When our son Idris was 4 years old, he was accepted to the Dalton School, a prestigious private school in Manhattan. Idris would become one of only a few Black boys in a kindergarten class of about 90 students, where tuition rivaled that of private colleges. We decided to document this new world, following Idris over 13 years through graduation. (The story of Idris and one of his close friends became our feature-length documentary “American Promise,” from which this Op-Doc video is adapted.) What began as an exploration of diversity in New York’s elite private-school world grew into a story that touches on larger themes of identity, race and class in American society.
In this Op-Doc video, we have tried to encapsulate the journey of our son — a boy who comes of age with many privileges and many challenges — as well as our own. We sought to protect Idris from the African-American male achievement gap in education, where boys like him, regardless of their socioeconomic status, are confronted with experiences that affect their academic performance, as compared to their White counterparts. Among these are negative perceptions (which some researchers call “implicit bias”) about Black boys’ capabilities in the classroom. There are also more direct threats, like the fear of being “stopped and frisked” by the police, or being stared at on the streets of the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Idris also faced our own anxieties, as we worried about his academic performance. And he faced pressure near home in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, an economically and racially diverse neighborhood where children criticized him for “speaking like a White boy” as a result of attending Dalton.