How to Address Gun Violence in Schools: Michael Finan from Will You Hear Me Now? (#16)

How to Address Gun Violence in Schools: Michael Finan from Will You Hear Me Now? (#16)

Dennis Kamprad

Publish Date:February 13, 2024
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How to Address Gun Violence in US Schools: Michael Finan from Will You Hear Me Now? (#16)

Did you know that the number one priority for too many kids going to school is simply to ensure that they are safe? In today’s episode, we will share how Michael Finan from Will You Hear Me Now? fights to make schools safer across America!

“The larger mass shootings that had a lot of media coverage and there were also smaller shootings that took place as well. And I thought the time is now. We really gotta be getting something out there because this is not stopping. We’re allowing it to happen and the kids are asking for help. They’re not asking for lawmakers to pray with them. They’re not asking for lawmakers to send condolences. They’re asking for lawmakers to make them safe at school.”

Michael Finan, Will You Hear Me Now?

Three Key Points You’ll Learn From This Episode

How his Emmy-winning project with kids influenced his work with Will You Hear Me Now?…

Why the time to make our schools safe is now…

How one of his students perfectly summed up the urgency to take action now…

About Michael Finan

Profile picture for Michael

Michael Finan is a three-time Emmy award-winning director/producer of corporate video, TV commercials, public service announcements, and documentaries. He has thirty years of producing and directing experience, managing projects that include product and drug launches, sales and marketing, interactive/web-based, personnel training, community affairs, and public relations programming. A father of two, Michael’s deep passion for children’s issues and child advocacy have driven many creative media projects, including Will You Hear Me Now?

About Will You Hear Me Now?

Logo for Will You Hear Me Now?

Will You Hear Me Now? aims to give kids a voice and make their concerns known to lawmakers. It is a poignant initiative that addresses school gun violence through the powerful mediums of film and music. Featuring the words and experiences of young people across the US, they seek to amplify their voices on this critical issue. They combine interviews and self-recorded videos from students with an original song performed by the Detroit Youth Choir, aiming to drive legislative action against gun violence in schools and promote safer learning environments. For the future, they plan to create broader, more diverse documentaries, where other many schools across the nation are included, so that Congress hears from all these kids about how they feel and recognizes their need to feel safe at school.

Links and Additional Information Discussed

Reach out to Will You Hear Me Now? if you—or somebody you know—could help them in one of the following areas: mental health, publicity & PR, legal support, or any other area you have expertise in that could be beneficial

Help them raise funds to empowering kids to demand an end to school shootings on their GoFundMe page

Follow them on Facebook or contact them directly with suggestions, comments, or if you’d like to join them

The Full Transcript

Dennis: Hello. And welcome to the Impactful Ninja Show. I’m your host, Dennis Kamprad. And today we’re joined by Michael Finan from Will You Hear Me Now? Michael, welcome.

Michael: Thank you. Good. It’s great to be here.

Dennis: It’s a pleasure having you here as well. Now before we deep dive into your journey and give a bit more detail about your organization as well, Can you give us a brief overview? What is Will You Hear Me Now? And what are you doing there?

Michael: So Will You Hear Me Now? Is a film project and a media-based project that gives Kids, a voice about their concerns and fears about gun violence in schools.

Michael: It allows them to say in their own words What they want lawmakers to know about how they’re feeling about the possibility of gun violence in the schools.

Michael: So we’ve developed this project at a website where students can upload selfie videos, give us their thoughts About how they want their stories to be told, what they want adults and lawmakers to hear.

Dennis: Nice. Such an important topic. Can’t wait to to find out all about it in a bit, but let’s rewind your journey a little bit. Give us a brief overview. What did you do before and What led you to start that as well?

