Co-presentation of The Philadelphia Project by Erahm Christopher
by Hadiyah Weaver
Aspiring filmmakers and students gathered on Wednesday night to watch a 60-minute intimate story between writer and creator, Erahm Christopher, and sixteen students at what is considered to be one of the most dangerous schools in America.
The screening was of The Philadelphia Project, in which Christopher follows sixteen students at Strawberry Mansion High School, as they are asked to express how they feel about themselves and view the world around them over a seven month period.
Christopher and Lacora Williams, one of the sixteen students in the film, were present at the screening and participated in the question and answer session moderated by Amira Smith of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office (GPFO).
Lacora admitted that when the project began, she and her classmates were apprehensive about trusting Christopher. "How did the whole process feel to you?” Smith asked Williams. “At first, I really didn’t trust him, but he kept coming. I saw that he was determined, so I started trusting him.”
Throughout the documentary, the students tackled four topics through writing: Judgement, Acceptance, Racism and Diversity. They said the tragedies they would have to experience everyday was often manipulated by the media which lead to them being against Christopher trying to record them for his documentary at first.
“You all said no.” Christopher told the audience, addressing Williams. She replied, “We agreed to it, because other schools may face the same things that we face.” Williams said.
The film included facts about Strawberry Mansion High School that illuminated the challenges that the students face in everyday life in an area where 96% of the student body lives below the poverty line. In the film, the students even spoke about their trust issues with the police, saying they would trust the drug dealer in their neighborhood rather than the police.
"We had a conversation in the program that was right after what happened in Ferguson,” Christopher said. “Lacora was really upset. Almost at the point where we couldn't really talk about it because I thought she was trying to get angry with me. I then told her to ‘Write it down! I want to understand why you’re so angry and what it means to you,' and she did that. I think after that, all of them started writing the truth, and that is when everyone started listening to each other. It was incredible.” Christopher said.
Christopher plans to continue spotlighting poverty and education in his work, and hopes that Lacora and the other students continue writing.
The event ended on a high note as Christopher reassured the audience that he stays in contact with all of the students, and that he thinks that the seven-month program made a real difference in the lives of the students.
“When you find yourself going down into that negative behavior, you need to train yourself to create something.” Christopher would tell the students. “Whether that’s something that you're writing, drawing, cooking a meal, [it doesn’t matter] but focus on creating something causes you to subconsciously create something that is going to help you deal with what is bothering you.” Christopher said.