Higher Achievement strives to close the opportunity gap. We do this by exposing our scholars to different experiences. The blockbuster hit Black Panther has been celebrated not just for is record numbers at the box office, but for how it has galvanized the African American community and for the nuances of messaging portrayed in the movie. So when one of our donors and mentors offered to buy out a theater as an incentive for our scholars, we were excited about the opportunity.
For us, this was more than going to see a super hero movie. Much like Selma and Hidden Figures, educators leapt at the chance to allow children of color to learn about the greatness in their history that may not be widely known. Black Panther is not a historic portrayal, however, the messaging is one of historic significance. The underlying theme is “Who are you?”
This question is both simple and complex in the movie. The Black Panther movie’s message is unapologetically grounded in the jagged reality of black American identity. King T’Challa had to ask this question of himself when it was time to create his own legacy and that of Wakanda. The new king had to ask this question of his father after the discovery of his past and the history he tried to omit. General Okeyo had to ask this question of herself when faced with loyalty to her country, king, and partner.
The film’s villain, Erik Killmonger is a ruthless killer who believes violence is an agent of justice. This is both a result of what he has been taught and how he’s been treated. What makes Black Panther different from Marvel’s other movies is its willingness — eagerness, even — to acknowledge that Killmonger’s worldview is shaped by a number of things, including his race, specifically the inequality and oppression he’s witnessed and experienced as a black American man. He lived his entire life driven by pain and abandonment searching for who he is. This was particularly profound for us, given the landscape of Baltimore.
Higher Achievement knows that in the middle school years are when you began to shape who you will become. Studies show that the development that occurs in middle school is second only to early childhood. With this one question it shaped the decisions of each of the characters in the movie. We are looking forward to asking this question in Community Meeting with our scholars. In a world full of choices good and bad; right and wrong; this is a wonderful opportunity to help scholars answers the question “Who are you?” And then give them the tools and resources to shape the journey on who they will become.
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