“You cannot dispel evil with evil—you have to have goodness to dispel evil.” That is how Paul Bokulich, a civil rights activist who participated in a historic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965, describes the profound connection he sees between the spiritual life and the civil rights movement.
Bokulich is the subject of a new short film by filmmaker Sean Schiavolin, You Have to Have Light to Dispel the Darkness. The film highlights the role Bokulich’s Catholic faith played in his decision to travel to Alabama as a young man to participate in the march from Selma organized by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.; it also shows how religious conviction and trust in God inspired Bokulich and his wife, Pat, to move to Alabama as newlyweds to work to advance the rights of the black community.
Schiavolin—who has worked on film projects for the Vatican, PBS, and ESPN, among others—recently discussed his short film with CWR. You Have to Have Light to Dispel the Darkness can be viewed on YouTube and Vimeo.
CWR: How did you become aware of Paul Bokulich and his experiences with the civil rights movement?
Sean Schiavolin: Several years ago while picking up my boys from our friends the Ramsays’ house, my eye caught a striking black and white photo on their wall. It was stunning: a line of regal marchers in black suits and hats moving right to left on a hill with an ominous storm cloud overhead. “That’s my dad,” Rebecca said, pointing to the tall white guy in the center of the frame. That photo turned out to be one of the most famous photos of the entire civil rights movement, taken during the Selma-to-Montgomery marches.
CWR: As a filmmaker, what drew you to his story?
Schiavolin: I’ve often wondered what it was like for faithful Catholics living during that momentous time. Was the Church divided? Were we all behind the cause? How was it being lived out? When I heard that Paul, a Catholic Worker Movement member in college, had moved to Alabama to join the civil rights movement, I thought he must have a ton of wisdom to offer young Catholics today who feel called to live out the Gospel in our times.
CWR: Paul and his wife clearly saw their civil rights work as rooted in their Catholic faith—do you think that connection is sometimes overlooked, both historically when we consider the civil rights movement, and today when we think about contemporary issues?
Schiavolin: I think that’s Paul’s core message for our activism in our times. For him, we are neglecting our faith, the “spiritual force,” in the various cultural causes we are undertaking. When he went to Selma he was swept away by how the role of faith was fueling the movement. He talks about how they consciously knew and prepared themselves to endure suffering for the cause and the conscious discipline that it took. I certainly don’t see that perspective too much these days.
I’ve been hired throughout the years to work on different projects for social organizations, and I’ve found myself thinking about how much good fruit could develop with the voice and presence of faithful Catholics. Then I often see in Catholic spheres a real lack of willingness to get involved with secular activities. The result is that we are operating in a fractured culture and that becomes more and more divided. So in particular these days, I think there’s a lot we can learn from the civil rights movement that Paul and Pat dedicated themselves to. For him, the movement lost its power when they relied more on government-funded support.
CWR: What effect do you hope this short film has?
Schiavolin: This was a small tribute to a man who, inspired by his faith, humbly lived out the message of the Gospel and lived a very rich life. I hope that his witness will inspire others to live out their faith and to engage and enrich the culture around them. Also, since I was only able to spend one day filming with Paul, I would very much be interested in making a more substantive film on his life.
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