charles Kuralt shows up with his crew to capture footage of this “amazing kid from Little Rock.”
Rosey is breaking stereotypes, applying himself to extraordinary scholarship, developing his ability to get people from different sides to work together, and actively bridging the gaps that exist between the whites and African-Americans in his community. When a potentially ugly, community-wide racial controversy arises over a charge of racism in a school play, Rosey’s letter to the editor of the city newspaper defuses the tension and calms the community. His letter, entitled, “Much Ado About Nothing”, catches Governor Bill Clinton’s attention and he asks Rosey to work for him at the Capitol.
Despite the cultural challenges and conflicts Rosey encounters, he seems to figure out a way to work through these obstacles-- and he helps others to do the same. As Rosey moves into his senior year, he is actively recruited by Ivy League schools. Harvard recruiters send a complementary jet down to Little Rock to pick Rosey up and bring him back to Cambridge for a tour. Rosey, the teenager, jets in for the orientation designed just for him. In the middle of the second day, he slips away unannounced for some private time—catches a train to New Haven and takes his own low-profile look around at Yale. Early the next day, he catches the train back to Boston, completes his Harvard tour, and then jets back home. Rosey chooses Yale – in his own way and on his own terms. At his high school graduation, he becomes the first African-American valedictorian in Central’s history. Rosey is awarded 9 of the 12 awards given to outstanding seniors; he declines 6 so that they may be given to others.
At Yale, Rosey immediately challenges himself by enrolling in the elite academic program called: “Directed Studies” -- referred to by students as “Directed Suicide.” Rosey quietly works at the tasks before him. Even though he’s only 5’ 7”, he succeeds in making the Yale football team. He’s small in comparison to the typical football recruit, but the size of his heart earns the respect of the coaches and his teammates.
“Rosey was the type of young man that challenged himself everyday. Everyday in practice and everyday in the classroom. Enough wasn’t enough. He constantly wanted to better himself. He was never satisfied with what happened yesterday.” Carm Cozza, Yale Football Head Coach 1965-1996
“His limitations were never limitations in his own mind so they were never limitations in his life.” Dr. Eustace Theodore, Dean, Yale University
A telling anecdote is shared by an African-American classmate named Bryan Blaney. As a freshman, Bryan called home to tell his Mom about the smartest kid he met at Yale: “A black kid from Little Rock- and not some kid from Andover or Exeter.”
“I would say that Rosey is somebody who kind of crept up on you. It wasn’t obvious when you first met this guy just how deep and just how substantial he was.” William Cronon, Former Yale Professor and fellow Rhodes Scholar
During his time at Yale, Rosey continues a habit he started in high school of making notes in his diary. Many entries are logs of his daily activities; workouts, movies seen, books read, and the girl he currently has a crush on. Occasionally there are observations that reflect his doubts and joys. In one entry Rosey notes his fear he may “lack the jugular instinct for the real world” and perhaps be ineffective in achieving his goals. Occasionally he allows himself to lament his small stature, but then in nearly the same breath he takes a vow to take action, to overcome the obstacle by working harder. Rosey also writes about the tough choices he faces that perhaps only another African-American might understand: Should he follow aspirations to do and go where African-Americans have never gone? At the end of his junior year when Rosey is tapped to join an all-male, predominately white secret society, he is conflicted. He also has to contend with being from a background of poverty while living in a Yale world of wealthy contemporaries. Rosey also struggles to develop a durable romantic relationship. Then, when his mentor Bill Clinton loses his gubernatorial re-election in 1980, Rosey not only finds himself without a summer job, but his belief in political change is deeply shaken.
Despite the challenges Rosey faces, he still moves at a lightning pace. His multi-dimensional life enables him to actively work toward multiple goals. Through his community service at New Haven’s Troop Middle School and his work as a Freshman Counselor, Rosey is “hands on” active with kids. He is elected into Phi Beta Kappa as a sophomore and is later awarded the prestigious Truman Scholarship.
People describe Rosey’s complex multi-dimensional life and his impact upon a wide variety of communities; scholary, sports, social circles, politics, worship, and community service work. In each Rosey participates with endless energy. His actions are infused with an innate concern for people, motivated by his unwavering sense of purpose. Rosey’s mission is beyond the pursuit of a Rhodes scholarship and a corner office in a big law firm- it is to lift people to a better place. He is committed to never giving up, to leading with ideas- to using ideas to bridge consensus. People see that Roosevelt Thompson is destined to someday lead on a national or even a global level.
