- Associated Press - Monday, September 1, 2014

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - Michael Bandy remembers an important day over 50 years ago that he credits to shaping the man he is today.

It was 1963 in downtown Opelika. Alabama was still operating under Jim Crow laws and for a long time, Bandy wanted to do what few his age had ever dreamed: drink from the water fountain reserved for white people.

“As a kid, prior to that experience, my assumption as a 6-year-old kid was that the white water must be better,” Bandy said. “I knew it did; that’s what I conjured up in my head.”

As he began to take a sip, an adult began to scold him and he fell down in fear. As he looked around, he saw how a single pipe delivered water to both the “White” fountain and the “Colored” fountain.

“That’s when I knew that things were kind of turned upside down,” he said. “I couldn’t understand after that experience what the big fuss was all about.”

It was this single experience that led to the creation of “White Water,” a children’s book co-written by Eric Stein and illustrated by Shadra Strickland. The book, which was published in 2011, will serve as the source material for a movie, which will begin shooting in Opelika on Sept. 15.

Bandy, who now works for the Walt Disney Company in Los Angeles, said the challenging part about writing the book was delivering a commentary on race that could have an impact with children. To do that, Bandy just wrote what he remembered as a boy growing up in Opelika.

“Of course, I understood the bad, but I also wanted to perceive what was good about it (the South),” Bandy said. “My life as a kid growing up was not bad; I had a great time.”

Bandy said the book was initially supposed to be a short film, but he and Stein’s agent suggested it could as a children’s book. After being published, the two began setting out to make it into a film. Bandy will serve as a producer on the film and will come back to Opelika once filming begins. However, Bandy still corresponds with the production crews working in Opelika now.

“It’s almost on a day-to-day basis with respect to making sure that everything that is done is correct and fortunately, my family is lending their help,” Bandy said.

Bandy’s sister, Lillie Finley, said the book really reflects a different time for people in the South. Finley is the revenue director for the city of Opelika.

“I think it’s great,” Finley said. “I am really proud of him.”

Bandy said he is astounded by the positive reviews the book has received, including one from comedian and author Bill Cosby, who said “‘White Water’ is a wonderful way to give children an American history lesson.” In addition, Bandy has also received many letters from people all over the world who have read the book.

“It’s much bigger than me,” Bandy said. “It’s beyond me now.”

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Information from: Opelika-Auburn News, https://www.oanow.com/

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