On Thursday, December 10th, Get IN Chicago (GIC) partnered with the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events  for food, film, and conversation centered on Cooley High.  A wide range of community members and supporters, including a bus load of young men and women from BBF Family Services, turned out to watch the classic film and participate in discussions before and after.

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In her opening remarks, Toni Irving, Executive Director of Get IN Chicago, linked the film to recent protests, the majority of which have been organized, led, and attended by youth.  Screening Cooley High was timely not only because of its ties to Cabrini-Green but also for how it captured the energy and power of young Chicagoans.

“The struggles in our community predate the lives of our young people,” said Irving.  “But in these last few weeks, our young people have proven themselves not just the symbol of our future, but the vehicle that will get us there, better for the journey.”

After the film, students from BBF performed original poetry.  Their poem was a fitting follow-up to the closing scene of Cooley, when Preach recites a poem in honor of his friend Cochise.

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An audience talkback with Pemon Rami, casting director for Cooley High, Jackie Taylor, founder and Executive Director of Black Ensemble Theater (and a star of the movie), and Rufus Williams, CEO and President of BBF Family Services, followed shortly after.

“North Lawndale today is not much different than Cabrini-Green back then,” noted Williams.  “A lot of my own experiences were similar to what happened to the youth in the film, and many of those experiences continue for our youth today.”

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The panelists discussed changes in family, community, and a decline in creative opportunities over the past 40 years.  Williams also remarked that in the film, Cochise’s scholarship is celebrated for its educational potential rather than just the chance to play basketball.

When asked about who they identified or recognized in the film, the younger audience members gravitated toward Preach and Cochise.  They also compared the teacher who helped get the two boys out of trouble and with their own mentors.

In closing, Irving expressed a desire to continue congregating people for similar events in the future.

“We need this intergenerational conversation,” she said.  “Adults have the institutional knowledge – but our young people have the energy and passion to push the agenda forward.”

Taylor agreed.  “Our young people are the best gift we could possibly possess,” said Taylor.  “The most important thing to do is help them recognize that.”

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