Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Boys of Baraka

I recently held an educational event on campus with some of the other service coordinators; a showing of the movie Boys of Baraka. Before the event, I watched the movie myself so that I’d be better prepared to show it to whoever came to our event. Though I sat down expecting a decent film, I did not expect to feel as moved or as inspired as I did. The documentary revolves around a special program for young aged, black boys in Baltimore. Twenty boys are chosen for the opportunity to spend their middle school years at an intensive school in Kenya, Baraka school. Unfortunately for the group of boys being filmed, they are unable to return for their second year after the summer break because of the escalating political situation there. Despite that, the filmmakers still manage to follow the boys into the beginning of their high school careers.

One of the first scenes of the film is a woman speaking to the boys about why they should apply for the school. She explains that the boys have three outfits they could be wearing on their eighteenth birthday: an orange jumpsuit (jail), a nice suit (dead), a cap and gown (graduated). According to her statistics though, they have almost no chance of getting the cap and gown. “61 percent of Baltimore's African-American boys fail to graduate from high school; 50 percent of them go on to jail.” ( The boys that got accepted into the program were extremely enthusiastic about it in the beginning. Even when they came home for the summer they didn’t associate much with the other boys in the neighborhood, because they didn’t want to get pulled into any of the numerous bad scenes. When they heard the school was closed, it was heartbreaking to see the boys’ reactions. For them, it was yet another time in their lives that the people they relied on had failed them. It was yet another time that they were abandoned. Unfortunately, the Baraka program did not establish anything for the boys in Baltimore. Though, for example, one scored the highest on his math exam than anyone in Maryland and was therefore accepted into a competitive high school, another was sucked into one of the huge public schools and most likely wouldn’t graduate.

After watching the film that Sunday afternoon, I could not wait to share these boys’ stories with as many people as I could. Even though I am involved in service at Loyola, and meet people in similar situations to the boys the movie is unique in my life in that the audience gets to see them grow up. The audience hears their voices change and sees the attitudes improve and dissolve. I knew my volunteers would adore the film, simply based on previous conversations we’d had. Even though they work directly with adults in Baltimore they have a good grasp on the entire picture. That is to say, they understand that the adults they tutor are there, most likely, because they were once in the Baltimore city public schools.

Though not everyone who came for the film showing stayed for the discussion afterwards, I eventually decided I was content with the sequence of events. We had advertised heavily that there would be free food, which was a major draw for much of the audience. At first I was frustrated that they didn’t stay, and didn’t do their best to get the most out of the event. After thinking about it though, I decided that I’m glad they came and at least saw the movie. Many of the people there seemed not to travel in circles that would talk about the issues addressed in the film. Whether or not they stayed for the discussion the movie still forced them to reconsider their opinions about society, Baltimore specifically, and their role in it.

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