How this film began

Love them First: Lessons from Lucy Laney began when KARE 11 reporter Lindsey Seavert and photojournalist Ben Garvin met Lucy Laney principal Mauri Melander Friestleben giving an impassioned speech to the North Minneapolis community after several deadly shootings near the school.

Seavert and Garvin sensed a greater story within the walls of Lucy Laney and together envisioned a year-long project inside the school, to document the lessons inside one of Minnesota's lowest performing schools, on the state's list of failing schools for almost two decades.

Friestleben and the Minneapolis Public School district generously gave Seavert and Garvin permission to proceed with their idea, and thanks to the supportive leadership at KARE 11, Seavert and Garvin became embedded in the school for one year.

As a storytelling team, they gained unprecedented access by slowly building trust in a news series spanning nearly two dozen stories, taking viewers on a journey through the daily joys and challenges in the school.

Friestleben's vulnerability and open heart as the school's leader allowed Seavert and Garvin a window into a world many don't often see. They documented the exceptional resilience of Lucy Laney's student council president as she grappled with her own future when she realized she was placed for adoption. They gave an up close view to the toll of violence in the neighborhood, sharing a principal's sorrow when gunfire ripped through the playground with children outside.

KARE 11 and parent company TEGNA media believed the story outlined in this series could powerfully inspire educators and communities across the country. TEGNA then spearheaded a pilot project to turn the Lucy Laney news series into a documentary film.

Love Them First: Lessons From Lucy Laney Elementary is anchored by Garvin's award-winning photography and Seavert's sensitive storytelling style, and together the storytelling duo captured the purity and force of love transforming the school and its students.



Mauri Melander Friestleben

Mauri Melander Friestleben

Lucy Laney Elementary School

Mauri Melander Friestleben is a lifelong educator who started her career as a middle school teacher. She served as principal of Lucy Craft Laney at Cleveland Park Community School in North Minneapolis for 8 years. In the 2019-2020 school year, Friestleben accepted a new position as principal of Minneapolis North High School. Many of Friestleben’s former Lucy Laney students will eventually attend North High, which has a rich 120 year history as the neighborhood’s community school.

Friestleben was a student in North Minneapolis, and says it is an honor to serve as a teacher, an assistant principal, and as a principal in the community where her earliest memories of childhood exist.

She didn't expect to be a teacher. Her dream in life was to cover the stories of the world through print journalism. Becoming a young mom in college at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul changed her focus and a short time later, rather than covering guerilla warfare in Central America, she found herself standing in front of a room full of 6th graders, and surprisingly, came alive with them.

Her years in the classroom overflowed with great challenges and even greater rewards, teaching 5th-8th grades, and she also served as a vice principal at a charter school, a teacher on special assignment and as an assistant to two superintendents. She served as Lucy Laney's Assistant Principal for several years before taking the Principal position in 2012.

In her time at Lucy Laney, under Friestleben's leadership, the school has seen unprecedented academic gains, with four years of growth on the state's standardized tests. Friestleben says there are many commonalities she shares with her students; yet through barriers and strongholds, she stood strongly on her faith and strives to model for her students how odds can be beat, goals can be achieved and perseverance can be rewarded.

Sophia Stroot


Fifth Grader
Lucy Laney Elementary School

"You can always find light in the darkest places."

Sophia, age 11 at the time of filming, has attended Lucy Laney elementary since she was in the High Five program at just four years old. She is the school's student council president, and as the school year begins, Sophia faces uncertainty as she learns she will be placed for adoption, along with her two younger brothers, who also attend Lucy Laney.

Lisa Pawelak

Lisa Pawelak

Assistant Principal
Lucy Laney Elementary School

"I believe really firmly that where you bloom and you plant roots, plant seeds. The more and more my eyes were opened to the garbage that happens, the racism, the inequities, all those different things. I just knew I couldn't leave."