Michael: Well, I am a producer-director by trade. I do a lot of work in the corporate video Pharma space making videos about medicines and technology and patient profile videos and so forth, but I always had an interest in videos On societal concerns, especially giving a voice to underserved groups and I’ve done previous projects that Kids spoke about how they felt about going back to school after the COVID pandemic and what they felt about drugs being used in schools and around on them and what they wanted adults to know about that. And the videos that I did on COVID and the one that I did on democracy In 2020 about how they felt about the upcoming election and did they feared there was going to be a peaceful transition of power. Those videos were actually shared with members of Congress in congressional committees where they looked at the videos to understand what kids were thinking and what they were feeling. And that was part of that was almost like a tool for them to use in their decision-making. King. So I always had a a passion for this and thought that this issue really needed to be addressed now.

Dennis: Was, I mean, it sounds like you already had the perfect background to bring those kids’ voices as well about gun violence To the public, was there any specific incident when you thought about, like, okay, after seeing the resonance from congress about the videos you made about COVID, about other important topics Said you wanted to focus specifically on gun violence?

Michael: Yeah. It was on the year anniversary of the Uvalde shooting, and I just kept seeing news blurbs of little incidents here and there and where kids were getting killed at school or near school and there were of course The larger mass shootings that had a lot of media coverage and there were also smaller, you know, shootings that took place as well. And I thought the time is now. We really gotta be getting something out there because this is not stopping. We’re allowing it to happen and the kids are asking for help. They’re not asking for lawmakers to pray with them. They’re not asking for lawmakers to send condolences. They’re asking for lawmakers to make them safe at school.

Michael: It has nothing to do really with whether we are pro gun or anti gun or Democrats or Republicans. It’s not about that. It’s about kids wanting to feel safe in school. When we went to school, there was no concern that someone was gonna come in with a gun. There might have been a fight or 2, you know, as normally as that would happen in growing Growing up in a school, but not a weapon of mass destruction. Not a weapon that’s used on a battlefield.

Dennis: It’s really It’s a deep topic. It’s also I really enjoy I really like the point you emphasized when you say, like, the time is now. Plus this in connection of When something bad happens, one thing that we can do is to say how bad we feel about it. Another thing is we we can do we take can take deep action. So I remember always, like, going back to COVID as well, there was like this let’s make ourselves feel better because we kind of contributed By standing on the balcony and clapping, there was something big in Europe, which I never really understood because it didn’t really make a change. It made ourselves feel better. And it Sounds quite similar with the with the gun violence issue. When I say, like, oh, my condolences.

Dennis: I pray for you. It kind of makes myself feel better, but it doesn’t change anything in the situation. And this coupled with with the perspective you mentioned well, when you grow up, when you went to school, there was nothing to worry about gun violence. Like, coming from outside the US, That’s nothing that anyone worries about here as well, which is kind of a different shift and we have, like, different political parties. Nothing of this matters as As long as there’s no gun violence and no innocent kids such as get shot or even have to go with to go to school with the fear of anything could happen. With that in mind, what was your concrete next step? How did it go long after you figured out you really wanna dedicate your time to that issue?

Michael: It became Abundantly clear, that’s something needed to be done and needed to be done now. And I started, you know, doing some research to look on YouTube and see, well, are there any vehicles where kids are speaking about it. And I came across some news clips where kids were interviewed, but they were pretty emotional because it was maybe right on the scene of a shooting and it was the aftermath and there was nothing really out there where kids got to say how they’re feeling. It’s not just the victims, by the way, of the gun violence. It’s also the kids that just hear about it all the time and go, is my school next? Am I next? So they may not have witnessed an actual shooting taking place, but They’re worried that one may occur. So that has a huge psychological impact. And you imagine having to worry about that. Why add that to the equation of a young person trying to grow academically.

