Documentary Film Examines a Prominent DC Afro-Centric Educational Institution
Since its founding, Black History Month has been about education. Its founder Carter G. Woodson wanted to improve the overall quality of history education in America by focusing on important narratives that had largely been overlooked due to racial discrimination. One of the projects from last year's DC Community Heritage Project grant cycle was a documentary film, called Under the Radar: the New School of Afro American Thought, on an often overlooked Washington, DC institution. The school was founded in 1966 by Don Freeman and poet Gaston Neal. From its original location at 2208 14th Street, NW (boarded building in above image), the New School offered black people of all ages and socioeconomic conditions the opportunity to learn about their own African heritage and culture.
The documentary brings together some of the individuals that helped make the New School a successful and important institution in Washington, DC. The interviews with former students express the impact that exposure to African culture had on their adult lives. Don Freeman, the surviving founder, talks about the impact the school had on the community, and its influence on similar institutions across the country.
Black separatism and Afro-centric education are still contentious issues. Are they appropriate reactions to centuries of slavery, segregation, discrimination, and Euro-centric education? Is it possible to reconcile mainstream ideas about our shared past with those presented at the New School? Were the goals of the New School similar to those of Woodson's Negro History Week (the precursor to Black History Month); that a dedicated study of African origins gradually contribute to the accepted narrative? Leave a comment, and let us know what you think about the New School and its contribution to education in Washington, DC.