‘A Hope that Lights the Way’: New documentary on Black men and boys in Philadelphia hosts screenings

Produced in part by Philadelphia's Office of Black Male Engagement, the two-hour documentary introduces representatives from community groups working throughout the city.

People seated in City Hall watch a documentary on the screen at the front of the room.

A panel discussion featuring cast and crew of "A Hope that Lights the Way" take questions from the audience in City Hall. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

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A new documentary film will screen at Temple University on Sept. 27. “A Hope that Lights the Way” focuses on Black men and boys and the ongoing gun violence crisis.

Produced in part by Philadelphia’s Office of Black Male Engagement, the two-hour documentary introduces representatives from community groups including Men Who Care of Germantown, Level Up Philly, and NOMO. Organizers explain the process behind getting started, who they serve, and why their work is important, while stressing the need for adequate funding and collaboration.

A poster for a documentary with an aerial photo of Philly in the background.
A poster for “A Hope that Lights the Way”. (Courtesy of Kaloni Davis)

Conversations in the film take place at football fields and churches, and spaces throughout the city, blending statistics with personal stories of anti-violence work. Through sports, dance, and community, young people under the guidance of community leaders express their fears and hopes.

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A roundtable discussion with Black men and teens leading community organizations concludes the documentary. While seated in City Hall, participants take turns asking and answering questions such as “Who was the first Black man to say they loved you?” and “What was your first experience with a gun?” The answers are as varied as the people who ask them, with each speaker acknowledging how location, education, class, sexuality, and family life played a role in their respective responses.

At a recent City Hall screening, director Kaloni Davis shared the film’s commitment to accurately representing the lives of Philadelphians: “[We’re] explaining to the audience why exactly Black men and boys are experiencing such a volatile lifestyle right now, but then it also points the lens at the many unknown organizations in Philadelphia… that have been doing the work for years.”

Director Kaloni Davis holds a camera.
Director Kaloni Davis said the film “[explains] to the audience why exactly Black men and boys are experiencing such a volatile lifestyle right now.” (Courtesy of Kaloni Davis)
Davis called the film “humanizing,” and hopes to change the narratives surrounding young Black men in particular.

The film was the brainchild of Eric Westbrook, executive producer and the director for the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement. He said the film aligned with the mission of the office.

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“Our office was created because of the marginalization of Black men in America… We wanted to really tread very lightly when we start talking about solutions to gun violence and we don’t ever want to put ourselves, the government, as the solution because it’s way bigger than that,” said Westbrook.

Community leaders featured include Joseph Budd of Men who Care Germantown, Valencia Peterson of Open Door Abuse Awareness & Prevention, Ryan Harris of As I Plant This Seed, Eugene “Buddah” Thomas of Power Circle, Pastor Aaron Campbell of Level Up Philly, Rickey Duncan of New Options, More Opportunities Foundation (NOMO), Manny215 of What I Wish I Knew Foundation, Pastor Carl Day of Culture Changing Christians Inc., and Milaj Robinson of Youth Creating New Beginnings.

Westbrook believes that the multifaceted nature of gun violence requires community groups to work together. “It’s the people closest to this work that have the solution,” he said. “It’s no secret that one entity doesn’t have the answers. If they did, it’d be done already.”

Davis believes that the decrease in shootings this year is due in part to community organizations, law enforcement, and relentless Philadelphians who want to see change — “community members themselves who may not necessarily belong to any particular organization but they have a heart for the city and they’re out making sure that their neighborhoods are clean, making sure that they’re serving and engaging young people in a personal level.”

The trailer for “A Hope that Lights the Way” is available on YouTube. The next screening will be held on October 6 at the Parkway Central Library.

*An earlier version of this story listed the next screening as September 27th at Temple University. That screening has been postponed.

A full schedule of upcoming screenings is available at the Office of Black Male Engagement’s website.

Note: The film contains some graphic footage.

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