Michael: Anyway, I started doing some research and looking seeing what’s out there and I noticed the Detroit Youth Choir was a contestant on the TV show America’s Got Talent. It was season 14. They got the golden buzzer when they auditioned. Really Strong group of talented young individuals from Detroit, and they did well on the show. They became the runners up for that season. But what’s What’s more is I noticed that they did a song, the Guns N’ Roses song, Sweet Child of Mine, and they dedicated that to victims at Uvalde, in particular, one of the victims that was killed that day. And when I saw that, I thought, wow, this is, I would love to do something like this if not actually with the choir, but with another choir because it’s from their voices, and I thought maybe take it 1 step further or not, take a song that’s already existing, but create a new song. So the composer, Jim Papoulis, And I got together.

Michael: Jim, by the way, does a lot of children’s choirs around the world. He’s kind of known for that. And he’s worked with kids many, many times. So I think he’s a perfect person. I worked with him before on corporate projects. So I gave Jim a call, pitched the idea. I could barely finish my sentence and it was a yes, you know, what can we do? So we came up with the title, Will You Hear Me Now? Now being the really important word. Will you hear me right now? And he wrote the music and then we took that to Detroit.

Michael: So but just to backtrack a little bit, Jim had already worked with the You’ve choir in the past. So he had an in, you gave him a call that wanted to do it. Mhmm. Yeah. And this is how how things started to fall into place, you know. I didn’t know that What I was looking at on YouTube as an idea was gonna be one of my, the people that I work with all the time that he knew then and he worked with them before. So we went out there to Detroit and conducted a workshop, now you can see that in the video, where we met with the kids and say, you know, what do you wanna say to lawmakers? What’s The one thing that resonates with you, the best line from 1 of the students, you see it in the video, was when they said…

Michael: How many lives will it take for you to listen? And they thought, wow, that’s it. How many people have to die? And before you do something, the most moving thing of that experience was walking into the space with the camera crew and they were already in the back room working on the project because they were so excited to do this. They were already throwing lines back and forth to each other because the rest of the lyrics are theirs. We only wrote Will You Hear Me Now? The title and the music. They did all the rest. And the harmonizations and who’s gonna sing what part was all them. And so they were working on it, we walked in, and I started we started rolling right at that moment because it was just great footage, you know, and then we brought them into the room, wrote the song, Got their concerns, explained what we’re doing, and they put together a really great piece that I think is very powerful.

Dennis: I think that also speaks So to everyone involved, how important that topic is and really doing something about it, not just with you and your partner, but then also the choir and the kids at their way immediately. Well, Yes. Let’s do something and not just you know, normally, a lot of times, the kids are like, well, let’s do something and then and then you have to kind of remind them again, but no. Let’s do something and they’re working on it and surprise you with actually what they did. Yeah. Nice. So how did you go ahead from them? So basically, you had the idea of the project. You you did something similar to Present at Congress.

Dennis: You found someone, a great partner to work with. You got the choir on hand. They started working. What were the next steps?

Michael: So the next is we came back from Detroit and we had all this great footage, and we wanted to at least put together a short promo, like a 5 minute piece That shows the choir performing the song, a little behind the scenes on that, and has some interviews about what they’re feeling. So we put together that promo and that promo actually has been sent to the offices of representative Mikey Sherrill in the US House of Representatives, as well as Senator Cory Booker. They’re my congresspeople in in the area that I live in and work in, so It’s felt natural to at least show them, you know, what was going on on a local level and try to get national attention. So the next steps were put together that piece, Get up on YouTube. Get it out to as many people as possible. We’re in a fundraising mode right now because we want to expand this project to a longer documentary and include more voices. It’s not Just Detroit, we wanna get voices from the East Coast, West Coast and everything in between and would love actually to go back to Uvalde, Texas and Perry, Iowa and Parkland, Florida and just interview some of the students that live there and go to school there and work with them in expanding this out because we want to create a national piece, something that is longer. The plan also is to break it up into smaller pieces and make it available for, various PTA meetings and social media.

Michael: So it’s not just a half hour documentary, but we’re gonna scale it up and scale it back for different needs and different audiences.

