Years in the making, Parents Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson show that the missing piece in education reform is parental engagement.
It took 12 years for a pair of middle-class African-American parents to document the journey of their son and his best friend as they navigate one of the nation’s most prestigious schools from kindergarten to graduation, but the final product was worth the wait.
Storytellers Joe Brewster and Michele Stephenson, both first generation college graduates, have been traveling the country speaking about the labor of love that won the U.S. Documentary Special Jury Award in 2013 at the Sundance Film Festival.
Now showing in theaters nationwide – premiering tomorrow in Philadelphia at the Ritz Theater in Old City – American Promise is a gripping and emotional tale about race, class and the exclusive struggles that black boys in America must endure when attempting to achieve academically. Very intimately chronicling the lives of Idris Brewster and Seun Summers while attending Manhattan’s Dalton School, the filmmakers, passionate about storytelling, say the film speaks to a common cause, and helps others dealing with the same issue realize they’re not alone.
“Storytelling fulfills my desire to express myself, in my own language, so that others can connect with my experiences. In addition to satisfying a part of my brain, storytelling has allowed me to deepen communication with my son – we invested in the process and created moments of change,” shares Stephenson, Idris’ mother.
“Storytelling is our tradition as African-Americans, it’s those narratives that help define where and who we are as people,” explains Brewster, who will be in Philadelphia tomorrow for a Q&A session after the film’s showing.
Brewster and Stephenson tell me that while working on the project, their perception of themselves and parenting changed dramatically.
“We both have come to understand that parenting, like filmmaking, is not a point in time, but a culminating effect,” explains Brewster, who admittedly is enamored with film, divulging that when he was 12-years-old he wrote Walt Disney and begged him to do a story with a black lead.
Never getting a response from Walt Disney, it’s clear that making this film, for Brewster at least, is his way of making the black man the star.
“Part of our son’s struggle was based on the implicit bias that society has towards men and boys of color. If you look at unconscious stereotypes of black men, they’re based on a 300 year history that’s painted us less than human and touted our inability to achieve,” he says.
Idris Brewster now attends Occidental, President Barack Obama’s alma-mater, and because of the film, Brewster says Idris’ perception of himself has also changed, “he’s aware that he’s a good student.”
“Idris is standing on his own and is unafraid to go forth and chase his dreams. I’m excited about his journey, I don’t want him to live my life, I want him to make his own way,” says Brewster.
For black boys afraid to succeed, Joe Brewster offers his son and his best friend Seun Summers as a role model.
“Look at these two boys as an example. They had different obstacles and ultimately were fairly successful. Not only are their multiple paths to academic success, academia is not the only route to a successfully life. The future of Black Male Achievement is black men believing and black men leading.”
Coinciding with the documentary is the publishing of PROMISES KEPT: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life–Lessons Learned from the 12-Year American Promise Project. TO DOWNLOAD THE E-BOOK CLICK HERE!
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Source: TBO Inc®
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Photo:Alfredo Alcantara/ ©2013. Sean Summers in a scene from American Promise. WATCH THE TRAILER!