American Promise…a story that is rarely told

One of the downsides of being recognized as a Mommy blogger (a title I still argue with) is that my inbox is constantly flooded with PR pitches that are clearly the result of someone not taking the time to actually read my blog. (Hello!!! I don’t have babes in diapers, why would I care about diapers?) Or I hear from people asking me if I would talk about their cause on my blog. Occasionally though someone will contact me and it’s about an issue, I can truly get behind and that was the case when Michele Stephenson an African-American filmmaker in Brooklyn contacted me about a film that has been 12 years in the making. By now we all have either heard or seen Waiting for Superman and generally know about the dismal state of education for Black youth in this country or at least the stories the media feeds us.

Well, Michele Stephenson and her husband Joe Brewster have their own story it’s about their son and his journey attending a prestigious, predominantly white prep school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.  Here is Michele in her own words.

 

Can you imagine spending 12 years shooting a film about your own family?  Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, an African American Brooklyn-based husband and wife filmmaking team, have been doing just that since 1999. Their film, American Promise, is about race, education, and achievement; it will air on PBS in 2013. Visit the American Promise Kickstarter page today to learn more.

When people first learn that we’ve been filming our son, Idris, and his best friend, Seun, since they entered kindergarten in 1999, reactions usually range from sympathy tinged with judgment (“I would never have the courage to put my family through that!”) to admiring disbelief – usually from other filmmakers (“I can’t believe you have the endurance and tenacity to go through it. You guys are brave”).  Well, we can’t believe we put our families through this and we also can’t believe we’ve had the endurance to get through 12 years of filming. It has been truly difficult balancing our filmmaker hat with the responsibilities of parenthood. That said, our biggest concern has always been about our son’s own agency in this project.

Our film is about Idris and Seun’s experience as African American boys attending a prestigious, predominantly white prep school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. This is not another Waiting for Superman; access to opportunity is not the issue. American Promise opens with Idris and Seun beginning their education at one of New York’s finest schools, but over 12 years, their educational journey proves to be more complicated than any of us had anticipated. And it’s all caught on camera.

 

In an attempt to chronicle the coming of age of these boys, we’ve been challenged as filmmakers, and as parents. We often wanted to turn off the camera and spare the boys during times of discomfort, pain, and uncertainty – from fights over homework and times of personal tragedy to every day teenage awkwardness. But we committed ourselves to this challenging filmmaking process, and now after 12 years, we are finally going to give audiences a never-before-seen look into the lives of two boys growing up over the span of two hours.

Airing on PBS in 2013, American Promise will be the central pillar of a transmedia campaign that will use film and other media as tools to bring together forward-thinking nonprofits, foundations and leaders dedicated to empowering black males—creating change in young men and in the public consciousness.

Help us finish American Promise. Five bucks is all we’re asking (that’s one latté). We have two more weeks to raise $25,000. If you can’t donate, please spread the word and let your network know about the film. Thank you.

Please consider supporting this amazing project and spread the word.

 

Prep School Negro Rescheduled

Just a heads up, winter decided to rear it’s ugly head causing the Prep School Negro showing to be rescheduled. Gotta love the weather! Anyway this fabulous event has officially been rescheduled for April 2, 2012 6:00pm. Hope you can make it if you are local.

Several months ago one my twitter followers told me about an independent film by Andre Robert Lee called Prep School Negro. I immediately looked into this film and it definitely caught my eye, no I am not a prep school Negress but as someone who plays outside the racial and class box they were born into, this film definitely spoke to me in the clip I had a chance to view.

Of course being in Maine, I figured my chances of seeing this film in its entirety were pretty much a dream. Granted I decided to email the director and much to my amazement, he told me plans were underway to come to Maine in early 2012 and show this film. Well long story short, it seems that twitter follower and several others had been working behind the scenes to bring Lee to Maine. A few weeks ago, I received a message asking if I could help get the word out about Prep School Negro and here I am.

