The story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) began before the Civil War and influenced the course of our nation, yet remains one of America’s most important untold stories. Both celebrated and misunderstood, HBCUs continue to spark fierce debates about the relevance of the schools today.
Led by one of the foremost chroniclers of the African American experience working in nonfiction film today, Stanley Nelson, Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities is the first and only feature documentary and multi-platform project to research, gather, and share a rich mosaic of stories that relay the history of HBCUs.
“Thoroughly examining the history of HBCUs not only allowed me to highlight their importance within black communities,” Nelson and his team share a vivid mosaic of stories from HBCU students, faculty, staff, and alumni that illustrate the ideals of democracy, equality, and pursuit of the American Dream.
“I set out to tell a story of Americans who refused to be denied a higher education and—in their resistance—created a set of institutions that would influence and shape the landscape of the country for centuries to come,” Nelson writes in his director’s statement.
A self-described “storyteller, filmmaker and teacher,” Nelson is a recipient of numerous honors over the course of his career, including five Primetime Emmy Awards and the 2016 Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Television Arts Sciences. In 2013, the director, writer and producer of documentaries received the National Medal in the Humanities from President Barack Obama.
Known for such films including The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2016), Freedom Summer (2014) and Freedom Riders (2010), Nelson’s recent creation, Tell Them We Are Rising, is an unprecedented two-hour PBS documentary film and interactive platform that captures the vibrant, moving and complex 150-year history of HBCUs.
“It was essential that this film highlight authentic, personal accounts alongside archival footage, letters, diaries, photographs, and even home movies of the people who have lived the HBCU experience.”
“The legacy of these institutions is not marked only by milestones and achievements; it is encapsulated by the minds and lives of the people who walked those storied halls,” said Nelson, a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow who was awarded an individual Peabody for his body of work last year.
Co-Founder, with his wife Marcia Smith, and Executive Director of Firelight Media, a non-profit provider of technical education and professional support to emerging documentarians, Nelson is also Co-Founder of the for-profit documentary production company, Firelight Films.
Next week, Firelight Media will launch the #HBCURising Campus Tour featuring screenings of Tell Them We Are Rising and panel discussions with Nelson, university leaders, prominent alumni, and special guests that will address issues explored in the documentary.
“We felt it was very important to showcase the film to students on HBCU campuses because this is a vital part of our African-American and American history,” said Nelson.
The tour is a major part of HBCU Rising, the year-long multi-platform engagement project designed to drive dialogue sparked by the film among a variety of audiences. The film is the centerpiece of the effort, #HBCURising, which highlights partnerships with national organizations, high-profile events, StoryCorps audio stories, video shorts, and an all-generation, all-school HBCU Digital Yearbook.
“Many students and even alumni are not aware of the deep history of how and why HBCUs were created and the foundation for success they provided for African Americans. We appreciate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s support and the partnership on the ground with local public television and radio stations to make this tour possible.”
Major funding for the film and associated events has been provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting as part of the public media initiative, American Graduate. The 90-minute film will air nationally on the acclaimed PBS series Independent Lens on Monday, February 19, 2018, 9 pm – 10:30 pm ET.
Reprinted with permission from Huffington Post.
Louis Bolling serves the University of Pennsylvania community as an Interfaith Fellow to the Athletics & Recreation Community with the Office of the Chaplain. He holds a BS in Physical Education with a concentration in Sports Administration from Morgan State University. He is a freelance writer with The Philadelphia Tribune and Huffington Post. His interests include athletic administration at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, sport for development and peace, Olympism, university-assisted community schools and community-based sports issues.