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Standing room only at film on Black male students

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

by Patrick Gailey

Beyond the Bricks Project, a national effort to support Black male academic achievement, made its seventh stop of a 10-city tour at the Community College of Philadelphia on Saturday. Seating for 350 turned into standing room only in the Great Hall of the Winnet Student Life Building.

The focal point of the event was a screening of the documentary Beyond the Bricks, billed as “promoting solutions for one of America’s critical problems in education: the consistently low performance of African-American males in the public school system.”

The movie follows the stories of two students, Saquiel Ingram and Erick Graham, as they try to remain on track in the Newark, NJ public school system. Both were in attendance.

A panel discussion and town hall meeting moderated by Marc Lamont Hill followed, after which there were three workshops. For students, a peer-to-peer mentoring workshop aimed at generating goals and action plans for those goals. For parents and educators, a workshop centered on best practices. Policymakers and community leaders focused on fostering collaboration in supporting successful education of African American males.

Five hours into the event, a still-enthusiastic group of parents, students, educators, and policymakers reconvened, reporting back action plans and expressing eagerness to continue conversation.

The report back from the parents and educators workshop proposed a parent-student advisory board to give feedback to the School District on what is and isn’t working. The policymakers and community leaders group presented a list of “what works,” including mentoring, teachers who can connect with their students, and outside supports such as tutoring programs.

Students reported feeling encouraged by the discussion in their workshop.

Producer Ouida Washington explained how the project’s website offers space to continue conversations started at the event. She also pointed to two future events as outlets to continue pursuing solutions to this issue: Beyond the Bricks BMDS Philadelphia, a symposium to be held January 7 and the 6th Annual Black Male Development Symposium, scheduled in May at Arcadia University.

Director Derek Koen said he was excited that the project seems to be “gaining momentum,” having its strongest turnout thus far in Philadelphia.

Valarie and David Wright, a mother and son who participated in the workshops, agreed it was a productive day. Valarie heard about the event through the parent group at her son’s school. She brought him because she tries to “stress education in her household.” She said the event had provided “more than I even expected.”

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