ORLANDO, Fla – Raising black boys to be successful in a society dominated by forces that are bent on breaking them instead of nurturing them can be tough.
And not just for those black boys born to poor single mothers.
Filmmakers Michele Stephenson and her husband, Joe Brewster – two successful, Ivy League-educated parents – documented their own struggle in ensuring the academic success of their son, Idris, through Manhattan’s prestigious Dalton School in their documentary film, “American Promise.”
The film, which will be shown on PBS in its entirety in the fall, was produced as part of its POV, or Point Of View, division which specializes in showcasing small, independent, non-fiction films about the American experience.
In “American Promise,” which was previewed recently at the National Association of Black Journalists’ Convention in Orlando, Stephenson and Brewster follow their son, Idris, and another black male student, Seun, from their sixth grade year in Dalton through their high school graduation. Idris graduated from Dalton but Seun withdrew from the school and enrolled at the mostly-black, Benjamin Banneker High School in Brooklyn.
Both are in college now.
The film is both heartbreaking and enlightening at the same time. There’s the part when Idris winds up being suspended from school over a minor scrape with another boy that began with name-calling, followed by other disciplinary actions over other issues rooted more in growing pains than in pathology.
“I don’t understand,” Brewster said. “He’s not a problem at home, he’s not a problem in the community…he’s only a problem at Dalton.”
Then there’s the scene where Stephenson and Brewster refuse to put Idris on hyperactivity medication, and when Seun declares: “I hate school. It’s bad. It’s hard.
“I’m in the sixth grade.”
And there’s the part where Idris asks his father if things would go better for him at Dalton if he were white.
His father doesn’t have an answer for him on that one – and the fact that he doesn’t says a lot.
But as it turns out, Idris’ parents and Seun’s mother did provide a solution that repaired their sons’ esteem and ultimately guided them through school and to college.