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I remember sixth grade more than any other year in my schooling. It was the year of role reversal for my brother and me. Throughout our elementary years in school, we had two distinct roles. My brother was labeled by the school as the problem child and bully. I was a chubby, smart, honor roll student who rarely if ever got into trouble at school. Our parents treated us much differently than the school because they knew we were the same kid. My brother was just as smart, and I would say smarter than me. I was just as mischievous, and he would say, more of a troublemaker as he was.

What caused the role reversal during our tween years: Little League football came to town. My brother was a beast, an athletic marvel for kids our age. He was probably the best kid in our county and the youth league. He played defensive tackle and running back/quarterback. White people in our town, who had never spoken to my parents, would come to our house to pick him up and shower him and my parents with accolades. I was on the same team and most people didn’t know I existed. Because of his success on the field, my brother got more positive attention at school and became an honor roll student. Meanwhile, the teachers treated me as if I were trash. I was constantly getting in trouble. I was physically assaulted by a teacher for speaking on an injustice and my grades went from honor roll to D’s and F’s. My confidence was completely destroyed, and my environment was telling me that my mind and academic ability didn’t matter because my body wasn’t to be used for their gain.

I was headed down the wrong road like so many black boys in middle school as they struggle with who they are and what society tells them they ought to be. My saving grace was Calvin Sorrell, my band teacher. He was the only black male teacher I had during my K12 educational schooling. He nurtured my musical ability and used it to build my academic confidence. He also taught me how to navigate being young, black, and gifted in a predominantly white school system and society. He was my band teacher every year until I graduated from high school.

I realized the story of my middle school years is no different than millions of other black boys in America, except mine has a happy ending because I had encouragement and love of a black male teacher. I have received plenty of accolades in my life and I wonder if any of them would have been possible without Mr. Sorrell to help me discover who I was and what I could be in life. Then I think of all the black boys who don’t have a Mr. Sorrell in their life. What becomes of them?

The movie Black Boys Film, explores that question and several other questions I have experienced in my life in a truthful, entertaining, and powerful documentary. What happens to young black boys when they can’t be valued for their BODY? What happens to the MINDS of young black boys who don’t have male teachers of color in an education system built to tear them down? What happens to young black boys’ VOICES when we don’t listen to their cries for help? We know what usually happens. They end up in the legal system (1 in 3 black males), end up in graves, or end up struggling to make it in a world that hates them.

A survey of several thousand black boys discussed in the film, said that 80% of adults in school do not engage or speak to them on a daily basis. When they do interact with them, it’s usually something negative, such as correcting behavior or chastising them for something going on. If a child gets this message every day, how can that child come to any conclusion other than these people hate me which then manifests into self-hate and negative behavior. Activist and Woke Kindergarten Founder Akiea Gross illustrates it best in the film when she described the feelings of young black boys. She said, “You exist in a world where nobody sees you, but everybody sees you, and when they see you; your silhouette doesn’t look like you, it’s a monster.”

The film, through its powerful and personal testimonies should leave you angry, motivated, and guilty about the way we treat black boys in America. It is a call to action to do more to empower black boys. In the film, an artist and community activist says “I often thought that if people knew it was a revolving door (subpar education, poverty, crime, prison, unemployment), that If they could hear our story they could change it, but then you realize the world is not listening but they are deliberately not listening.” The film challenges you to intentionally listen when our black boys speak, to engage them in positive interactions, and to do this without a savior complex, but with a major commitment to uplifting our black boys.

Black Boys film closes with 3 black teen boys discussing how they see themselves as wise beyond their years and describing their spirit animals. They also discussed the last time they cried at a movie all while being silly, goofy, awkward teenagers. It was truly a seen of #blackboyjoy. It’s powerful and was intentionally put there to ask the viewer, when was the last time you viewed a group of young black teens as silly, goofy, and awkward and not a threat? Answer that question then heed the challenge to do better. It’s time to believe in our boys. It’s time to raise the spirits of our boys. It’s time to love our black boys.

Written by

Sr Advisor Richmond Public Schools, 2019 National Teacher of the Year

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