Thursday, May 17, 2007

Worth Watching: The Boys of Baraka

{Visual description: One of the four boys featured in the film is shown sitting in a playground near his inner city home.}

Speaking of community and inclusion (which I talk about a lot on here in relation to people with disabilities), I rented this DVD from Netflix and watched it last night. (This film also airs on PBS - click above for show times and an update on the boys.)

This film features the journey of four inner city kids from Baltimore about to enter seventh grade who are sent to the Baraka school in Kenya to a two year program for intensive educational and therapeutic experience to help them deal with issues holding them back academically.

The filim begins in Baltimore, where each of the boys and their families are introduced. The boys are dealing with parents in jail, on drugs, poverty, poor school systems, racism, violence on the streets and other difficult challenges. They are accepted to the Baraka program and sent to a summer program to get them ready before they are flown to Kenya in September of their seventh grade year of studies.

Upon arrival in Kenya, the students learn that they will be living in a building which only has electricity part of the day. It is a stark contrast to the urban environment they have grown up. Suddenly surrounded by what one boy calls "beautiful" scenery and wild animals that roam freely around the school's environs, one child is shown playing with a hedgehog, fascinated. In this photo, the boys are introduced to an elephant by a local.

These physical changes are only part of the picture - the school has a one to five teacher:student ratio. The boys, used to being lost in large city classes, are suddenly under a microscope. Those with behavioral issues are sent to a time out room or to a mini-survival experience with a counselor. One boy, it is discovered, is reading at a second grade level and yet was never tested for academic problems.

One night the boys are taken to a local church where they participate in a celebration of song and community spirit. Upon their return, the boys tell a teacher how impressed they were by the love they saw between people in Kenya and how they cared about each other even in conditions of poverty worse than they experienced.

The boys are sent home for a three month summer break and their planned return the next September never occurs when the school has to be shut down due to political upheaval and safety concerns in the area. Each boy reacts differently to this news. One boy goes on to excel in eighth grade and gets into Baltmore's best academic high school. Another decides he wants to be a preacher and begins to preach at his church with the support of his family.

Two brothers who went do not fare as well. The older one displays anger, despair and feels betrayed by the discontinuation of the program. He gives up doing his schoolwork in his large city class and fights with his younger brother. Their home life appears to be in worse shape than before. A woman from the Baraka program meets with him and encourages him to go to an automotive program at a vocational high school but he shows no interest.

The film raises the issue of what responsibility communities hold for the people within them and what role neighboring communities can play. As one of the boys asks, why couldn't a school in the surrounding area continue the program to help these boys succeed with them having to go all the way to Kenya? Another boy interviewed in 2006 now points out the need for role models for kids today in inner cities.

Film Factoid: 76% of African American young men never graduate high school.

1 comment:

Philip. said...

This certainly looks interesting!