‘American Promise’ addresses racial issues in education

Imagine a child asking if he would be better off as another race, and being unable to respond because the answer is yes.

After the Homecoming opening ceremonies Thursday night, students headed to the Cosford Cinema for a screening of the documentary “American Promise,” and joined in on a discussion with Michele Stephenson, one of the filmmakers.

The film challenges America’s education system and its productivity for different races. For 13 years it followed the lives of Idris Brewster and Seun Summers, two African American boys from middle class families in New York. They started off together as young children at Dalton School, one of the most prestigious Private Schools in the country, but by high school they were forced to go their separate ways.

In the film, Stacey Summers, Seun’s mom, said she wanted her son to get a head start in being around white people because she is not comfortable around them, despite having to interact with them every day.

“I want Seun to be comfortable around White folks because I think even at this point I am not comfortable around White folks,” she said.

At one point in the film, Seun’s parents said they found Seun brushing his gums until they bled. He said he was “trying to brush the black from his gums.”

Stephenson said the film was originally following girls and boys who were enrolled in the private school as an experiment to see how a child’s race affected his or her ability to achieve. Soon they realized that for black boys, their ability to thrive in that kind of education system was challenged much more than other students of other races.

“We kept shooting because we were also hearing the same story from other parents,” Stephenson said.

Osamudia James, one of the co-organizers of the event, said the film needed to be aired at UM to open up dialogue on the issues of race and its prevalence in today’s society.

“It was gratifying to watch with so many other members of the UM community, knowing that it would prompt important dialogues across campus and beyond,” she said.

Students were put on an emotional roller coaster as they laughed, cried and stared open-mouthed as the shocking roles race played in education were revealed. Audience members voiced their frustrations during the screening saying, “Oh my gosh,” and “Are you serious?” as the film unfolded hidden truths.

More than 60 people attended the event, including sophomore Dominique Hardy. She said she related to the film as an African American woman and attended the event to find a new perspective on the issues with America’s school system.

“I think the documentary opened my eyes to the divide still present in schools,” Hardy said. “It also provides a platform for discussion that could eventually transform the classroom environment”

A discussion was held the day after the screening with Stephenson to provide students with a way to speak about the impact the film may have had on them.