In February 2014, POV caught up with Michèle Stephenson, producer and director of American Promise to find out what’s happened since the camera stopped rolling.
POV: Where are Seun and Idris today?
Michèle Stephenson: Seun is a college sophomore at York College in Queens, NY and is majoring in graphic design. Idris is a sophomore at Occidental College, and is declaring his major this semester in cognitive science.
POV: How have Seun and Idris reacted to the film and screenings?
Stephenson: They were both pleasantly surprised. Idris expressed his astonishment at his parent’s filmmaking skills and at how good the film turned out. As for Seun, he is proud of the story. They have both traveled with the film and conducted workshops with youth across the country.
POV: How have audiences reacted to the film?
Stephenson: We have received overwhelmingly positive responses, especially from parents of color who see themselves and their experiences validated in our story. Talking with our audiences has been the most rewarding part of this filmmaking process for us. Parents, and teachers will come up to us wanting to take action, asking us what the next step is, which means our film is working. Audiences really resonate with the film, through their tears and laughter, but they come out motivated.
POV: What was the reaction at The Dalton School and other educational institutions?
Stephenson: Although the road was bumpy, Dalton has been very supportive of the film over the last year, and has hosted three screenings of their own. They are continuing the discussion of inclusion and equity this semester with full day workshops and screenings of the film with their high school students. We find it important to note that The Dalton School is really a microcosm of the larger society we live in. The questions they grapple with are represented throughout all our educational institutions across the country. We embrace their openness and willingness to go to address and work on the difficult issues. Positive change will come from that.
POV: What is the status of your outreach and engagement campaign?
Stephenson: With our POV broadcast premiere and the designation of this week as Black Male Achievement Week, we find ourselves smack in the middle of our community engagement work. We are witnessing the momentum that is building.
Our companion book, Promises Kept, was also just recently released. It picks up where our film left off, and provides practical guidelines and tips for parents, caregivers and educators involved in our black boys’ lives. We are now doing book signings at most of our community screenings. For Black Male Achievement Week, our engagement partners have planned a number of activities and events. Please visit our film’s official website, americanpromise.org, to find out more about our campaign and how you can get more involved in this movement. The train has left the station and it is time to hop on.
Our campaign work presents a unique opportunity for us to build on the momentum and dialogue that our film speaks to. In partnership with the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement, The Kellogg Foundation and the Fledgling Fund, and organizations and community groups across the country, we have developed a powerful set of tools and resources for black boys, their families, and educators. We invite our viewers to take the time to explore our site and social media conversations, @PromiseFilm and facebook.com/americanpromise.
POV: What are you working on next?
Stephenson: I think this film and campaign are going to keep us pretty busy for the next year or so. We have a few things up our sleeves, but nothing fully developed just yet. We’ll make sure to let the community know once our ideas and plans are fully formed.