Mishy Lesser

I am co-founder and Learning Director of the Upstander Project, a small Boston-based nonprofit that helps “bystanders” become “upstanders” through social issue documentary films and related learning resources. I spend much of my time curating primary source materials related to our films, creating learning activities with those materials, and working with secondary history and social studies teachers.


In 2013, we were given permission to document the work of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which focused on the forced removal and coerced assimilation of Native children by the state's child welfare system. In honor of the TRC, we released a short film, First Light, on Indigenous Peoples' Day in 2015, followed by a feature film, Dawnland, in 2018. That year we also released the twelve-lesson Dawnland Teacher's Guide.  In 2019, Dawnland won an Emmy for Outstanding Research, the same year when we released another short film, Dear Georgina, about a Passamaquoddy grandmother who was taken by the state from her parents and community when she was two years old, and her journey to better understand herself and her culture.


To deepen our work with teachers and museum educators, and in response to their requests for more time for professional learning and reflection, we created the Upstander Academy in 2016 as a pilot program in collaboration with the Dodd Research Center at UConn and the Mashantucket Pequot Museum. In 2019, we moved the academy to Boston where I am its co-director, in partnership with Boston Public Schools, Akomawt Educational Initiative, Leventhal Map Center at Boston Public Library, Museum of Fine Arts, Old State House/Bostonian Society, Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, and Massachusetts Historical Society. The Boston Upstander Academy is recruiting its fifth cohort for a week of learning from August 2-7, 2020. [12-19]


Mishy's earlier work:


I’ve been the Learning Director for an award-winning 40-minute documentary film called Coexist on post-genocide Rwanda since 2009. I wrote the film’s four-lesson Teacher’s Guide, which serves as a tool for middle and high school and post-secondary educators who teach about genocide and colonial legacy. The film is used widely for social emotional learning, to cultivate beliefs and behaviors that undermine "other"ing and scapegoating, and to encourage upstanding and reconciliation.


Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, informed its vast network of teachers about our film, and it’s now in the hands of more than 3,000 teachers all over the U.S. I do classroom teaching as well as faculty development, and work with counselors and school administrators who address bullying in their schools. On a trip to San Diego in late 2012, I was struck by how relevant the themes of genocide and colonialism are to teachers and students who live and work in this borderland, where a high percentage of students are "other"ed because of their legal status and where their parents were born.


I’m also developing a new project to create an online interactive new media curriculum to teach U.S. high school students about the intersection between U.S. foreign policy and human rights in Latin American during the Cold War. A group of interns from the Harvard Graduate School of Education helped me kick off the project this past fall. I’m currently applying for grants and beginning to develop a video archive of witnesses and survivors and commentators of major foreign policy/human rights events. The first module will focus on Chile and the second on Central America. [1-13]



Email: mishylesser@gmail.com; mishy@upstanderproject.org


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CIE Graduate