The documentary “Dante Barksdale’s Last Act” tells the final chapter of the story of a Baltimore man who turned his life around and details his legacy of forgiveness. It also highlights the people who are starting new chapters in their lives because of him.
Dante was not the only well-known Barksdale. The acclaimed HBO TV series “The Wire” depicted Nathan “Bodie” Barksdale, a man whose criminal history inspired several characters and plotlines. Dante, who was killed in early January, was a cousin of Nathan’s.
After his own run-ins with the law and time served in prison, Dante Barksdale spent over a decade as the face of Baltimore Safe Streets, a grassroots violence-prevention program that assists the city with conflict resolution and peacekeeping. The program operates separately from the Baltimore Police Department.
The 33-minute film directed by Zack Slingsby and James Fitzgerald, which was posted on YouTube on May 29, chronicles the last two weeks of Barksdale’s life before he was killed in January.
Ninety minutes before he was shot, Barksdale pulled his car into the parking lot at Douglass Homes and participated in an interview with the Cards Face Up podcast. One of the topics was forgiveness.
“Take a self-evaluation and think about some of the things you have done to wrong people, and the things people have done to wrong you, and try to forgive them,” Barksdale said. “And even call them and ask for forgiveness for the things you might have done. I think if we start there, a little sprinkle of forgiveness, I think all of us will be way better off.”
Twenty-seven minutes after the interview concluded, Barksdale was killed.
On May 20, police made an arrest in his killing. The Baltimore Sun previously reported that Garrick L. Powell Jr., 28, was arrested without incident in East Baltimore.
The documentary is made up of interviews from Barksdale’s family and friends, in addition to the story of a mother, Kenyita Gerald, who forgave Barksdale for an accident that happened in 2002.
Gerald’s 3-year-old son was killed by a car that Barksdale was driving. Barksdale was friends with the young boy’s family and had dropped him at home after a trip to the mall. When the child ran behind Barksdale’s truck to pick up a ball that had rolled into the street, Barksdale accidentally ran over him.
A clip of Gerald forgiving Barksdale on Instagram late last year has been viewed over 3,500 times.
The documentary was filmed over the course of three days in January.
“To change a heart, you have to give your heart,” said Brendan Lee, a Baltimore Peacekeeper and Community Leader in a news release. “This film shows what giving and forgiveness is all about. It’s an important work for the city of Baltimore and people in pain all over.”
As of Tuesday, “Dante Barksdale’s Last Act” had over 13,500 views. In addition, it is being shown to clients of Roberta House, a grief support center in Baltimore.
“If we could have more men like him, the world would be so much better,” said Roberta House client Stephanie Hunter, a West Baltimore resident. “He made me feel the way I feel and so I tell the people that killed my brother, I forgive them so I can move on with my life.”
“I just watched the Barksdale story and was brought to tears,” said Shemel Fortune, a resident of East Baltimore. “It made me realize I need to forgive the young man that murdered my father at his home in West Baltimore in 1993. I was only 13 years old and my dad’s killer was just 15 years old. I’m now 41 and I have been holding on to this hurt and anger for most of my life.”
During production, both directors were surprised by how many Baltimoreans were eager to talk about Barksdale. Almost everyone they dealt with had a story to tell. “They were excited on a deeper level than if it were an athlete or a famous actor,” Fitzgerald said.
“It’s like he’s a cultural icon,” Slingsby, the director, added.
Next up for Panacea Media, the Baltimore-based media company putting out the film, is telling more stories about forgiveness. It plans to document the experiences of several Baltimore survivors of violence who are looking to forgive those who killed their loved ones.
“Dante Barksdale’s Last Act” is available for free on YouTube.
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.