In 1999, when we turned our camera on our son Idris, and his best friend Seun, they were beginning kindergarten at the prestigious Dalton School in New York City. We had great expectations for the boys and were eager to document their journey through school. We were confident that this incredible opportunity would set them on a course for academic success and we wanted to capture it all on film. However, our high expectations fell short as the boys struggled with stereotype and identity, and as parents, we wrestled with doubts and angst over our sons’ futures. This personal experience pushed us to expose the impact of the unique social and emotional needs of black boys on their academic performance.
On January 21, American Promise, the product of our 12-year film shoot, will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Through our own personal struggles and our children’s triumphs and setbacks, the documentary reveals complicated truths about parenting, puts a face on the unique issues that African-American boys face, and challenges commonly held assumptions about educational access in the 21st century. We hope the film will help galvanize a national conversation on what it takes for parents, educators, and the community to help further the academic success and socio-emotional health of our boys.
When we premier at Sundance, we look forward to serving as a bull-horn for the issues that our fellow Campaign for Black Male Achievement grantees are working on—from achievement and opportunity to parental engagement and black mentorship. We will also officially launch our two-year outreach and engagement campaign with a special initiative to raise $100,000 and add 100 new mentors for Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Mentoring Brothers in Action. The program’s mentees are more likely to improve in school and see a positive change in their behavior and self-esteem. As you will see in our film, mentorship in any form is critical for a boy’s successful path to manhood. At our “First Look” screening event at the Ford Foundation last month, Rashid Shabazz, program officer with the Open Society Foundations Campaign for Black Male Achievement stated, “Mentoring is a safety valve we have to put into place. Providing mentorship has helped young men reverse these waters and we must recruit more mentors.” As we travel the film festival circuit through 2013, garnering attention for black male achievement, we will recruit men of color from our audiences to serve as mentors, and expand Mentoring Brothers’ capacity to serve more African American boys.
Help us ensure that all children have the opportunity to fulfill the American Promise. To support this effort, please text “Big1” to 80100 to donate $10 to Mentoring Brothers in Action and make a difference in a young boy’s life.
All donations will help Big Brothers Big Sisters agencies create and support mentoring relationships between caring adult mentors and children facing adversity.