Central-Centennial video aims to change image of black males

Central-Centennial video aims to change image of black males

CHAMPAIGN — A new video about black male students at Central and Centennial high schools looks like a million bucks — and it's not just their wardrobes.

Watch the video here

Twenty students dressed up, whether in suit and tie or Eagle Scout uniform, to counter negative images of young black men in the media.

Unit 4 schools social worker Tiffany Gholson cooked up the idea for the 21/2-minute video after seeing a similar one produced by a black University of Illinois fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, whose Champaign roots go back to 1915.

Gholson's video, called "Suit and Tie in the 217," had more than 6,200 page views on YouTube by Monday night.

Its powerful message:

We are not gangsters and thugs.

We are employees and volunteers.

We are scholars.

We are athletes.

Centennial interim assistant principal Tony Maltbia, who watched the video get shot on Feb. 19, calls it "a great counter-narrative" to images of young black men as antisocial.

Feli Keti, a transfer student from the Democratic Republic of Congo, brought soccer skills and French-influenced fashion to Central. Fellow students say he's the glamour boy of the video.

"I wanted to correct stereotypes about how we dress and other things," he said.

"People think Africa is all a jungle; I never saw a lion until I came to the United States."

Though the video looks great, the actual cost was just $500.

Gholson said Central Principal Joe Williams and both schools' African-American clubs raised the money.

It was shot in about 21/2 hours by Ambler Video's Sam Ambler.

"This was kind of a last-minute thing. Tiffany planned out all the shots and left the edit to me," he said.

Ambler is a cinematography veteran whose work includes music videos by Elsinore and Megan Johns.

In the Central/Centennial video, which hit YouTube on Feb. 27, the song is by Justin Timberlake, appropriately entitled "Suit & Tie."

The video is striking, particularly a scene of young men striding down a hall that ends in slow-motion.

Ambler was able to deliver a draft cut by 6 p.m. the day of the shooting, and Gholson said "we cried when we watched it."

"I made a couple of changes to get more students into it," she said.

Other schools and churches may well borrow the idea to transform the image of young people.

Barbara Cook, co-sponsor of the African-American Club, said racism exists independently of socio-economic status or educational level.

Central senior Zakk Johnson has a motto: "You can do anything you set your mind to." But he notices that people want to categorize young men who wear hoodies as thuggish.

He plans to study criminal justice at Michigan State University, and is concerned about people relying on stereotypes.

Central senior Byron Smith is a heavy reader, with a concentration in black consciousness works, including "The Autobiography of Malcom X" and "Manchild In The Promised Land."

"We need to read these books to understand ourselves," he said.

"Image plays a big role in society," said junior Edmond McGhee.

Centennial senior Ryan Grizzard said he didn't feel any rivalry with Central students, saying there was great chemistry.

"I also enjoyed how it showed different extracurricular activities," he said.

Central senior Norrlyn-Michael Allen wore his Eagle Scout uniform in the shoot.

"The video showed that we all have different talents and interests," he said.

Gholson said she picked a cross-section of African-American male students for the video to show the diversity of those students.

The video had screenings last week in Unit 4 schools and also had a showing at the governor's mansion, she said.

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