Through a Black Lens helps aspiring filmmakers realize their dreams

Through a Black Lens with Morris ChestnutAmerican Family believes in the power of dreams and that the more those dreams get out into the world, the more powerful they become. 

That's why we created the Through a Black Lens program. 

It’s a celebration of black filmmakers and a vehicle to get those dreams out in the world. This year, the program’s second, we asked people to tell us their dreams for the future. We received a variety of inspiring submissions, and the winning dream was turned into a film. By bringing the winning dream to the big screen, we're bringing it that much closer to becoming a reality.

I was excited and honored to represent American Family at the Eighth Annual Black Film Festival (ABFF) in New York where the film “Brakedown” premiered. It was an inspiring experience.

Getting to meet the winner of our Through a Black Lens competition, Tone Williams, left me feeling this is what our company is all about – helping people pursue their dreams. Tone was both ecstatic and amazed to be chosen. Yet, the program really is about helping him believe in his own dreams and have the passion to pursue them.   

Watching the screening of Tone’s film about a young woman pursuing her dreams through adversity, and meeting movie star Morris Chestnut (Dr. Prentiss on “Nurse Jackie”), who directed Tone’s film, is an experience I will never forget. I would define Morris as successful, and yet he’s still out there pursuing his dreams. One of those was to direct a film, and American Family helped him achieve that.

As moviegoers came into the SVA Theatre in the cultural center of New York’s artistically vibrant Chelsea neighborhood, they were immersed in the whole Through a Black Lens experience – from taking pictures in front of our branded wall, to receiving branded refreshments and movie posters of the film as they entered the theater.

Our theater for the viewing of "Brakedown” was packed. Morris and his co-director Dylan Brown really understand American Family’s mission. As they introduced the film short, they described how it takes hard work to go after your dreams and how companies like us are right beside them as they do. We then watched “Brakedown.”

Afterward, Morris and Dylan answered questions from the audience. The interaction was engaging and inspirational. It led me to think about how American Family has helped me achieve my own dreams. I’m grateful to work for a company that is constantly innovating and finding engaging ways to connect with customers.

Here’s how Jeff Friday, founder and CEO of Film Life Inc., and producer of ABFF, explains why it’s important to support black filmmakers:

“The black experience is an integral part of American culture; and the universal appeal of black stories is becoming more apparent as African-Americans make substantial inroads into the motion-picture industry. As we look to the future, it is our goal to not only support black filmmakers, but also to promote their work for everyone’s enjoyment. The ABFF is committed to broadening the mainstream embrace of black culture, to have as great an impact through cinema as we have had through music, fashion and sports.”

Through a Black Lens logoEditor's note: Visit the American Family Insurance YouTube channel to view "Brakedown" and other Through a Black Lens videos. 

Family Healthy Fit Lifestyle: Grilled Tilapia with Tomato Fennel Orzo

Tilapia Tomato Fennel Orzo recipe

Once families begin to get heavy into fitness, parents need to make sure everyone is fueling their bodies right. Heart-healthy meals rich in lean meats, protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates pack essential minerals for repairing muscles for fitness enthusiasts.

Modifying your family’s meals into healthier ones can be frustrating, and finding a dinner that pleases everyone can be difficult. In my family of picky eaters, tilapia is the only fish my entire family will eat without complaint. This relatively inexpensive, mild white flaky fish is a great source of protein, calcium, vitamin B12, selenium and Omega-3s.

When trying to increase your fitness levels, try increasing your weekly intake of fish to two to three times a week.

For a simple, quick weekday dinner, we’ll throw the tilapia on the grill with a light lemon oil marinade and serve it with a tomato fennel orzo side dish. By serving the tilapia with tomatoes and fennel, this one meal becomes a dinner rich in superfoods and antioxidants. Both fennel and tomatoes are rich in Vitamin C and fiber, however, fennel also packs potassium, and the tomatoes contain lycopene which is important for bone health for active families.

When you choose dreams of living a long, healthy life with your loved ones, remember to feed your family the best foods for an active lifestyle.

