Film projects help link students to black history

So the film festival held in Baltimore this week wasn't exactly the Cannes Film Festival. Chances are no one will mistake it for the Sundance Film Festival, either.

But an eighth-grader has to start somewhere.


And more than 50 eighth-graders at Lakeland Elementary-Middle School showed from Monday through Wednesday what they could do with a little background music, some narration and writing, lots of computer work (using Windows Movie Maker 2.1) and a ton of research, as they presented short documentaries they had created about topics in black history.

The project began the last Friday in January, so that students could produce films in conjunction with Black History Month. As Black History Month neared its end, and with a week of Maryland School Assessment tests taking up much time, Dionne Curbeam, Lakeland's technology teacher, realized that a Feb. 28 deadline wasn't realistic.


"I wanted good, quality work," Curbeam said yesterday. "I didn't want them to throw things together to meet a deadline.

So it was not until this week that students showed their films in the school's media center. Curbeam had her students introduce themselves and give the titles of their films. Parents and grandparents were on hand to watch. Even a pesky newspaper columnist was tolerated.

First up for Wednesday's viewing was Kara Buckler, who titled her film The Road to Integration! Fighting Back. Combining black-and-white photos from the 1950s with a color map showing which states had the most segregated schools of that era, Buckler weaved a skillful tale of how and why the Supreme Court handed down its landmark decision in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case.

Kara made sure to use in her film photos of both Linda Brown and her father, Oliver L. Brown, who was one of many plaintiffs in a lawsuit that eventually ended segregated public schools in the United States. (Linda Brown had to attend an all-black school rather than a white one closer to her home in Topeka, Kan.) The project left Kara, who is white, brimming with admiration for Oliver L. Brown.

He "stood up and did what he had to do for his daughter, Linda Brown," Kara told me after all the films were shown. "He fought for all students to attend integrated schools."

Kara had to rewrite her script - which she narrated herself, as did all the students - five or six times, by her estimate. She spent hours in the library and was often up late at night working on her project.

The effort paid off. She, her fellow students and probably some adults in attendance learned that the Brown case didn't involve just Oliver L. Brown's lawsuit against the Topeka school board, but was combined with four others from the District of Columbia, Delaware, South Carolina and Virginia.

"It was very stressing," Kara said of the research and study required. "But after doing it and doing it, I found out it was worth it."


If Kara found the work done to produce a short documentary about the Brown decision stressing, what kind of kudos can we give Asia Jones, who chose as her topic perhaps the most heinous crime of 1960s America: the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Alabama on Sept. 15, 1963?

Asia titled her film Sixteenth Street Baptist Church Bombing. She started with a music introduction, Marvin Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy Me." Then she turned the music down to begin her narration. Asia started by naming all four victims of the Birmingham church bombing: Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins and Denise McNair.

After telling viewers that the bomb went off at precisely 10:22 a.m. on Sept. 15, 1963, Asia went on to tell them that the prime suspect in the crime, Robert "Dynamite Bob" Chambliss, went free for 14 years but was finally brought to justice in 1977.

Shaquanna McFadden wasn't even in school Wednesday, but her film was. Shaquanna tackled a subject every bit as painful as Jones' piece - the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till in Money, Miss. For background music, she used Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," as if to soften the impact of a grisly story.

The most pleasant surprise in these films was some of the music used for background. I asked Curbeam, who has been the technology teacher at Lakeland for a little more than three years, about that after the presentation.

"Come on," I asked her, cocking a Mr. Spock-like eyebrow, "you supplied the music, right?" I mean, we're talking kids in the 13- to 14-year-old range, who are probably more familiar with musicians who have names like Snoop Dog and Lil' Bow Wow and, for all I know, Bow Wow Wheezy.


Curbeam said she brought in some music on compact discs that the students used. But others found music themselves on the Internet and downloaded it on a computer.

Randy Ford, whose film was about the Black Panther Party, downloaded something even more important: the knowledge that a link to black history is right in his school.

One of Lakeland's teachers is married to a former Panther.