Lisa Pawelak became Lucy Laney’s new principal in the 2019-2020 school year after Mauri Friestleben’s departure for North High School. She is originally from Illinois but came to Minnesota to attend college. She has worked in Minneapolis Public Schools as a longtime assistant principal and school social worker.

Pawelak believes compassion is the force that has allowed her to strive for equitable educational standards for her students, and she has witnessed on how cultivating compassion within a school can dismantle the constructs creating achievement gaps.

Morgan McDonald

Morgan McDonald

Student Support Specialist
Lucy Laney Elementary School

"I'm from the streets, honest truth, I've been there. Like no water, I've been there, like no food. Mom on drugs. Shoot outs. I've been on that side of the fence, it's just this side of the fence feels better."

Morgan McDonald is the "first responder" of discipline at Lucy Laney school, handling suspensions and behavioral referrals. McDonald, a native of inner city Chicago, relates to the trauma many of his students face. He credits mentors and coaches with helping him find the right path as a college graduate and is driven to give students the same hope that inspired him to become an educator. McDonald is known for using boxing as a method to help his students diffuse anger.

Edward Davis

Edward Davis

Fourth and Fifth Grade Teacher
Lucy Laney Elementary School

"When you come into our classroom, I accept you for everything you bring."

Davis holds a bachelor's degree in therapeutic recreation from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He grew up in inner-city Milwaukee and was the first in his family to attend college.

In 2012, he started working for Minneapolis Public Schools as a special education assistant, where he realized his life's calling to serve students of color. He pursued a teaching license through Minneapolis' Grow Your Own program, a rigorous one-year program to help diversify the district's teaching workforce.

Nashaya Rosebear


Fifth Grader
Lucy Laney Elementary School

Nashya, 11, is a fifth grader at Lucy Laney, and is involved in the Lucy Laney dance troupe. Her mother navigates poverty and access to affordable housing as a single mother to seven children. Nashya briefly faces homelessness in her fifth-grade year, and tries to hold onto her childhood, while the demands of her home life force her to grow up too quickly.



Lindsey Seavert

Lindsey Seavert

Reporter, KARE 11

While Lindsey Seavert is an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award winning reporter, her greatest successes do not sit on a shelf. She is most proud of unearthing untold stories that encourage understanding and bringing them to light.

Her parents were Minnesota public school teachers who gave her the gift of curiosity, so with a book and pencil often in hand, she began writing as a young child, and hasn't stopped since.

She graduated from Indiana University's Ernie Pyle School of Journalism and worked as a reporter at five news stations stretching from Northern Minnesota, Nevada, and Ohio before coming home to the Twin Cities. She's been a storyteller at KARE 11 since 2012.

The legacy of teaching in her family inspires Lindsey to use stories as a vehicle to educate and serve the community. Her work often focuses on women, families and children, but she is most passionate about bringing a voice to underrepresented communities, which is how she discovered the transformation inside Lucy Craft Laney Elementary school.

When Lindsey is not on assignment, she mentors young journalists, enjoys running, creative writing, and volunteering in the community.

Her greatest rewards are her husband, Ian, and two children. Their son Stellan attends Minneapolis Public Schools, and the couple also has a younger daughter, Phoebe.

Directing and writing a documentary has always been a life's dream, Lindsey dedicates her work to her late father, Larry Seavert. She imagines he is smiling down on this project with pride, as he spent his career fighting for the rights of teachers and opportunities for students.

Love Them First is Lindsey's first documentary as a director.

Ben Garvin

Ben Garvin

Photojournalist, KARE 11

Ben grew up in Fayetteville, Arkansas, raised by hippy dippy parents who taught him to remain idealistic about a world that's often dark. As an Emmy and Edward R. Murrow award-winning-photojournalist now at KARE11 TV, Garvin was named 2011 Journalist of the Year by the Minnesota Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and photographer of the year by the Minnesota Press Photographers Association in 2007. In 2017 he served as president of the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists where he helped overturn a ban on photography in state prisons. His work on assignment for the New York Times was included in the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning story on food poisoning in 2010. In 2012 Garvin published an award-winning photography book called "Ant Farm, Glimpses of Daily Life in Minnesota".

