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They spent time with them. They constantly questioned the academic recommendations being made for them by people who were, even though well-intentioned, trying to mold them into tin soldiers before trying to teach them. Evenings were spent reviewing homework.

They didn’t allow their sons to define themselves by whether they survived Dalton, but helped them to use their experiences there as lessons for surviving life.

Stephenson said the film raises questions about where the disconnect lies when it comes to educating black boys. Nationally, the black male graduation rate is 52 percent, while the white male graduation rate is 78 percent.

As I watched the film, I thought about how easily Idris and Seun could have been lost in those early years to multiple suspensions.

I thought about the black boys who wind up on Ritalin and other drugs that they don’t need, or in special education classes because their parents are either too intimated by the school officials, or too frustrated by their sons’ behavior, to seek second or third opinions.

And the boys wind up being stigmatized for it.

One crucial thing this film does – and one thing that is especially important after the nation saw 17-year-old Trayvon Martin be put on trial for his own murder – is that it humanizes black boys. It shows Idris playing with his dog, Seun contemplating his life and future, and black boys being boys who hurt and cry, and who aren’t cursing and swaggering.

But it also displays one key answer – parental involvement. If Idris’ and Seun’s parents hadn’t believed in their sons and hadn’t loved them enough to question the decisions being made for them by others, then they might be headed to prison instead of college.

So as “American Promise” attempts to unravel what’s behind black boys’ academic struggles, the film also underscores a solution that black people can collectively work on right now. We can find ways to help more struggling parents become involved with their son’s academic success.

Because black boys can succeed academically – but they can’t do it without a fight.

And it’s a fight that they can’t win alone.

Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her at @tonyaajw. Like her at

To Educate Black Boys, It’s Important to Believe in Them, Not Break Them  was originally published on

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