Philanthropist couple take 165 Baltimore-area youth to see 'Black Panther'

Local philanthropists Gloria Mayfield Banks and husband Kenneth Banks, of Ellicott City, were so inspired by tales of celebrities and sports figures taking under-privileged kids to see “Black Panther” in theaters that they decided to do the same in Baltimore.

On Friday, the couple paid for 165 kids from across Baltimore — plus a bunch of chaperones — to attend the movie at the Cinemark theater in Towson, providing each kid with popcorn and a soda, too.

The kids came from schools and nonprofits across the city: 25 from the Baltimore International Academy, eight from Code in the Schools, 21 from Commodore John Rodgers Elementary/Middle School, 50 from Project Pneuma, 25 from Project Safe Haven and 10 from Zion Baptist Youth, Mayfield Banks said.

The couple’s goal was to have kids “who otherwise would not have been able to see it,” she said.

“What resonated the most to me was that in my soul, I felt everybody needed to see this,” Mayfield Banks said. “I just really wanted to have these kids see that they are superheroes as well.”

The Disney megahit, which has surpassed $1 billion at the global box office, features a black king of a highly-advanced African kingdom. The cast is full of black characters, including strong warrior women.

“It is a movie about a black superhero, and that is something that is not seen in the African-American community basically ever,” said Kenneth Banks. “It’s exposure. Children are not necessarily exposed to the understanding that there were and are black kings and queens. It showed women, very strong black women, women that were experts in world-leading technology. These kids, they need to see that instead of some of the images portrayed in the news media and TV and other entertainment.”

A number of black celebrities and sports stars — including actress Gabrielle Union and her husband, basketball player Dwyane Wade — have announced they are helping kids to see the movie. In a video recorded with Wade, Union challenged others to send kids to the film as well.

Mayfield Banks saw the video and decided to take Union up on the challenge, she said.

The Bankses — he owns a contracting company and sits on various boards, and she’s a motivational speaker and an independent national sales director with Mary Kay Cosmetics — had already seen the movie themselves but were back in the theater with the kids on Friday night, Kenneth Banks seeing it for his third time, his wife for her second.

They had African drummers and dancers there, and the kids were “so excited” to see the film and “super-duper well-behaved,” Mayfield Banks said.

After the movie, “they wanted to tell us about what they saw, and wanted to tell us what they appreciated about it,” she said.

The couple declined to say how much the gesture cost them, though Kenneth Banks said it was worth it “whatever it cost.”

He and his wife both said they want “to inspire others” to take kids to the film as well.

She’s on a mission, she said, “talking to my consultants [at Mary Kay] about making sure that all of us are making sure that we get one kid to ‘Black Panther,’ and to make sure that they have popcorn when they do it.”

He issued a direct challenge.

“If you felt the movie was important and felt it was good, then maybe get one person who won’t have a chance to see it for whatever reason and take them,” he said.

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