Grilled Tilapia with Tomato Fennel Orzo

1 Tbsp olive oil and ¼ cup
1 small fennel bulb, chopped
1 tsp garlic minced
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
¼ tsp crushed red peppers
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
1 cup orzo
1 lemon
1-2 pounds of tilapia filets, trimmed

Preheat grill on a low setting. Brush with a high temperature by heating to prevent tilapia from sticking to grill.

Bring a two-and-a-half quart pot of water to a boil. Add orzo and cook for one minute less than al dente as directed on package. Drain and set aside.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté fennel until soft. Add grape tomatoes, garlic, crushed red pepper, salt and ground black pepper. Sauté tomatoes until warmed through.

Add orzo and lightly toss through tomatoes and fennel until well coated. Remove from heat and set aside.

Combine juice of one lemon and one-quarter cup olive oil to a small bowl.  Toss in salt and pepper to taste. Dip tilapia in marinade and then place on grill; grill tilapia 1-2 minutes each side or until cooked evenly.

Serve tilapia with a tomato fennel orzo.

Editor’s note: Fresh garden veggies, comfort foods, family favorites. Find delicious new ways to pursue a healthy, fit lifestyle for your busy crew. Join Family Foodie and American Family Insurance for our live online event July 26 from 1-3 p.m. CST. Find more details on our Google Plus page

Is Your Smartphone Ready for Summer?

Summer smartphone appsWherever you go or whatever you do, it seems everyone is connected. The question is, are you connected to information you can use this summer?

No matter what your summer plans involve – picnics, travel, time at the beach or just plain relaxing around the house – here are four great apps (did I also say free?) for your smartphone.

Whether it’s time, money or even a life, these apps can be real savers.

1. First Aid by American Red Cross – This official American Red Cross first aid app gives you expert advice and guidance for everyday emergencies. This app also includes safety tips for severe weather to help you prepare for emergencies, and is integrated with 9-1-1 so you can call EMS from the app at any time. Content is preloaded so you can access information without reception or an Internet connection.

2. GasBuddy – Ever wonder where the nearest (or least expensive) gas is? This free app lets you know simply by keying in your location. An added benefit is that if you report gas prices in your area, you’re entered in a daily contest for a $100 giveaway.

3. Google Translate – When your high school French, German or Spanish doesn’t quite cut it, this app can translate text or the spoken word. Simply say a phrase in English, and Google Translate will repeat your words in up to 80 languages.

4. Waze – Driving can be stressful if you’re traveling in unfamiliar territory. WAZE alerts you to traffic jams, fender-benders and detours. 

When 'Going to the Dogs' Is a Good Thing

Wallace at DreamBankI adore dogs, particularly “sight” hounds – dogs that traditionally hunt using speed and sight instead of scent. A parade of these hounds, including greyhounds and Ibizan hounds from various rescue organizations, has passed through my family’s doors. Some we adopted and others were foster dogs we helped move one step closer to their forever homes. 

Recently, we were asked to foster a six-month-old American staghound named Wallace. I’m pretty dog savvy, but I’d never heard of this breed. Turns out it’s a cross of Scottish deerhound and greyhound that’s been in the United States since colonial times.

My research revealed that George Washington had a staghound named Sweet Lips. General George Custer had several (I even saw photographs of them in his encampments) and his wife often wrote about their “sweet hounds.” Of course we said yes and Wallace became part of our family, soon followed by his brother, Duncan.

At a local event, I met members of Dogs On Call, Inc. (DOC), a Baraboo, Wis.-based pet therapy organization and learned about therapy dogs and the Pet Partners® Program, a nationally recognized, nonprofit organization that offers pet therapy.

Pet therapy is about promoting positive human-animal interaction to improve the physical, emotional and psychological lives of those served and I thought Wallace just might have the makings of a therapy dog.

DOC offers Pet Partners Team Training and evaluation for Pet Partners registration. They offer a matching service for medical, residential and educational facilities requesting visits from therapy dogs, and outreach programs to promote the benefits of animal-assisted interactions.

