“Fly By Light,” an award-winning documentary about the dangerous hurdles faced by D.C. youth, premiered May 1, at the National Geographic Theatre. “The film is a beautiful testament to the resilience of the human spirit. It’s a testament to the powerful and necessary work that has to happen,” Hawah Kasat executive director of One Common Unity and producer of the film, told the AFRO in an interview April 29.
Founded in 2000, One Common Unity works with D.C. youth to create a culture of nonviolence in a city where juvenile arrests for violent crimes are nearly six times the national average.
The organization’s signature program, Fly By Light, is housed in six D.C. schools where students convene for a series of after-school workshops focusing on self-esteem building, non-violent conflict resolution teachings, effective communication skills, literacy and grassroots organizing.
Instruction is fueled by music and art, which is “the language of the masses,” says Kasat. “It’s how we teach young people to tell their stories and we believe that artistic expression is a way to enhance their creativity and to allow them to become more in touch with their feelings so there’s a sensitivity and an empathy that’s discovered and developed through music and art. In a similar way, its the language to which they can communicate to their peers and other members of their communities.”
Each Fly By Light program session culminates with a retreat to a national park. In the film, four young people embark on an eight-day journey into the mountains of West Virginia, leaving the streets to participate in an ambitious peace education program under mentorship of artist educators and conflict resolution specialists. Behind them, shootings, abuse and neglect are still a reality, but the journey hopes to rewrite their futures.
“We are at a critical moment in the United States where we need to decide how to value and nurture our young people. Every 28 hours a Black person is killed by a police officer. Fly By Light inspires connection across dividing lines and reveals our capacity to overcome violence,” said award-winning D.C. filmmaker and director of Fly By Light Ellie Walton in a press release about the premier.
Having received acclaim at 12 film festivals across the country, the May 1 world-premier is the final cut in a grassroots movement to build more Fly By Light program sites at schools throughout the District.
“Washington, D.C. is a hotbed for change in the world. A lot of the young people in D.C. have access to not just local issues, but international issues,” says Kasat. “I think the diversity of D.C. is special and makes it a very beautiful place to test and pilot programming like ours.”