America to Me is a ten-part docu-series by Academy-Award nominated director Steve James that follows a year in the life of students, teachers, and administrators at Oak Park and River Forest High School right outside of Chicago. The series was commissioned by Participant Media, a film production company dedicated to influencing social change, and addresses issues around race and privilege within a well-resourced, racially integrated public high school. Along with the release of America to Me on STARZ on August 26th, Participant Media launched a civic engagement and educational outreach campaign to spark national conversations and action on race and equity in America’s public schools. The campaign crisscrossed the country over the course of 10 weeks, anchored around screenings in ten cities to deepen the reach and impact: Washington, DC, Atlanta, the Bay Area, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, and New York City.
In DC, Education Forward DC sponsored the campaign in partnership with the DC Public Education Fund and the Greater Washington Community Foundation by hosting a series of watch parties to engage community leaders with the content, and a larger, citywide screening on Thursday, September 27th at Howard University’s Cramton Auditorium. The screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring former U.S. Secretary of Education and CEO of the Education Trust, John King; Interim Chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools, Amanda Alexander; National Black Justice Coalition Executive Director, David Johns; former Washington, DC Deputy Mayor for Education, Abigail Smith; series-featured student, Jada Buford; and Segment Director, Rebecca Parrish. The event focused on the complex issues that America to Me surfaces and was attended by over 500 city and education leaders, students, community members, and educators.
One of Education Forward DC’s four core values is disrupting patterns of racial inequity. We cannot achieve our mission of ensuring that every student in DC has access to a high-quality, equitable public school without addressing racial injustice in our community and schools. We prioritize support for leaders of color, but we also recognize that resources alone are not enough to create truly equitable schools in our city. As a community we must create opportunities for honest dialogue to move toward an education system that does not perpetuate racial injustice or discriminate in opportunities provided to students to achieve education, career and life goals. The America to Me campaign is just one example of the ways in which we can continue to facilitate conversations across difference.
Following the screening and panel discussion, we hosted a workshop with a professional facilitator to help members of the education community become more comfortable facilitating conversations on race and equity with colleagues, neighbors, family, and friends. Having these conversations isn’t easy but they are critical to disrupting patterns of racial inequity and making sure every student in DC gets the education and opportunities they want and need.
It’s never too late to join the national conversation. You can sign up to host an America to Me watch group and visit Participant Media’s website to receive tools to lead candid conversations about race and equity.