Documentary 'American Promise' Follows K-12 School Experience of Two Black Boys

'American Promise' shows how the reality of how racial dynamics play out today in education relates to the impact of perceptions about black boys.

In 1999, when we turned our camera on our son Idris, and his best friend Seun, they were beginning kindergarten at the prestigious Dalton School in New York City. We had great expectations for the boys and were eager to document their journey through school. We were confident that this incredible opportunity would set them on a course for academic success and we wanted to capture it all on film. But as we navigated the education system and wrestled with the same questions most new parents face, we knew that we had a different story to tell.

This experience pushed us to expose the impact of the unique social and emotional needs of black boys on their academic performance. As black boys, our sons' futures were riddled with extra hurdles: they would be twice as likely as their white counterparts to be held back in school, three times as likely to be suspended, and half as likely to graduate college.

American Promise is our family's personal story of raising black sons—but the trials we document are things that every family faces, particularly those with boys of color. We hope to use our journey as a magnifying glass to explore how each of us—as parents, teachers, and members of a larger community—can play a role in shaping the identities of our nation’s black boys.

The film examines some of the factors that allow the opportunity gap to occur. The complicated reality of how racial dynamics play out today in education relates to the impact of perceptions and how our kids, particularly boys, have to deal with implicit bias and stereotypes on a daily basis. Acceptance and feelings of belonging are about how our children are perceived when they walk in the classroom and what expectations their educators and peers have for them. It's also about the impact those perceptions and expectations have on our children's feelings about themselves and how they perform. This is what experts have termed the "racial academic achievement gap"—a performance gap that is often fueled by stereotyping and implicit bias. Black and Latino boys feel the effects of the gap most keenly.

Fourteen years after we began filming, American Promise is a documentary as well as a national campaign working to advance the success of black boys. We hope the film will help galvanize a national conversation on what it takes for parents, educators, and the community to help further the academic success and socio-emotional health of black boys.

We've built tools for parents and caregivers who want to help our black boys, and ensure that all young people are equipped with the same opportunities for excellence. You can visit to learn more about our resources for parents and caregivers—including our upcoming book, Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life—and the Promise Club, a parent support group initiative to create local parent communities that are safe places to discuss and strategize how to support our sons. There is also an educator's professional development curriculum designed to help educators discuss and examine different pedagogical approaches when engaging with black male students.

American Promise opened in New York City on October 18th and opens in cities across the country (click here for theaters and dates) on Friday, October 25th. In the meantime, watch the trailer above, share it with your friends and family, and join the conversation, on Facebook, Twitter, and in the theater! And, let's all work together to use that conversation to spark real changes for black boys in this country.

Pledge to catalyze real change for black boys and close the opportunity gap. Click here to say you'll do it.

via Gage Skidmore / Flickr

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