The new documentary Southeast 67 tracks 67 kids from Southeast D.C. who were granted college scholarships in the 1990s.

Southeast 67 (2-minute trailer) from Red Spark Films, LLC on Vimeo.

In 1991, the year Tenille Warren entered high school in Washington, D.C., the city's homicide rate peaked. Her southeast neighborhood of Anacostia was center stage for that violence, which played out against generational cycles of poverty, addiction, and incarceration. Warren, a gifted artist, saw finishing high school—let alone getting to higher education—as the stuff of fantasy.

Yet she was a "Dreamer"—one of 67 D.C. public school students, all African American, promised college scholarships by local magnate Stewart Bainum through the I Have a Dream Foundation. Like many of the 67, Warren's life veered away from that promise; though she graduated from high school, she got sucked into a dead-end job at Safeway* rather than pursuing an art degree. The hurdles to a world beyond Anacostia were too high, and the program's educators—tenacious, supportive, and loving as they were—couldn't seem to lift her.

But Warren didn't give up. Now, more than 20 years later, she's embarked on a BFA program in New York City, a leap she credits to the support she received as a Dreamer. Her story, along with those of many of her fellow Dreamers, blows up traditional narratives of "success" in educational reform.

A Dreamer with her daughter in Anacostia, 1991. (Nancy Andrews/The Washington Post/ 'Southeast 67')

A new documentary, Southeast 67, chronicles the divergent stories of those 67 students and the systemic barriers they faced in grabbing their chance at The Dream. The film shows that dreams deferred aren't necessarily abandoned.

Betsy Cox, the film's writer, director, and producer, stumbled across the Dreamers' tale when asked by the Bainum family to help with an evaluation of the students upon the 20th anniversary of their high-school graduations. "Just six of the Dreamers had completed college in a traditional, four-year timeframe," says Cox. "Looking at it from that sense, the program didn't seem like an overwhelming success."

Three Dreamers have their photo taken by Steve Bumbaugh, the program's coordinator. (Nancy Andrews/The Washington Post/'Southeast 67')

But as soon as she started interviewing the Dreamers, now all in their late thirties, Cox realized that it had been. Many Dreamers, such as Warren, Martece Yates, and Murray Sumes, found their way to college or trade school later on in life, even though they'd had to give up their scholarships. Others, like Antwan Green and Keyda Walker, raised strong, healthy families—with their kids off to college themselves.

And virtually all of them credited the program, and its extraordinary educators, for planting seeds of self-belief and hope hardy enough to help them eventually break away from the darker influences in the environments in which they grew up. "It was so clear that the program had had a dramatic impact on the Dreamers' lives," says Cox. "And that really raises questions about what type of impact these kinds of intervention programs can have on helping kids break that cycle, both educationally and on a caring level."

Five Dreamers in 2014. (Courtesy Betsy Cox)

After Southeast 67 premieres this Friday, February 27, at the D.C. Independent Film Festival, Cox hopes to get the film in the hands of local educators. In a public school system largely tied to specific, short-term outcomes like test scores and graduation, the Dreamers' stories add something nuanced to the conversation around educational reform.

"When there are so many parts of a student's life impacting her outcome, you can’t always use short-range goals as your measures of success," she says. "It’s not always possible, or even probable. It’s going to be something that happens over time."

*This story has been updated to accurately reflect Warren's goals after high school.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a full parking lot with a double rainbow over it
    Transportation

    Parking Reform Will Save the City

    Cities that require builders to provide off-street parking trigger more traffic, sprawl, and housing unaffordability. But we can break the vicious cycle.   

  2. a photo of a man at a bus stop in Miami
    Transportation

    Very Bad Bus Signs and How to Make Them Better

    Clear wayfinding displays can help bus riders feel more confident, and give a whole city’s public transportation system an air of greater authority.

  3. a map comparing the sizes of several cities
    Maps

    The Commuting Principle That Shaped Urban History

    From ancient Rome to modern Atlanta, the shape of cities has been defined by the technologies that allow commuters to get to work in about 30 minutes.

  4. A woman looks straight at camera with others people and trees in background.
    Equity

    Why Pittsburgh Is the Worst City for Black Women, in 6 Charts

    Pittsburgh is the worst place for black women to live in for just about every indicator of livability, says the city’s Gender Equity Commission.

  5. A photo of a police officer in El Paso, Texas.
    Equity

    What New Research Says About Race and Police Shootings

    Two new studies have revived the long-running debate over how police respond to white criminal suspects versus African Americans.

×