In the new movie “Selma,” the Civil Rights movement takes a great leap forward in the 50-mile stretch from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.
Philadelphia high school students joined counterparts from big cities across the country in seeing the film for free through a fundraising effort called Selma for Students.
The program, which started in New York, quickly spread to Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Orlando and Montgomery, Alabama.
In Philadelphia, the initiative took two different forms, with a full day of screenings at the Pearl Theater on North Broad Street sponsored by Citizens Bank and the Mayor’s Office, as well as 4,400 free tickets also available to students who bring a report card or student ID to participating theaters as long as supplies last.
Jodhi Harrell from the The Center for Returning Citizens Kidz Program in Germantown brought about six kids, including I’kirah Benson, to see the film at the Pearl Theater on Saturday. He said movies help bring to life what kids learn about in books.
“Kids today are very visual. It’s like I’kirah — I had talked to her about slavery — in one ear and out the other,” said Harrell. “But when she saw ‘Twelve Years a Slave’ she talked and talked and talked about it.”
Benson herself said she was moved by “Selma.” “When they was getting beat I was going like this and turning my head…You don’t actually see that in the books. It’s deeper than that.”
“Selma” includes graphic depictions of violence against non-violent civil rights protesters as they work to exercise their right to vote under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – but before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 made discriminatory practices such as poll taxes illegal.
Benson said the film really drove home for her that voting is important. “We just act like it’s nothing so when I turn 18, I’m voting like on the real.” The film’s release year corresponds with the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.
Prominent African-American business leaders from Citizens Bank, DuPont, and SARR Group among others raised $44,000 to pay for the tickets.
Henri Moore, a senior vice president with Citizens Bank, said the film made a strong impression on her 15-year-old daughter.
“She said, ‘Mommy I had no idea how violent what our people really went through was.'”
Moore said the movie supported what she’d been trying to teach her kids. “You tell your kids they stand on the shoulders of those who went before you…but it isn’t until they see it you know they’re like ‘Wow!'”
Selma for Students sponsored more than 275,000 free tickets nationwide.