Yesterday was just another ordinary day except for the fact that I was able to hang out at The Department of Education. To be honest, I almost didn't go because I felt as if two hours to watch a movie wasn't a good reason to leave work. I almost didn't go because I didn't want to travel from the busy area of Northwest near New York Ave to the equally bustling area of Southwest that holds several different federal agencies. I almost didn't go because honestly, I was comfortable spending another day in my office and leaving when the clock struck 5pm.
Needless to say, I went and I thank God that I did. I found myself in an auditorium that had countless people who had at least one common thread-a belief in the power of education. We had all gathered from different organizations but were all still eager to view the documentary, Southeast 67, that told the story of 67 kids from Southeast pursuing an education in the midst of DC's drug epidemic. The story of kids who would have their college career funded due to a generous donation but it was one requirement-they had to complete high school.
I won't outline the documentary because I think you need to watch it on your own. I will however point out how the stories of kids from our Nation's Capital in 1989 managed to leave me not only reflecting on my own life but inspired to do more for myself and others as well.
Though the documentary doesn't allow us to see all 67 kids, we see that several of these kids were faced with unthinkable obstacles. Including a mother who drank until she beat her child's head in, one who managed to hide her addiction to crack as she attended PTA meetings, a young man who left boarding school after racism reared its ugly head in the Midwest, dealing with murders that had become normalized during DC's drug epidemic, and so many things that I can honestly say I cannot begin to relate to. What I did relate to was what I found to be the common theme of the film: empathy and perseverance.
I sat in this auditorium with mixed emotions (I switched between tears, smiles, and light laughs) as I checked my own privilege almost at times feeling guilty for what had been afforded to me. I didn't come from a perfect home but it wasn't horrible. I didn't go to the top school in the district but I felt safe within its walls. I hadn't been introduced to death at an early age until I was 16 and managed to lose a friend in a car accident weeks after receiving his license and then my successful cousin found his own demise in the comfort of drugs. I had been sheltered from anything that resembled Southeast, DC and all the issues that they faced as the world continued to move without them.
Somehow these kids who were often times counted out managed to count themselves in with the support of those who believed in them. How many times have we had an opportunity but let it go to waste because we didn't believe we were enough? How many times have we wished our own life away because it didn't look as good as the next person's? How many times have we accepted the lemon seeds tossed at our feet because that's all we believed we were worth? Every one of the students highlighted in Southeast 67 who are now adults had something in them that I work daily to attain: a will to press forward.
Although our personal lives could have not been more different, I was inspired by these people being able to turn their life into a personal success story. Although only 6 of the original 67 had received a degree by the time filming ended in 2014, they all had been changed by this experience. I think we have to remember that in one way or another, life has had its way with us all but it's up to US how we use this.
I'm almost 100 percent sure that back in 1989, these 12 and 13 year old kids from Southeast didn't expect their journey to be shown in The Department of Education. Let alone in an auditorium that had a picture of a black president right outside its door. I'm sure they had no clue that they'd win the hearts of people that they would never meet but they won mine. I felt like I was watching the relay of a brother, sister, uncle, aunt, mother, or my own father and I cheered them on until the very end. I cheered them on as they tripped over hurdles, as they failed to grasp the baton handed off by another, but most importantly when they finished their race. The message in all of this, even if you don't ever watch Southeast 67, is that you have to be willing to finish the race.