A few years ago, the Center for Youth started a program called New Beginnings for young black men who lacked the credits needed to graduate. They typically had grade point averages bordering on minus zero.
If Our Streets Could Talk Rough from Matthew Spaull on Vimeo.
The center has put together, “If Our Streets Could Talk,” a short film that shows some of these young men in the weeks leading up to the completion of the program and their graduation from high school. (The password for the film is cfy.) In the film, the young men talk about their home life, poverty in Rochester, and what it takes to survive when you don’t know where you’ll spend the night or what you’ll have to eat.
Most of these young men were just teens when they began hanging out on the streets and getting into trouble. Some quit school and others have been incarcerated. Without some kind of intervention, they might have been murdered, spent much of their lives locked up, or suffered some other unfortunate fate.
The film, which only takes only a few minutes to watch, has two sets of characters: the young men who tell their personal stories, and the city of Rochester’s extreme poverty. While it’s inspirational to see the young men's success, the film shows a side of the city – the "other Rochester" – that many of us don’t see or experience. And while it has become common place to say that “poverty can’t be an excuse” when talking about educational outcomes, it’s easy to underestimate something you haven’t experienced.
I hope the graduates realize that they’re still at the beginning of their lives, and that they've proven that their resilience can carry them as far as their imagination allows.