The young Black man in America has been turned into an international symbol of violence. As Stacee, one of the protagonists of Finding the Gold Within, describes: “I think it was a Saudi Arabian student, he came into the International Student Affairs Office where I work. He requested not to have a Black male as his conversation partner, and my co-worker, she asked him why. He said they were violent and that he was scared that they would hurt him. It just really caught me off guard.”
Growing up in postwar Germany, I wanted to know how a whole culture could fall prey to murderous collective insanity. Thus I explored the darkness in films about incarcerated women (Voices from Inside), victims of the Armenian genocide (I Will Not Be Sad In This World), the children of Argentina’s Dirty War (Awakening from Sorrow), a dancer who overcomes the seemingly crippling loss of his leg (Phoenix Dance). I focus on making visible the light inside people and situations.
With an African American president, I wished to contribute to the conversation about the changing fabric of American society with a project like Finding the Gold Within. But how, you may ask, can a German-born, 59-year-old white woman tell the story of a group of young African American men? What would make them open up to me? How could I possibly understand them? My answer is, these are no ordinary young men. Alchemy, Inc., a mentoring program, has fed their souls. As a lifelong teacher and filmmaker, I know how to look deeply, asking: what needs to be seen, what wants to be heard?
Dr. Kwame Scruggs, the founder of Alchemy, gave me entry to his core group of 28 young Black teenagers who after seven years of listening and exploring mythological stories had acquired impressive critical and metaphorical thinking skills. Mutual respect and recognition was born at our first meeting, and trust was developed as I kept coming back as promised. I have been getting close to many in the core group, but especially to the six protagonists that I selected to keep following closely. They have been granting me intimate access to their lives, to their deepest thoughts and feelings. As I look for the shining essence of each young man, I am moved to my deepest core.
The work of Alchemy is groundbreaking, but it needs to be experienced, hence the film. There is no better comment about this award-winning mentoring youth program than witnessing the maturity, composure and growth of the young men. As their gold shines forth, we learn about ourselves. We might even be allowed to go past the old collective feelings of hidden shame, guilt and fear, and start looking with the eyes of the heart.
“I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. I, too, am America.”