Previously Garvin worked for the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune in Minnesota, the Christian Science Monitor in Boston and the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire where was named three-time New Hampshire Photographer of the Year.

Garvin studied creative writing at the University of Arkansas before earning a BFA in Visual Journalism with a minor in philosophy from the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. He lives in South Minneapolis with his wife Jessica, a cellist and baker, and children Arthur, Lewis, Bailey and Netta. Love Them First is Ben's first documentary as a director.


Lucy Laney Students
Lucy Craft Laney

A Brief Sketch on the Life of Educator, Social Reformer, and Civil Rights Activist

Lucy Craft Laney (1854 – 1933)

"God has nothing to make men and women out of but boys and girls."

With encouragement of the Christ Presbyterian Church and other Augusta civic-minded leaders, Miss Lucy Craft Laney, a native of Macon, Georgia, started a school in Augusta, GA for African American boys and girls in 1886. Miss Laney did not have many resources; but, what she did have was dedication, solid credentials, and a sterling reputation. The abundance of these three qualities would prove to be all this unique woman would need in the challenging Post-Reconstruction Era and early 20th Century.

In 1888, the first class of five (5) students graduated from Miss Laney's School. Among them, Fannin Belcher, M.D., who went on to become medical examiner for colored public schools in Savannah, GA and a civil rights trailblazer. Louisa A. Smythe taught in Augusta's colored public schools until her death. The rapid growth of Miss Laney's School required a bigger facility and more money for the growing enrollment. Armed with a one-way ticket, only a little money, her prayers, and her desire, Miss Laney traveled to Minnesota to tell the Presbyterian Church Convention about her school; hoping, to gain funding, so that the school could expand. Unfortunately, the Convention didn't have adequate funds to commit to Miss Laney; however, she was compassionately provided a return train ticket home. Miss Laney was unsure how she would later proceed. However, as a person of strong spiritual conviction, she knew that her mission was a good one and that her school would continue.

Shortly after her trip to Minnesota, Miss Laney received a letter from Mrs. Francine E.H. Haines, President of the Woman's Department of the Presbyterian Church, USA who had heard her speak at the convention. Mrs. Haines was so impressed with Miss Laney and her mission, that she secured funding for the expansion of the school in the amount of $10,000. In gratitude for such generous philanthropy, the school was renamed Haines Normal and Industrial Institute, a boarding school that eventually offered coursework through the junior college level.

Miss Laney was always forward thinking. She believed that the best way for African Americans to be successful in America was by being well educated. In 1890, she also started the first kindergarten for African American children in Augusta. Lamar School of Nursing, another educational component introduced by Miss Laney in 1892, was the first African-American school for nursing in Augusta.

The Lamar School of Nursing, similarly to Haines Institute, garnered a nationwide reputation and is credited as the oldest nursing school for African Americans in the Southeast. Affected by the winds of integration, under the auspices of University Hospital, Lamar School merged with Barrett School of Nursing in 1965. As an early individual member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in 1917 Miss Laney opened her home for 27 local residents to hold the charter meeting of the Augusta Branch of the NAACP. The chapter was composed of Haines graduates and other influential educators, entrepreneurs, physicians, religious leaders, railroad, and federal employees.

Lucy Craft Laney at Cleveland Park Community School in Minneapolis, MN and Lucy Craft Laney Comprehensive High School in Augusta, GA are two (2) schools in very different parts of the country named for Miss Laney. Many buildings, awards, and civic organizations throughout the United States have also been named in Miss Laney's honor to help preserve her legacy and inspire future generations.

Joyce Law, Program Manager/Historian, Lucy Craft Laney Museum of Black History; Augusta, GA