The documentary film, All the Difference, will air nationally on PBS on Monday, September 12th. The film features Robert Henderson III, an AmeriCorps member who served with City Year Columbia in the 2014-2015. The film also traces the paths of two teens from the South Side of Chicago who dared to dream a seemingly impossible dream: to graduate from college. In the Q&A below, City Year Philadelphia Executive Director and Vice President, Darryl Bundrige links some of the important themes of the film to the day to day work of City Year.
If a friend asked you what this film was about, what would you say?
This film shows the struggles and achievements that two African-American young men experience as they strive to attend and graduate college. It highlights the impact of variables such as family stability and pressures, school support systems (formal and informal), personal motivators, and adaptions they make to be successful. The real challenges for students who are first generation, low income students or men of color, are front and center.
Can you describe a moment or scene in the film that was especially compelling for you?
It brought tears to my eyes watching Robert’s grandmother following his high school graduation. She almost seemed lost and out of place, yet she had played a critical role in getting him there. It made me remember how supportive my parents had been to me as I obtained my education even though they hadn’t graduated high school themselves. They maintained high expectations for me to give my best.
I felt pride for his accomplishments and joy in seeing his high school principal and others support him.
How did it help Robert to know that people believed he could achieve?
In life, a support system is critical to success. No one, not even the President of the United States, an Olympic champion, or an inner city, student of color can get through their journey without support. The road can be long, hard and can wear people down. To have inspiring voices, notes and other gestures along the way can remind you that, “You can do this.” It can reinforce staying on the right path and eliminates the feeling of isolation.
That’s exactly what our City Year AmeriCorps members do for students every day. They are a constant reminder that someone cares, someone is in their corner, and someone is going to walk that journey with them through from first day of school until last. Together, we can get through the tough classes, not so great grades and any personal challenges.
Why are young adults like Robert so important in the role as City Year AmeriCorps Member?
AmeriCorps members who have walked the path that Robert has walked can really serve as a bridge for many of our students. When a student sees someone who came from the same place they did and doing something bigger than they thought was possible, that makes a difference in their mindset.
While Robert’s experiences make him a valuable member of the City Year team, it is important for the next generation of students to see role models who look like them and those who don’t working together to accomplish something great. While City Year places value on individuals who share the same racial, ethnic and/or socio-economic background as our students, we also believe that any individual – regardless of their background – can have an incredible impact on students’ lives.