If everyone in high government office saw The Boys of Baraka
, who knows what kind of positive change it might inspire? From this remarkable documentary about hope and second chances, the message is clear: The poorest, most violent, undesirable neighborhoods in America are a breeding ground for hopelessness and despair, and there's a solution if only we'd give it a good fighting chance. The scene is Baltimore, Maryland, in 2002, where 76% of all African American boys living in the inner-city ghetto will never earn a high school diploma. As one adult tells the kids at a Baltimore school, they have three choices: jail, an early death, or graduating high school--and you know she's telling the cold, hard truth. That's when we learn of the Baraka School in Kenya, East Africa, where 20 African American boys (ages 12 and 13) are chosen each year to enter a transformative two-year course of schooling, away from their families in Baltimore. The purpose of the school, in part, is to demonstrate that the toxic environment of Baltimore, and its negative impact on the self-esteem of ghetto residents, can be reversed by removing these boys to Baraka, where a strict regimen of classes and responsibilities has an immediate, if not always permanent, beneficial effect.
We follow several boys on this fascinating journey toward growth and renewal. Devon is an aspiring preacher with musical talent; Montrey is a troublemaker with a bad attitude, who dreams of a career in science; brother Richard and Romesh are both accepted into Baraka, and despite setbacks both flourish in the program. Codirectors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady capture their gradual awakening to a new way of living and a new outlook on life, and then comes bad news: Due to security concerns and regional politics, the Baraka program is suspended, and the boys must return to the bleakness of Baltimore. Have they changed for good? Will they find a way to earn their diplomas and have hope for their futures? The Boys of Baraka offers no easy answers, but in showing us a glimmer of hope against all odds, the film gains depth and power with a conditional happy ending. Uncertainty remains, but so does a palpable sense of achievement and self-improvement that could, on a grander scale of government and societal support, lead to a positive revolution in our school system, which currently offers a depressing shortage of options for our most underprivileged citizens. Without forcing its uplifting message, this exceptional documentary offers proof of a better way, if only enough people would step up and support it. --Jeff Shannon
Don't miss the true coming-of-age story that follows a group of extraordinary 12-year-old boys from the most violent ghettos of Baltimore to an experimental boarding school 10,000 miles away in rural Kenya. An emotionally explosive journey shot over three years, the film zeroes in on a group of brave kids who are willing to cross the ocean to chase an opportunity - boys with a fierce determination to fight the label of "throw-away."