Dennis: Now before we we go and have a look into a little more into the future and what’s coming for Will You Hear Me Now, what have been some of the biggest challenges along the way for you as well? What was something that you encountered that maybe perhaps you didn’t think that you would encounter or what was the biggest obstacles for you?

Michael: Yeah. It’s a great question. One of the the biggest obstacles So Coles was getting to Detroit. The choir are made up of school students and they have a pretty busy schedule because they’re nationally known And this was the summertime and we knew we had a short window of getting out there and recording them because they had, In August, some concert dates coming up and then they had to go back to school and then we figured we’re gonna lose momentum on this. And this idea came, by the way, in late May, early June of 2023. Me 3. And then after all the phone calls and coming up with the idea and writing the song, we were ready in mid summer to actually go ahead and record it. So that was a challenge and, you know, we didn’t have the funds to hire a crew and do that.

Michael: So I did a grassroots campaign, a GoFundMe campaign, And we raised enough money to at least get the crew out there, pay for hotel and air and expenses and then hire local crew people as well and put together the project before we lost the window of working with them. So that was a challenge. And we raised just enough to get out there and do it. And so, and now we’re trying to raise more money so we can donate substantially to the choir for their time and efforts as well as expand the pieces I mentioned. Mhmm.

Dennis: Now you already hinted a little bit about what’s happening in the future We’re expanding it across CS. We’re going to a guide as well in Texas. We’re helping the choir expand a little bit more. What if you give us, like, a big picture overview, how would you envision the So not just after your 1 year in university, but also going beyond.

Michael: Well, I would like to see this become the longer documentary as I mentioned, where Other schools are included. Other kids are speaking to camera about how they feel. We want this to be a national project, so it’s not Just local areas, but we’re really telling congress this is a national issue and we wanna have diversity in terms of who We’re talking to and what we’re doing, we wanna make sure we’re reaching out to kids that we don’t even know how they feel until we talk to them. Again, this is really all about them and what they wanna say. It’s not what we want them to say. It’s what we think they should say. It’s what they want to say and how they feel. So expanding the project opens up the possibility of meeting more young people and having them contribute to the project and learning more about what their needs are.

Michael: They wanna be heard and they wanna feel safe. And so we’re going to be, as we raise money, we’re contacting other schools, other areas, and getting them involved as well. I also would like To get the kids involved in making the documentary. So it’s not so much the adults doing it, but they’re doing it. One of the best projects I’ve done in my career in the past was I did an anti drug PSA with the Newark Boys and Girls Clubs up in Newark, New Jersey And worked on the idea of the story of the PSA with them. So they not only came up with the idea of the story that we were gonna do in the piece, But they also were part of the crew and they put they worked with me in putting it together and then I held a class every Saturday morning in Newark and taught Filmmaking to the kids and got them involved in the project, then we went out and did it. And the beautiful thing is I won a director’s Emmy for the project, but the real special thing is I contacted the academy and had Emmy certificates made for each of the kids Oh, wow. That participated in the project.

Michael: And then we went and had a ceremony with them and gave them the certificates and they, You know, got dressed up and so forth. It was really great. And one of the kids said to me, so what’s next? What are we doing next week? And I didn’t have an answer. The project was done and that always stayed in the back of my mind. So this summer when this idea came, I thought, you know, I always wanted to come back and do something again with kids because I remember that feeling of working with them and the joy that was of getting them to not only participate, but to just be part of it in a way. Like just, It’s one thing to come up with ideas and then to maybe speak, but when they feel like they’re part of the production process, then there’s something that makes it more special. It’s their voice by them, you know, so that was the the major catalyst for this.

Dennis: Beautiful. Well, congrats on the Emmy for the previous project as well. And also, for this one, it seems like there’s, like, 2 and a half big pieces that you’re working on. On the one hand side, helping the kids getting hurt to share their voice, But then also enabling them to potentially share their voice in their own ways by, well, helping them to to do the production, to do all the processes behind. And the 2nd big part is next to having those voices being shared. Also, having someone empowered to listen those voices and to take action based on, well, the real feedback back from those who are impacted by it. It sounds like the first part is the one that has beautifully started already with the choir. You got it going.