“Rosey lead from the floor –lead with ideas versus. someone who leads through office or power of authority.” William Cronon, Former Yale Professor
“Being in Rosey’s presence, listening to him talk and speaking to him you had the sense that you were the only person around, that your ideas were inherently valuable, that if Rosey was listening, then it must be important.” Ned Harris, PhD., Yale 1984
“Whoever he was with, whatever conversation he was having, whatever project he was engaged in, he devoted his concentrated self to that person or that conversation or that thing with an intensity that enabled him to see things in it and realize opportunities for contributing inside of it that other people would have missed.” William Cronon, Former Yale Professor
“I always knew that no matter where I lived, one day I would get to vote for Rosey,” David Spadafora, former Dean of Calhoun College at Yale.
“I met two teenagers who both immediately impressed me as potentially future presidents. One was a young man named Bill whom I met at the Hope firehouse in Hope, Arkansas and the other was Roosevelt Thompson. He had it!” David Pryor, former Governor and United States Senator.
Before his senior year, Rosey’s mentor Bill Clinton suggests that he take a summer job working for the famous Rose Law Firm in Little Rock; thereby becoming the first black outside the mailroom hired in the 200 year history of this lily white prestigius firm. He worked for Hillary Clinton.
“He was truly one of the most remarkable human beings that I have ever, ever known. He had a combination of humanity and brilliance that you rarely find. He was someone who genuinely and authentically was of the present.” Hillary Clinton, U.S. Secretary of State
Rosey, works for then Governor Clinton both on his campaign and in the Governor’s office.
“Because of his exceptional character and his way of dealing with people, he was an astonishing man. I’ve never met another young person quite like him.”
William J. Clinton, 42nd President of the United States
As graduation approaches, Rosey is juggling duties working on a senior thesis considered by several professors to be groundbreaking, maintaining his perfect 4.0 average, being a freshman counselor, playing varsity football, running an inner-city tutoring program, chairing the Calhoun College Council, applying to law schools (after scoring a perfect score on the LSATs and interviewing around the country for the coveted Rhodes Scholarship. He is awarded the Rhodes scholarship, and he adds preparation for study at Oxford to his task list. He then plans to matriculate at Harvard Law School. Based on his work at Yale, Rosey is designated to graduate as the Class of ’84 valedictorian and as such he will carry the American flag at graduation marching his classmates into the graduation ceremony. He heads home to Little Rock over Spring Break to gather interviews and research for his senior thesis and enjoy a little Thompson family time.
On March 22, 1984, just three weeks before graduation, Rosey is on the New Jersey turnpike headed back to school when a truck in the opposite lane swerves, jumps the median, and strikes Rosey’s car head on. Rosey dies in an instant.
“Rosey’s death was really one of the biggest things in Arkansas history,” Dale Bumpers, former Arkansas Governor and United States Senator.
Shock, grief and disbelief reign in New Haven, Little Rock and Washington. Mourners from across the country arrive for Rosey’s funeral. It is a “State” funeral, and friends, family and leaders from diverse communities join to mourn Rosey’s death. At Yale, President Giamatti accepts Rosey’s almost-complete senior thesis and Rosey graduates posthumously—the first and only Yale student to do so. Rosey is recognized as the valedictorian and in an emotional display of faith and strength, his father carries the stars and stripes in the graduation procession in Rosey’s stead.
People reflect on what Rosey’s life means. They describe feelings about him and what he might have done had he lived. Is he gone? Does his work die? Is this the end of hope? Much is spoken and written about Rosey. Newsweek prints a full page obituary; WGN produces a short film that describes Rosey as the “Gentle Genius;” Charles Kuralt re-visits the Rosey story in a special report; and a book is commissioned about Rosey. Rosey is gone.
We meet Ned Harris, a Rosey classmate at Yale, talking to an auditorium full of high school students about Rosey as “The Representative Man.” Ned has been presenting this talk to high school kids for 24 years. We hear classmates and friends describe how Rosey is their role model – how he is a “Johnny Appleseed” of ideas. People describe the skills, techniques, and tools they have adopted from Rosey and the influence he has on them and on people they know. People describe the “Rosey techniques” they learned: listening with intensity, speaking last, keeping focus on the individual, respecting others, being present in the here-and-now, inspiring with actions, identifying with a vision of a better future, actively working to make a difference. Rosey provides hope, integrity and courage to cross thresholds and to find one’s own voice. Rosey's “Elixir” is defined: It is the power of ideas. People describe how Rosey changed them and how they believe that one person can change the world. Rosey showed others: You can be more. Work toward a vision of a better world. Set goals and work hard each day. Through this, all who knew Rosey are inspired by the remarkable example of this human being. For many, he raises the bar of human consciousness.
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