'Raising Bertie' raising discussions
Monday, January 2, 2017
WINDSOR — Raising Bertie came home.
The award-winning movie is an intimate documentary featuring three Bertie County boys, filmed over the course of six years, capturing their coming of age in rural eastern North Carolina.
The movie explores the complex relationships between generational poverty, educational inequity and race.
The filmmakers held two free screenings for the public in December, followed by a panel discussion. Two of the three subjects of the film were in attendance.
“Raising Bertie” has been shown numerous times across the country, including in Chicago and Washington D.C. The movie team also has received numerous inquires to screen the film at rural school programs and the N.C. General Assembly.
The filmmakers said goals of the movie screenings are: to increase visibility of rural youth, shrink the urban/rural divide, increase education and job opportunities for youth in rural communities, particularly for black males, and expand narratives of black youth.
“Raising Bertie” is opening up discussions not only in Bertie County, but all across the country.
"This is personal for me,” one of the attendees said at the recent screening. “My first impression was that I saw this film 20 years ago. Some of you know I started my career in Bertie County 20 years ago in the public school system at what used to be Southwestern Middle School teaching eighth-graders. I could name names now, but I won't, because you all would know them all.
"But really, I saw this film 20 years ago. And it's very personal for me. I was teaching social studies and English, and I literally went home every day, and I cried because I felt like I could not do enough
"My husband and I are both from here. It was very difficult. At 23, I was a baby, and I couldn't figure out how to fix all the problems I saw. I didn't even have the ability to know how to articulate what they were," she said.
"All I know is that I couldn't imagine anybody caring very much about North Carolina social studies if they were hungry, if their parents were in jail, if they didn't have paper."
The speaker said her training did not prepare her.
"I was trained in thinking they needed to do their homework, and their issues were much more difficult than anything I had personally encountered,” she said. “I wasn't well-equipped at the time to deal with it, at least not when I first began.
"And so it is very personal to me because seeing that is what caused me to leave and go into this thing called community economic development. Because in my mind, people needed homes, and need housing and needed stability, and they needed opportunities for jobs, and they needed jobs creation. All the stuff that I thought people needed in order to have a sustainable community and a sustainable life, and I wasn't quite sure how you go about doing that.
"It is a wonderful film, and we could pick it up and we could trace these same lives in Bertie County and Martin County and in so many other counties in North Carolina and across this nation. It is incumbent upon us to come up with solutions to help create sustainable communities."
Casey Owens, executive director of the Bertie County YMCA, said he has seen the movie three times.
“It is a very powerful movie,” he said. “Last year, I met a kid who was doing a project, and he said that about 72 percent of the population at Bertie High School came from a single-parent home, whether it was just their mother or just their father. In that movie, all three of those guys are from a single-parent home. It goes to show that the statistics are true.”
Owens estimated the movie represents more than 50 percent of teenagers in Bertie County.
"At the YMCA we are all about community,” he said. “Since March, we have implemented flag football, a summer camp, a winter camp, a teen summit, all summer long we opened up the gym in Aulander where the kids in Aulander could come in, free of charge and play basketball and it started just two days a week. There were so many kids coming we started going three days a week. The response we were getting was so positive that we had said we were just going to do it for a month, but we ended up doing it the entire summer and even into the school year."
The next screening of the movie is scheduled for Jan. 31 in Winston-Salem at the Aperture Cinema.