Dennis: You have some momentum there. Give us some insight into the 2nd part, into, well, those people in power who can make a change, who can make a difference when they hear these voices. How is that going so far?

Michael: Well, as we raise more money, we expand the project, we can get in front of bigger legislative offices. As I mentioned, we got the promo because it’s done and it’s kind of a standalone in Self, so we thought let’s at least get that in front of local members of Congress so we can already start getting the message out about the way they feel. I also participated in a webinar recently from the Entertainment Industries Council about gun depiction in Hollywood and what kids are seeing and how Perhaps filmmakers can, you know, start to change stories that the gun is no longer the hero, but maybe the hero’s the hero. The character’s the hero and not the weapon. And maybe instead of an AR fifteen, maybe it can be something else, you know, and because there are many different ways of looking at this whole problem. It’s not just about guns being available, but it’s also, because students, by the way, are telling us that it’s so easy for them to get guns. They’re telling us that. But it’s also, you know, it’s a mental health issue, so we’re consulting with mental health experts to make sure that we’re asking questions in the right way to students.

Michael: And it’s also a cultural change that needs to take place in terms of how we depict guns and gun violence in the movies and entertainment. So the bigger platform is to then eventually outreach into those areas. So it’s not just this one off standalone film, it’s a movement. It’s really to help Move that needle in the direction of finally doing something. It’s not up to the kids to come up with ways to make them safe. It’s not their job. It’s not my job. My job is to give them the vehicle so they can say how they feel, and then we leave it to the people that we put in office to actually do something about it.

Dennis: Super impactful work there as well. Now before we go into into your learnings as well and reflecting on on the impact it had on your personal life, What would be the best way for our listeners to, well, support you on your movement, support the kids as well you’re working with?

Michael: Great question. We have a great team of production people, you know, but what we really need is more input from mental health experts. We need people in publicity, PR, and you know, even legal support where we can Get it to really help make sure that we’re doing what we should be doing and we’re doing it in the right way. So we’re very open to expanding the team to get help into different areas. And as well as we’re just, you know, looking to raise money. Right now, I have an invitation to do a production in Detroit or Miami coming up in March and so aggressively, I’m trying to get some GoFundMe dollars to help support that. The reason why this is so urgent is because it is urgent. It’s happening every day.

Michael: It’s only the 3rd week of the year and there’s already been several shootings. In fact, it occurred in Perry, Iowa the 1st day of school. I mean, imagine that. It was before the official open of the school, I believe. It was early in the Some students were there before most of the school population arrived and there was a shooting. Day 1, hour 1, the time is now. Yes. We could keep talking about it, but unless we show there’s a unified voice in the way that in our country’s youth If they want something done, it’s gonna be the same old, same old.

Dennis: Nice nice attempt to to make it happen, nice attempt to make some change. Basically, what I’m hearing as well as for everyone listening us, for all the experts who feel like they can contribute to you and one function or the other, please reach out. We’ll have all the contact Details and all the information below. I hope you have a GoFundMe as well for those who wanna support you financially as well. You can check out the link as well. And especially for those in power, go check out Will You Hear Me Now? Listen to the kits And, well, make a make a positive impact with your decisions as well. Now before we go into the final part about your personal earnings, is there anything that we forgot what What I forgot about asking you that you still wanna share?

Michael: No. I think we we covered everything. You know, it it’s just exciting to be part of something that’s really important. And I I think moving the needle It seems to be the general theme in the US in terms of just moving forward. There’s so much division and there’s so much fighting and just nothing gets done. It just sort of sits in this, You know, inertia, if you will. But all the while, the kids are saying, hey. What about us? This is what we need.

