Former teacher aid returns to Tohatchi as a full-fledged actress

By Glenda Rae Davis
Special to the Times

TOHATCHI, N.M., October 4, 2012

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(Times photo – Paul Natonabah)

Actress Kelsi Chandler talks to seventh grade students at Tohatchi Middle School on Sept. 27. Chandler just completed her first film as the lead role in the independent film called "A Cry for Justice."

S heila Morrison, an English instructor at Tohatchi Middle School, wanted to find a way to explain the similarities between literature, theatre and movies. But she wanted to do it in a way that would interest her students.

So actress Kelsi Chandler, 25, became the focus of her class on Sept. 27.

"Kelsi was in town visiting her parents," said Morrison. "Her father is the principle for Twin Lakes Elementary. So, I asked her if she was willing to talk to the kids and she agreed."

Chandler's parents have been part of Tohatchi's community for the past seven years. She was even a long-term substitute teacher at Twin Lakes Elementary four years ago.

Today, Chandler is a full-fledged actress having recently completed filming for her first lead role in an independent film called "A Cry for Justice," which is scheduled to be out next month.

Kelsi studied in New York and Los Angeles through a scholarship at the New York Film Academy.

The Chandler's are originally from Atlanta, Ga.

"I'm really proud of my daughter," said Kelsi's mother Beverly. "Helping the students here on the Navajo Nation is where her heart is. I'm just excited for her and the kids."

In the film, Kelsi plays Stephanie Veitch, the wife of a man named Jason who accidentally kills a man and faces a lifetime sentence.

Kelsi's character, having been totally dependent on her husband, learns to stand on her own.

"My character represents quiet love and strength," said Kelsi. "She becomes the strength that carries my family throughout the rest of the film."

During her time in Tohatchi, Kelsi taught the students literary elements like plot, setting, climax, characters, and more – all of which are found in literature, stage theatre and movies.

She also took time to encourage the students.

"It's been really rewarding to be able to give back to a community that has made my family feel at home," she said. "These kids know me, who I was before I got the role in 'A Cry for Justice.' They are important to me."

After teaching Morrison's students about literary elements she talked to other classes at the school about self-empowerment and confidence.

"I like to let the kids know that they are special and unique," said Kelsi. "They need to know that it's enough for them to believe in themselves."

After each session with the classes Kelsi signed autographs, something that she held off on until now.

"She wanted these kids to be the first ones to get autographs," said her mother. "They mean a lot to her."

"I love them," Kelsi said. "They impacted my life. What I did was for them. I want them to know that if it seems like they are in it alone, they'll remember that I do (care). At the very least, I want them to take that with them."

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