‘American Promise’ doc focuses on the education of black boys

It wasn’t easy – but Idris Brewster and Seun Summers made it through. The two teenagers made it through a difficult, challenge-filled journey to graduate high school.

And they made it through with cameras documenting their every move.

The two friends were the main characters in the documentary American Promise, which explores their lives in Brooklyn from kindergarten to high school graduation day.

Idris’ parents, Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, are the film’s producers and directors. Both Idris and Seun, who are African-American, are admitted into the Dalton School, a prestigious private school on New York’s Upper East Side.

Both of the boy’s parents decide it’s an opportunity they cannot pass up –  but also acknowledge there will be difficulties their sons face on issues of race and class.

How would Idris and Seun handle fitting into the culture of a mostly white prep school?

The answer is complex – which the film shows in situations varying from tragic to mundane. The documentary raises more questions than it provides answers:

  • Why do girls say no to Idris when he asks them to dance in middle school? (His black male classmates are convinced they would all “get girls” if they were  white.)
  • Why does the school perceive Seun as unprepared? (His mom swears he is organized and motivated at home.)
  • What are Seun and Idris ‘missing out on’ by attending Dalton?

Seun – who struggled to connect with other kids socially and had his fair share of academic troubles at Dalton – leaves the school after eighth grade and go to a predominantly black high school in Brooklyn.

Idris stays and attends high school at Dalton but is not without struggle – he is later diagnosed with ADHD during his sophomore year after years of trouble focusing. He also struggles to keep up with the academic rigors of Dalton, but ultimately stays and finds the experience rewarding.

The film first opens in theaters on October 18th.

This week, theGrio.com will take an additional look on the questions the film raises for black boys in education.

Follow theGrio.com’s Todd Johnson on Twitter @rantoddj