Pat and WallaceWallace and I soon started our journey to become a certified therapy team. I attended training to learn the skills necessary to visit people safely with Wallace. After much practice, we were evaluated to see how well the handler (me) helps the animal (Wallace) manage their behavior, and how well the animal responds to the handler. The test is about 40 minutes long and consists of a skills test, which demonstrates whether the animal can be controlled by the handler and follow basic commands, and the aptitude test, which simulates conditions you may encounter on a therapy visit.

Wallace is young for a therapy dog, so I didn’t expect us to pass the first time but I wanted to learn where we needed to improve. At the end, our evaluator asked if Wallace could have an extra treat … because he passed! I was so proud of him.

We worked with DOC to decide what type of visiting we wanted to do. Being first-timers, we decided on a local assisted-living facility as it would offer a quiet, lower-activity environment.

We’ve been visiting at the assisted-living facility for almost a year, and we also enjoy doing educational events that allow us to promote the benefits of pet therapy and interacting safely with animals.

Being a pet therapy team has taught us patience and how important little things are. Sometimes we spark a brief memory of a long-ago pet or see an interest in petting Wallace from someone who seldom interacts with animals. Sometimes we offer a few minutes of happiness for someone suffering the confusion and sadness of dementia. Or, a child who is safer because he or she learns to always ask a dog owner if it’s OK to pet the dog instead of just approaching it.

Nationwide, there is a big demand for pet therapy visits and not enough teams to go around. If you are interested, Pet Partners has lots of great information online. It’s a wonderful way to share our love of dogs and make a difference.

Oh, and Wallace says all the petting is pretty nice too!

Note: if you have an interest in working with Pet Partners, they can be contacted at:

Pet Partners
875 124th Ave NE #101
Bellevue, WA 98005-2531
(425) 679-5500

Equality Isn't Just Right — It's Good Business

David KosarWhen I first joined the insurance industry nearly 30 years ago, the world was a very different place.

As a gay man, I didn’t want my employer to know about my personal life, so I declined dinner invitations and other work-related outings. It was easier to simply avoid the questions and potential impacts on my job that “coming out” might bring.

I wanted to join in, but was afraid of the reaction my bosses and co-workers would have. Back then – and even today in some places – a person could legally be fired just for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender – regardless of their performance.

Fast forward 30 years and thankfully, the world has changed. I’ve had the opportunity to grow personally and professionally as an insurance professional who just happens to be gay. This does not define me. It is only a part of who I am as an agent, a business owner and an employer.

Being an advocate for equality is very important to me, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s good business. Equality is good for me as an agent, and it is good for American Family as a company.

One of the highlights of my career, as the owner of a small business, is that I was asked to comment and sign the Amicus (friend of the court) brief that went before the Supreme Court in 2013 regarding the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Same-sex marriage is legal in my state, (Washington) so a large part of the problem as I saw it, was that DOMA forced an employer like me to put lawfully married employees into two categories, and that created regulatory, tax, benefit and morale problems.

For example: Where most health care benefits are concerned, the law made an employer withhold more from the W-2 of a lawfully married employee whose spouse was of the same sex than was withheld when the spouse was of the opposite sex. I wanted to be able to treat my employees equally and not give same-sex couples an additional tax burden just because of who they loved.

What I hoped for in the DOMA ruling was simple — that the federal government would not stop an employer from treating all lawfully married employees the same way. I wanted to create the best, most productive workplace environment possible, so we can all be as efficient and competitive as possible. It doesn’t serve that objective when the federal government obliges us to treat one set of married employees differently than another.

In addition to signing the historic DOMA brief, I’m active in the Greater Seattle Business Association (GSBA), the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied (LGBTA) chamber of commerce in the country. The GSBA is a nonprofit that serves the greater Seattle area and provides philanthropy, scholarships, business development and advocacy for the LBGTA community. I’m proud to say that American Family is a Gold Sponsor of this organization.

As of today, same-sex marriage is legal in 19 states and Washington, D.C. We have come a long way, but the fact that I am still asked to speak on the issue of equality and why it is important, shows there is a lot more work to do.

Together, we’ll make this better for everyone.

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