Michael: You could do all that fighting and debating and you could talk about amendments to the constitution and you could talk about laws And politics, we’re getting shot in school and we don’t wanna be shot in school anymore. Bottom line, that’s it. We have a responsibility to protect our kids while they’re learning. School is not meant to be a place of anything but learning. If we’re having kids run for cover from other Kids with weapons that they can easily get or and kids that, you know, have mental health problems. What are we doing? Why is this okay?

Dennis: Plus, listening to the kids’ voice is also a beautiful way to say, well, this is how the kids are feeling. This is what’s happening with them. Plus, Those are nonpolitical, nonbiased opinions because the kids have no idea whether they should be democrats or whether they should be republicans How many amendments they are, what they mean, the kids that just wanna feel safe and wanna go to school without any worries but learning.

Michael: Yeah. And we’re talking to kids now and the kids that we’ve interviewed so far, some of their parents are Democrats, some are Republicans. Some of them believe in the 2nd Amendment. It has nothing to do with that. But unfortunately, what happens is that it does become that. So instead of doing something, we put the gloves on, we wanna fight with each other. Why don’t we fight for the kids? Yep. They expect nothing less.

Dennis: Thanks to you for for doing that already and enabling them. Now let’s have a little bit of reflection Time for for your personal life as well. So you started last year before You Hear Me Now. What would you say since starting with this organization? How has it impacted your personal life?

Michael: It’s been really wonderful to see such a positive response to this project and the yeses that have opened up doors. Usually, it’s a sea of noes, right? You know, oh, we can’t right now, and there’s a little bit of that. But mostly, it’s people saying, how can I help? I can talk about this project for 5 seconds and I could see people light up because they know that it’s a need. So it felt good to really be doing something like that. And just so, you know, I also learned that, you know, for the viewers who are doing these kinds of, you know, societal concern goodwill projects, how important it is to really listen And what the value of that is. You know, it’s one thing to say yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, but to really listen to what’s being said and what the kids want and need It’s really useful in helping us tell the story that needs to be told and getting the project done in a way That is going to be most beneficial to make sure that we’re listening and then also to make sure that we’re listening to the wonderful contributions from adults To our educators and psychologists, even gun safety advocates and firearms experts, everyone has something to add to the project in terms of The knowledge that we can get from that, it’s a matter of listening. It’s not saying, oh, you’re pro gun, so we’re not gonna listen to you. Not at all.

Michael: We’re gonna listen to everyone. That makes this A project that is rich. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the kids and listening to what they really want.

Dennis: Well, Speaking about listening, let’s transition already to our final question as well. If you had to share 1 tip with our audience On how we become can become more impactful, what what your number one tip be?

Michael: It’s gotta be listening. Well, you know, let me think for a moment. It’s so easy sometimes to just think, okay, how can I make a difference? How can I make an impact? And we can look for ways to help on many different levels in any kind of volunteer work that we do. But why the listening is so important is that we can hear The need, and we can see the need and then we can act upon the need. When we have agendas of, okay, we can get this done and then that done, It’s not the same as really involving those who are impacted. That’s why the listening is so important. It’s what they want. It’s what’s going to make them feel safe.

Michael: And then the appropriate actions can be taken by congress and by adults and policy makers to address those needs. If we don’t listen, we’re not gonna know what those needs are. We can make assumptions what they are and we can come up with policies and and plans and so forth based on those assumptions, and that could be, You know, somewhat effective, but if you really wanna make an impact in anything, just simply giving full attention to what a kid is saying about what the need is, Making that direct connection.

Dennis: Well, thanks. Thanks so much for sharing that. Thanks for joining us, Michael. Thanks for all the great work you’re doing with Will You Hear Me Now? It was a pleasure having you.

Michael: Yeah. Thank you for the opportunity to share my work and, I look forward to, expanding this to other other areas. Yes.
Dennis: And to everyone else, thanks so much for joining us as well. And stay impactful.

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