By Kai McDaniels
Special tp the AFRO
The HBCU Storytellers Project is a unique culmination of social justice activism and meaningful cinematic arts. With funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and The Nate Parker Foundation Inc. made this dynamic program possible. These organizations partnered with the purpose of positioning young black storytelling at the forefront of the filmmaking industry in order to change culture through film.
The HBCU Storytellers Projects gave students the opportunity to learn the art of filmmaking while receiving a culturally enriching educational experience. This opportunity prepares students to use film for racial healing and reconciliation. After an 18-month program, fifteen of the HBCU students participated in The HBCU Storytellers Project and created an empowering four-part documentary series called 400 Years Later…’Free-ish.
The docuseries commemorates the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to Virginia in 1619. Students from Hampton University, Norfolk State University, Virginia State and Virginia Union University diligently collaborated to create the docuseries. After an intensive and eye-opening experience of traveling throughout Virginia to historic sites in Jamestown, Port Comfort, Richmond, Charlottesville and South Hampton; the students were encouraged to document their journey and to explore the lives of the first Africans arrival to the U.S. Through the student’s stories, the films explore the ripple effects of American Slavery on our nation.
Throughout 400 Years Later…’Free-ish, a sweeping narrative of past and present racial tension is highlighted to evoke a greater understanding of the African-American experience and current racial issues that still persist today. The HBCU Storytellers sparked engaging conversations with local communities to examine two provocative monuments: “The planned erection of the Emancipation Proclamation Freedom Monument on Brown’s Island which will recognize ten African-American freedom fighters including controversial figure Nat Turner, and the planned removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, VA,” (The Nate Parker Foundation).
The four-part docuseries consists of Part 1: The Sankofa Journey, Part 2: The Arrival, Part 3: Confederate Statutes: Heritage or Hatred?, and Part 4: Monuments That Heal. Viewers of the docuseries will get to see student interviews with various Virginians of all backgrounds, from activists to elected officials, as they answer questions surrounding race relations in our country 400 years after the American slave trade.
The documentary series, 400 Years Later…’Free-ish, highly encourages community discussions in the hopes of building stronger relationships. The Nate Parker Foundation believes conversation has the power to change our culture. As a result, a score of screenings and discussions are currently being held and organized across the country. 400 Years Later..’Free-ish has even been selected to participate in the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, Calif. in honor of Black History Month. The docuseries was also awarded the Official Film Selection by State of Virginia’s 400 Year Commemoration Committee.
The organization has created a discussion guide and four curriculum units that can be used by educators and/or community members alongside the films during screenings. To host a screening and facilitate dialogue in your community, you can contact the Nate Parker Foundation. Visit nateparkerfoundation.org for further information on The HBCU Storytellers Project, their impactful documentary series and more. The Nate Parker Foundation values activism through cinema, and believes in grassroots leadership and storytelling as a vehicle for social change.