ActivateenCC is a series of community chats that seeks to bridge the intergenerational gap and promote greater understanding. We speak with parents, influencers, subject matter experts and connect the dots through the lens of generation Z. Our subjects range from well-being, work and everything in between.
In this episode of our community chats, we discuss Black Boys (dir. Sonia Lowman), a heart wrenching film that illuminates the full humanity of Black boys and men in America.
Chad: This is the first film that I have ever produced. I used to be a physical therapist in the U.S. Air Force, and after that I became a teacher and a coach at a school in Tampa, Florida, and that opened my mind, ears, and eyes to the field of education. Got my master’s degree, one thing led to another and I was running an educational organization in Little Rock, Arkansas when Sonia [Lowman] came through. We connected and I gave her some insight about the work that we were doing, and a lot of the work that I was interested in was black men achievement. Sonia called me after her film on segregation, Teach Us All, was acquired by Ava DuVernay, so we started the conceptualization of Black Boys. We began this journey in 2017 and we got to meet great people along the way, including Jordan.
Jordan: Last year I graduated from the University of Arkansas where I studied Political Science and African/African American studies. I began interning with the XQ Institute this past summer, contributing in their projects and campaigns on high school redesign, and I have continued my work with them since September as a post-baccalaureate resident. XQ is a non-profit located outside Oakland, California, and we work with communities all over the country to address equity by starting with high school redesign. We believe high schools can be a leverage for change in our entire community, and we believe young people everywhere deserve vibrant high schools where students can grow to the fullest as civic participants, critical thinkers, proactive problem solvers, and learners for life. At XQ, I work with content and tools, as well as I continue to take space as black man and to make space to honor the lived experiences of black boys, who will become black men and join me later in their lives.
Equity demands action, not just aspiration. We take action by partnering up with students, educators, families, leaders, community members, and school districts across the country who are ready to deliver the tremendous promise that transforming our schools holds. — Jordan Farris
Shaku: Chad, back in 2017, did you have any idea of how relevant this film would become in 2020?
Chad: We didn’t know it was going to have this impact, but we have always known that it was something relevant. If you made this documentary 50 years ago, it would be just as relevant. That’s the thing about this topic, that it shouldn’t be this relevant. But we haven’t reconciled with the past and I can only talk about it so deeply. Jordan wrote an amazing review of the film through XQ Institute.
A Black Man Reflects on Sonia Lowman's film Black Boys
As a Black man, my success seems remarkable-and to a certain degree, it is. Last spring, I graduated magna cum laude…
Jordan: I grew up in one of the most impoverished towns in Arkansas, and I couldn’t see myself out of that community. But I worked hard and I got a full academic ride to the University of Arkansas. My mentor helped me see the social structures that stopped my advancement and see how I saw myself through this lens painted by whiteness. She taught me to love my blackness and to be content with where I was in life and to know that I was enough despite what the world was telling me. We don’t need someone to save just, we just need someone to believe in us so we can dream like we have always wanted to.
The actions of a savior are very different from the actions of a believer. If I believe in Jordan, I provide him with resources that I have and he doesn’t. I need to know that I’m taking the actions of a believer versus savior, because, as a white man, I might default to the savior complex because of the society that we have grown up in. — Chad Williamson
As black people in this country, we are made to feel as if we deserve to be at the bottom of every political, social, and economic ladder. This is also disseminated in our textbooks, so we can never see ourselves outside of that, but I have been able to control my mind, body, voice and heart, and I’m proud that I can actually see myself outside of it.
Through perseverance and tenacity, as well as mentorship, I pulled myself up to face the barriers head on and succeeded in structures unwilling to allow my passage. — Jordan Farris, from a review of Black Boys written for XQ Institute.
Shaku: “We must teach our kids to dream with their eyes open” was the most poignant quote that I heard in the film. What do you take from that, Jordan?
Jordan: Growing up in a town with mainly segregated school districts, I felt like I didn’t deserve to have certain things merely because of the color of my skin. And it wasn’t until college that I learned about all these amazing black authors and said, “Hey, this isn’t about you. This is about a country that doesn’t think you matter, but you have to tell yourself that you do.” You have to believe in yourself for others to believe in you. We must shift the responsibility from the oppressed to the oppressors.
Chad: From the white perspective, especially within education, if you’re not careful and conscious, you can come at people like Jordan with a deficit-based perspective versus an asset-based one. What are your ambitions? What are your aspirations? What are your dreams? How do I default to the positive in you just as I would with anybody else? We need to think about what it means to ask Jordan about his aspirations, ambitions and dreams and allow him to pursue that, cultivate that and offer him the resources towards that.
Shaku: Thank you so much for taking time today to have this conversation, and please continue to do this important work with XQ Institute and Never Whisper Justice. We definitely want to keep having these conversations and see how Activateen can partner and collaborate with you.
XQ Institute is developing a new website, Rethink Together, featuring articles, videos, discussion groups and learning experiences on all topics. Text XQ to 724665 for more information!
Written by Santiago Castellanos for Activateen.
Activateen develops programs and content for teens and college students on career, tech and life skills. Visit our website and our social channels to access our programs and podcasts.
#blackboysfilm #documentary #XQInstitute #blm #equityineducation #equity