This morning, high school students from the Lower East Side’s East Side Community High School, the south Bronx’s Bronx International H.S, and Newark New Jersey’s North Star Academy joined us for an educational screening of Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro. The Academy Award-nominated film, currently up for Best Documentary Feature, was introduced by Patrick Harrison, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences New York program director.
Following the screening, students participated in an extended conversation about the words of James Baldwin and his work’s relevance today. There was no shortage of comments about what they had just seen, and this no-holds-barred discussion covered a range of topics including racism, police brutality, how African American idols come to be recognized, and what actions the students themselves can take to improve the world around them. “We need more African American lawyers and doctors,” one student commented, “we need to empower and uplift each other.” Another added, “if you want to help this country advance, there isn’t just black and white. We have to work together.”
Many of the attendees were not familiar with Baldwin’s writing before seeing the film. When asked about his writing, one student responded about the importance of education and providing thoughtful analyses to problems they face: “Baldwin used his education to educate others.”