Friends School of Portland, in collaboration with UNE and area independent schools, is hosting André Robert Lee and showing the film The Prep School Negro, on Monday, April 2, 2012 6:00pm  at UNE’s Ludcke Auditorium. Lee’s film provides an important reflection on the challenges and opportunities that arise when a poor student of color leaves his community to attend an elite private school. Lee prompts us to consider the meanings that home and school, class and race, aspirations and education play in our current lives and the lives of our children. What does it mean to belong in a school community and what can schools do to become more truly inclusive? We hope you’ll come to this unique event and engage in this important conversation! See the film trailer here: http://www.theprepschoolnegro.org/see-the-film/.

FILM SYNOPSIS:
“André Robert Lee and his sister grew up in the ghettos of Philadelphia. Their mother struggled to support them by putting strings in the waistbands of track pants and swimsuits in a local factory. When Andre was 14 years old, he received what his family believed to be a golden ticket – a full scholarship to attend one of the most prestigious prep schools in the country. Elite education was Andre’s way up and out, but at what price? Yes, the exorbitant tuition was covered, but this new world cost him and his family much more than anyone could have anticipated.

In The Prep School Negro, André takes a journey back in time to revisit the events of his adolescence while also spending time with current day prep school students of color and their classmates to see how much has really changed inside the ivory tower. What he discovers along the way is the poignant and unapologetic truth about who really pays the consequences for yesterday’s accelerated desegregation and today’s racial naiveté.”

COSPONSORS:
Cheverus High School
City of Portland
McAuley High School
Merriconeag Waldorf High School
NAACP Portland Branch
North Yarmouth Academy
UNE Multicultural Affairs
Waynflete School

Anyway I hope folks will come out and support this film and director, I sure as hell hope to be there!

Cultural differences and death…a homegoing

Today the world laid Whitney Houston to rest, and for some it was none to soon but as I accidentally found myself sucked into reading tweets about the service and later actually watching it on TV, I realized there was something larger at play. Despite the strides over the years for Black Americans to integrate into the overall American experience, there are some areas of our lives that are still very segregated, how we worship and how we deal with death. To be honest, I never really thought about these differences until my mother in law (who was white) passed away many years ago and obviously I attended the service. I was immediately struck by how very different the service was from what I had seen previously at memorials and funeral services. I will sum it simply as short and somber.

By comparison, the funerals I had attended for family members in my family at times could be seen as raucous affairs. They also were long, oh so very long. The shortest funeral I have ever attended for a family member oddly enough was my mother’s, which was shaped by my parents eclectic mix of beliefs starting with the fact my mom was cremated. Yet it still had enough traditionally Black aspects that it would in fact be recognized by many Black Americans as a Black service.

Yet in reading the tweets of people during Houston’s service, especially from white folks and Black folks who did not grow up in the traditional Black church, it’s clear we still don’t fully share parts of the Black experience even during Black history month. Truth is there are many in my generation and others who have left the traditional Black church, like many institutions that at one time had great value, today’s Black church is but a shadow of it’s former self. Yet at one point in time for Black Americans especially those of us who descend from slavery, it was all we had. The Black church was our home, it nourished us body and soul and gave us the strength to carry on. It’s no coincidence that many who were part of the Civil Rights movement hailed from the Black church.

I often used to wonder why the hell we used to get so damn happy in church, until hearing my father’s reminiscences about growing up in Arkansas as the child of sharecroppers. Let’s just say if I had been alive then, I’d probably get happy too in church. For those long denied their humanity, the ceremony of death was a joyous occasion, fairy tale or not it gave people comfort to believe that when someone died they were in a better place. A place free of the brutality that was meted out on a daily basis, so for those left behind a celebration was only fitting. To this day, you still see signs of that in many traditional Black funerals, songs, non-Black colored clothing, a way to celebrate Sister or Brother So and So’s homegoing. To quote one of my tweeps Clutch Magazine “ how fitting that her funeral–a FULL expression of Black culture–is happening during Black History Month?”

Indeed, it is fitting. Every year we trot out discussions of Martin, Rosa, Malcolm and others but to see the Black church on display is indeed fitting. If we are truly to move ahead as a society, understanding and knowledge is key. As for Sister Whitney, whatever her faults in this life, it is clear that she was loved and not just by people who did not know her and only adored her voice. I think we should all be so lucky if when we check off this rock, so many will come out to remember us. If nothing else that struck me in viewing this service was that she was loved but at the same time, no one glossed over the fact that she was a human who struggled. I can’t think of a better send off.