YOU Can Make an Impact!
Living in America, we constantly see how the devastation of poverty, disease, and war has affected other parts of the world, and it often leaves us wondering if there is anything that can be done. Erin Bernhardt, a social entrepreneur from Atlanta, took inspiration from her time spent in Madagascar with the Peace Corps and embarked on a journey to create her film, Imba Means Sing.
4word: Tell us a little about your time at CNN and the Peace Corps.
Erin: I was in the Peace Corps right after college, in 2007-2008. Like most RPCV’s will say, I went to Madagascar hoping to make a difference, but really, the people in my community made a much more positive impact on my life than I could do for them in a lifetime. So I caught the give-back bug and am forever dedicated to helping share stories of African dignity, resilience, and progress.
CNN was a roller coaster ride. I learned so much and will always be grateful to my amazing mentors at the network. There were high highs – adrenaline rushes of covering breaking news, ego boosts from being on air as a young producer, the feeling of amazement when a story you work so hard on is being seen by millions of people. And also low lows – exhaustion and disenchantment at always telling stories from a newsroom in Atlanta instead of out in the field, connecting with the people and not only filming but also collaborating in solutions with them.
4word: What inspired you to branch out on your own as a producer?
Erin: When I realized that there was such a thing as social impact films – documentary feature films that highlight problems and possible solutions to injustices in our world – and that I had the skills I needed to create films which could be seen by millions of young people and inspire them to do something to make our world better, I had no choice but to leave CNN and give it my best shot.
4word: What has the journey to bring your film Imba Means Sing to life been like?
Erin: If CNN was a roller coaster, then I guess I’d have to call Imba Means Sing something much more intense and personal, maybe a space ship ride?! I often work 18 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s just on the film. I also have to do side jobs to make a little money, such as commercial film work or freelance writing. I probably do complain to my husband about all the work, but at the end of the day, I really enjoy it!
I have such deep purpose and passion in making this film, and since I play so many roles in the crew as the only producer, I get to switch my focus often: from fundraising, to storytelling, to event-planning, to field producing, to interviewing the coolest kids on the planet, to website building, to grant-writing, to being our travel agent, to networking with incredible fellow filmmakers and buyers, to developing a dynamic Impact Campaign so our viewers can act and make a difference. It’s a whirlwind but so life-giving!
4word: How do you make an impact not just in developing countries, but also in your hometown of Atlanta?
Erin: I have promised my family and supporters that my next film will take place in Atlanta and have committed to have at least every other film I produce feature the American South. We have so many critical issues and interesting characters that it would be wrong for me to not highlight them as much – or more so – than other places I feel my heart and mind called to.
In Atlanta, I am focused on helping create job opportunities for young women coming out of the commercial sex industry. There are wonderful non-profits helping free these women, but I feel called to help get them job-ready, and I think that because my industry is growing so much in Atlanta, it’s a great opportunity.
Working with youth who hope to be media-makers is also a very fun and rewarding way I get use my gifts to serve locally in Atlanta. I’m also on the Young Leader’s Council for the Atlanta Beltline, which I think is the coolest thing that’s happening in Atlanta, and I am so excited to help bring our in-town communities together in creative and holistically healthy ways. This year, I am also participating in LEAD Atlanta, a community leadership initiative.
Finally, Imba Means Sing will be helping Atlanta as well! We are partnering with local and global organizations around the world to use the film to encourage activism around the issues it addresses: such as education as a human right and the importance of music education for youth. In Atlanta, we will be working with the Atlanta Music Project, International Rescue Committee, and more to highlight and send our viewers to serve with them right here at home.
4word: What are some tips you can give to our readers about connecting in their hometowns?
Erin: After three years of traveling to film Imba Means Sing, I am so excited to re-focus much of my attention at home. I think it’s so important to follow your heart and go on the adventures you feel called to; however, while a piece of my heart will always be in Africa (and with every character I feature), the old adage ‘home is where your heart is’ really does ring true (especially since I recently got married!). It is so important as a young social entrepreneur with sky-high dreams to have my kite-flying mind grounded by a string to home. And since so much of my support comes from home, I am thrilled to be able to give back there more. I think that having a connection to home and to the people that love you the most really helps you soar and shine, and it’s so important to remember that and show your gratefulness.
As Erin has shown, using your talents and convictions to make an impact in the world will likely take you to places you never dreamed would touch your life. Whether you are called to Africa, or if there is a glaring need in your hometown that you feel burdened for, listen to what is being impressed upon your heart and run with it.
What are some ways that you have connected with your hometown community?
Erin Bernhardt is a creative activist. She works through film, journalism, and events to inspire and motivate people to rally behind important issues and causes. Erin is currently in post-production on her first independent documentary feature film, IMBA MEANS SING, a story about music, education, and poverty alleviation told through the eyes of Moses, a young member of the Grammy-nominated African Children’s Choir.
A former CNN writer/producer and Peace Corp Volunteer, Erin now works to bring media and development together. She is grateful to have won several awards for her work, including an Emmy and two Peabody’s. Most recently, Erin was honored with the Speranza Foundation’s ‘Female Filmmaker of the Year’ grant and with giving a TEDxWomen talk. Erin has a heart for her city and the developing world. Locally, she is part of LEAD Atlanta and the Beltline’s Young Advisory Council. She’s a proud wahoo from the University of Virginia and loves making new friends, adventuresome travel, live music, and yoga.