PARKLAND, FL – For Brittani Kagan, Marjory Stoneman Douglas ’07, the tragedy of February 14 was particularly profound. The former drama student and current Head of Talent at Portal A in Los Angeles felt an immediate connection with the drama students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and her former teacher Melody Hertzfeld.
“When the shooting happened I was at work. I got a call from my mom. I knew my drama teacher and now someone who is like a second mom to me, Mrs. Hertzfeld, was in the school and I was terrified. I sent texts to her and she sent some back. I went home and watched the news nonstop. For the next few days, the only thing I thought about was keeping up with what was going on,” said Kagan.
She said, “I knew my parents and Hertzfeld were in a lot of pain and I wanted to be there for them. And I was so inspired by Emma Gonzalez’s speech, and it reminded me of how fired up I felt in high school, learning from the same teachers as these kids. I felt compelled to go to Parkland. I went with the intention of supporting Mrs. Hertzfeld and my family and meeting with the drama kids. I felt I needed to be close to them and the community.”
The weekend after the shooting Kagan met with about ten drama students and Herzfeld at the Marriott. “I wanted to see if they wanted to brainstorm and come up with a creative outlet for their feelings. We sat in a circle on the floor for about 45 minute, talking and brainstorming. Then Sawyer Garrity said she had written a few lines of a song and sang it for us. Everyone felt it was amazing, and wanted to hear more,” Kagan said.
Six hours later, Garrity had worked with Andrea Peña and finished the song. Kagan coordinated their performance two days later at the CNN town hall . At the last minute, CNN decided the performance should be part of the live show and the students performed “Shine” for the first time on a national stage. News about the song spread the next day.
“I wanted to throw 100% effort into this,” Kagan said. She said she asked the students who would be their dream star to work with them on the song. The students provided her with a list of “A List of Very Unlikely Things to Ever Happen” and at the top of the list was Miley Cyrus.
Kagan contacted Cyrus’s manager and her management company decided to get really involved. They helped get the song released on ITunes and Spotify and other streaming services. Kagan worked with the students and their parents to start Shine MSD, the non-profit their parents started to raise funds for programs aimed at healing through the arts.
Kagan also began helping to develop a music video. She found a producer, Jane Bloom, whose cousin lives in Parkland. “We got so much support from the entertainment community in South Florida. The music video we produced would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars but every resource was donated and every crew member worked for free, so we were able to produce it at no cost,” Kagan said. Kagan directed the music video and filming took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas as well as at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C.
“These kids are my little siblings,” she said. “Over the last few months I’ve developed a strong bond with them and their families. The whole thing has been a really deep, emotional, and uplifting experience. I feel more connected to the Parkland community than ever before,” Kagan said.
“All the Douglas students have done something powerful, very in their own ways. Some focus on the politics, some focus on the healing. It’s already been said a million times, but there’s something very special about the way the parents have allowed the kids to lead and be at the forefront, and how the school and community have supported the kids and have given them the education they need to fight the good fight — and I know from experience how good the teachers are. It should be a model for how other communities deal with times like these,” Kagan said.
“This experience has been so profound for me as someone from that school and this community. I didn’t appreciate it until now. The community has done an amazing job rebuilding and coming together to make the change that is so desperately needed, and I’m proud to be an eagle,” she said.