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An HBCU Documentary for the Ages

Posted by Casey Kelley on

“Tell Them We Are Rising” Documents the Impact of HBCUs in America

Following his documentary covering the Black Panthers two years prior, filmmaker Stanley Nelson wows us again with his piece, Tell Them We are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges & Universities. As you can deduce from the film’s title, the work focuses on the work of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and their impact on the black community as a whole. Nominated for Outstanding Independent Documentary in the Black Reel Awards, and for Outstanding Documentary in the Image awards, this film is bound to shape our perceptions of the importance of black education for years to come.

A central theme to the film is an examination of the effects that HBCUs have had on American history, culture and national identity. The film, comprised of educational authorities, accounts of personal experience alongside archival footage, letters, diaries, photos and home movies, paints a picture of what it truly meant to be one of the first students to take the brave step toward education following the abolition of slavery. The film showcases the bravery of formerly enslaved blacks working to pursue an education, despite the violence and intimidation they felt, as well as the stark lack of teachers and resources to supply their newly formed universities.

As HBCUs began forming in the mid-1960’s, this was following decades of slavery in which slave owners were permitted to do anything with their slaves, except for teach them to read and write. In the age of racial oppression and discrimination, it was known that an educated black population could not be an enslaved population. This film highlights the importance of the groundwork that HBCUs and their graduates have paved for advancing justice in America. A collective black education experience allowed for black individuals to pursue careers and spearhead civil rights movements in the future to work toward equality for the races.

Most importantly, Nelson’s film speaks to the importance of a black college experience providing a place for these students to be in the majority. It is these HBCUs that define what it means to be black in America, while gathering together a group of individuals who strive to be better than the status quo. This work is a reminder of how important it is to push toward achieving your #SquadGoals, and how surrounding yourself with other motivated individuals can help propel blacks along both intellectually and politically.

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