After watching a short film featuring famous black men telling their targeted young male viewers to strive for success at work, home and in school, the audience at The Sankofa Cultural Arts & Business Center discussed ways to help boys achieve that goal.
The Sankofa Center, 5820 W. Chicago, last Friday hosted a screening of Bring Your eAf Game. Directed by Mario Van Peebles (New Jack City; Posse), the 22-minute documentary is produced by Twenty First Century Foundation, a charitable organization founded in 1971 to help improve the black community. The foundation is providing a copy of the film and discussion materials to community groups around the country. Malcolm and Stacia Crawford, owners of the Sankofa Center, learned of the film and wanted to host a screening. More than 50 people, mostly men, attended.
The film features successful black men in sports, politics, entertainment, business and education talking about how they achieved success. Comedian Chris Rock, filmmaker Spike Lee and former NBA player Alan Houston are among the men highlighted, talking about how they managed to become successful despite their own adverse circumstances. The movie is both a motivational tool and a catalyst for dialogue to solving the issues black males face, according to the filmmakers. Education and a strong work ethic are two primary themes.
The target audience is young boys age 10 to 17, a group often negatively impacted by poverty and absentee fathers. Following Fridayfs screening, a discussion took place, first about what people thought of the film and then how the community can solve these problems.
One audience member, Bobby Moore, said hefs seen firsthand, having worked for 24 years in the Juvenile Corrections Department of the Illinois St. James Youth Center, how societal problems affect young black boys.
“African-Americans make up only 10 percent of the population, yet they account for 60 percent of the juveniles I see,” he said, arguing that mentoring and educational opportunities are ways to steer boys on the right track. “I do mentoring with some of these young men. My message to them is: donft give up. Despite having a prior arrest, you still have a chance to turn your life around, but you have to finish your education.
“I push for more access to GED and trade programs for youths while incarcerated,” Moore added. “If they leave the center and have not finished school and have no way to earn a living because of their criminal record, the likelihood of them returning to jail increases tremendously.”
Brandon Ely, a 23-year-old business major at the University of Wisconsin, said he enjoyed the film, noting that having positive influences at home helped him stay away from trouble.
“I am the fourth of 13 kids and my parents encouraged me to lead my younger siblings in a positive way. My parents also made sure to keep us involved with other things,” he said. “When we were not in school, we were doing group projects that kept us motivated.”
The film isnft a typical documentary. Peebles, who also appears in the film, uses special effect techniques more associated with Hollywood motion pictures. Using a similar technique like in such films as 300 and Sin City, participants sometimes talk directly to the camera while surrounded by a white animated background resembling a neighborhood, or a city, or schools. Visually, nothing in the film is static or stale. Effects aside, The Sankofa audience were more focused on the filmfs message.
“These problems will not be solved in one day and we know that the main folk that needs to be watching this film will not because they donft care about talking about these issues,” said Joseph Kyles, an Austin pastor who emceed the discussion. “But we need to begin taking steps to make sure we reach out to those youths that still have a chance to choose the right path and this is a start.”
Kendall Robinson, a senior at Charles Prosser Vocational High School, said the negative portrayal of black men in the media contributes to their disenfranchisement. He insisted that families take control of their images in the home and sway their kids away from the glorified image of the “hood as folk hero.”
“What you see is what you do,” Robinson said. “I was raised in the church and saw a lot of positive images of black people. However, some kids are being raised by the TV or the Internet. If they are not learning from the people in their home, they are absorbing the images from the media.”