Student-Made Film Spotlights Local Civil Rights History

Arts & Culture

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY NOV 27, 2020

In 1966, the all-Black Booker High men’s basketball team set their sights on a state championship. After finishing second the previous year and acquiring 6’8” star center Howard Porter in the summer, they liked their chances. But as the desegregation of county schools began, the basketball team and a supporting cast of activists had to fight to keep the school open and the team together when the all-white school board sought to split them up and dash their hopes of a state title. This epic story was emblematic of the Civil Rights struggles of the 1960s, with its Black heroes, peaceful protests and plucky activism that sought to overcome a white power structure intent on finding sneaky new avenues for continuing the legacy of Jim Crow.

But up until a few years ago, the story had never been told.

Lindsey Jennings, Carol Fauls and a team of student filmmakers from Booker’s VPA program sought to change that. As juniors, Jennings and Fauls took on the daunting task of producing a documentary about the ‘66-‘67 basketball team. Through interviews with former players, coaches, activists and sportswriters, “Into the Storm” takes readers on a journey that begins with Howard Porter’s transfer to Booker from Florida’s East Coast and ends with a run at a national title.

For Jennings, the experience bolstered her connection to her community. “I’m someone who really values local history, but I had never heard of this story,” she says. After hearing the first-hand accounts from students that lived through segregation, it changed her. “It was so much more intense than I imagined,” she says, “and this was in their lifetime; it wasn’t that long ago.” The two-year project also presented Jennings with a crash course in communication. While coordinating the shoots with interviewees, she had to learn to make a case for why the story mattered and win people’s trust that the story would be told with honesty and integrity. “That whole process really gave me a passion for the human experience,” she says.

And while the story chronicles a story that took place over 50 years ago, Jennings is also quick to bring things back to the present. “The screening coincided with this big rise in the BLM movement,” she says. “Segregation in many ways still happens, but it’s more abstract now,” she says, “it’s funding, it’s access to resources, stuff like that. We need to lift people up and tell these stories now more than ever.”

The film screened as part of Visions of the Black Experience film festival, a virtual collection of films that included Q + As with filmmakers. “Into the Storm” as well as other locally produced films are available to stream online along with recorded Zoom panel discussions through the summer of next year. Donations are encouraged but not required to access the films.

Photo courtesy of Lindsey Jennings.

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