Twelve years ago, as a husband and wife filmmaking team, we took the great risk of turning the camera on ourselves and on our son, Idris, and his best friend, Seun, who were beginning kindergarten at the prestigious Dalton School in New York City. We had great expectations for the boys and were eager to document their journey through school. We were confident that this incredible opportunity would set them on a course for academic success and we wanted to capture it all on film. However, our high expectations fell short as the boys struggled with stereotype and identity, and as parents we and Seun’s parents wrestled with doubts and angst over our sons’ futures. This personal experience pushed us to expose the impact of the unique social and emotional needs of black boys on their academic performance.
American Promise is the product of our 13-year film shoot. Through our own personal struggles and the children’s triumphs and setbacks, the documentary reveals complicated truths about parenting, puts a face on the unique issues with which African-American boys must deal and challenges commonly held assumptions about educational access in the 21st century. All American families want to give their children the opportunity to succeed. But the truth is, opportunity is just the first step—particularly for families raising black boys.
Our aim for American Promise is to galvanize a national conversation about what it takes for parents, educators and the community to help further the academic success and bolster the socio-emotional health of our African-American boys and to promote individual behavior change. We hope that you will join us on this journey toward making sure all children have the opportunity to fulfill the American Promise.
— Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, Filmmakers, American Promise