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Few people could have survived the kind of brutal attack that killed the parents of Brooks Douglass MC/MPA 2002 and severely injured both him and his sister. Douglass, whose Baptist missionary parents spent several years in Brazil before settling in Oklahoma, was only 16 when two men made their way into the family home in Oklahoma City and attacked all four of them, assaulting Douglass’ 12-year-old sister and, ultimately, killing his parents, and stealing 43 dollars.
Just 11 years later, Douglass became the youngest state senator in Oklahoma history, devoting his efforts to victims' rights. The years between the attack and his election were not easy ones — the prolonged legal action against his parents' killers, the financial and medical aftermath of the attacks, and the intense emotional impact on Douglass were significant challenges to overcome. He did, however, find the will to push forward, eventually earning an MBA and JD from Oklahoma City University before turning his attention to the state Senate.
"Certainly the events surrounding the deaths of my parents help to catapult me into full-time public service," said Douglass. "It seemed that while many people would pay lip-service to the idea of crime victim's rights, rarely was anything really done about it. I felt like that was one place I could make a difference."
Douglass served three terms in the Senate, during which time he had the opportunity to meet with one of the jailed men who killed his parents. That meeting, along with the story that led to it, became the inspiration for Douglass to write — and act in — a film about his life, released in late 2010.
"'Heaven's Rain' is mostly about the power of forgiveness," said Douglass. "I think it is something our world needs right now and probably always has. And while that is difficult to do, it is critical to our own individual and collective survival.
"An element of the story is also overcoming adversity. We have to make a choice every day to get up and live. I had to make the choice to get up off the floor after having been shot, and live. I reflect often on that decision. It didn't mean I knew I would get out of the house and make it, but I certainly wouldn't if I had just laid down and checked out. We all make choices every day about whether and how we will live."
Although Douglass said he found gratification by putting his story into words and onto the big screen, he admitted the process of writing and shooting the film was often challenging.
"It is literally watching my life flash before my eyes," he said. "It was very difficult to write because it is a painful and, obviously, personal story. Shooting it was just as difficult for a variety of reasons: We had limited funds, we shot during the winter in Oklahoma and most of the locations we used were actual places where the experiences happened. The hardest part was playing the role of my father in the movie. It was an honor and it gave me the chance to pay tribute to him, but shooting the crime scene was one of the hardest experiences of my life."
After leaving the Senate, Douglass was encouraged to attend the Kennedy School by former Oklahoma Congressman Mickey Edwards who was, at the time, the HKS John Quincy Adams lecturer in legislative politics. Douglass said he found the HKS experience transformative and that it reflected many of the same ideals he was raised with.
"I think the greatest lesson at HKS was really an affirmation of something my parents taught me — that anything is possible and that I should always seek to challenge myself to reach beyond my comfort zone," said Douglass. "I looked around me and there were people from all over the world that had been enormously successful doing amazing things. For my part, it was critical to my belief that I could actually make a feature film."
Douglass said he has not ruled out a return to public service but would like to continue exploring filmmaking for the time being.
'Heaven’s Rain' is being shown in venues across the country including churches and college campuses, sponsored by various law enforcement groups and victim’s rights organizations.
Brooks Douglass, former Oklahoma Senator, devoted much of his legislative efforts to improving victims’ rights. Photo provided.
"The hardest part was playing the role of my father in the movie. It was an honor and it gave me the chance to pay tribute to him, but shooting the crime scene was one of the hardest experiences of my life."
The poster for Douglass' movie, "Heaven's Rain". Below, watch the movie trailer.