The Boys of Baraka is a wonderful and profoundly moving film. We are drawn in by the compelling stories of each of these boys as the film traces their challenges at home: drugs, violence, poverty, failing schools, and incarcerated parents. More importantly, it captures the strengths in each of these boys: their determination, courage, and their will to go on. The love, compassion, and spirituality in their extended families is also clearly shown as they make the sacrifice and send their sons to the Baraka School, with the hope of a brighter future for each of them.
Richard Keyser, Jr. reads aloud from “I Will Survive,” a poem he composed at the Baraka School.
This film resonated with my own experience in working with African-American families. Overwhelmingly, they have told me of their fears for their children, particularly their sons. In our book, Boys Into Men: Raising Our African-American Teenage Sons, my husband and I describe the “minefield” that many Black families, such as those in the film, face in raising their sons to manhood. We advocate for efforts to “take our sons back from the streets.” The Baraka School is a program that represents that effort at its best. It counters the “self-fulfilling prophecy” of failure that so many of them encounter in urban school systems and the staggering statistics that one in three Black men in their 20s is either incarcerated, on drugs or under the control of the criminal justice system. It taps the resiliency and the desire to “be somebody” that so many of the boys in the film express.
Their year at the Baraka School is a life-changing one for all of the boys. They learn conflict resolution, alternatives to violence, the ability to believe in themselves, the value of cooperative teamwork, academic skills and the will to make a difference in their world. We see their transformation from scared, homesick boys to strong, Black young men.
This film offers a powerful message of hope to African-American boys, their families and all who are concerned about their future. That future is characterized by an eloquent poem read by one of the boys, entitled “I Will Survive.” This is a deeply inspirational documentary that will touch the hearts of all who view it.
Nancy Boyd-Franklin, Ph.D., is the co-author of Boys Into Men: Raising Our African-American Teenage Sons and author of Black Families in Therapy: Understanding the African-American Experience.