DCIFF '15: "Southeast 67" Review

“Southeast 67” is a documentary that speaks to the power of education, altruism, hard work and love. Using a mixture of archival footage and photos, and shooting presently with some of the first I Have A Dream program students, it tackles the age old question of who wins: nature or nurture? The documentary refreshingly dares to answer “life isn’t that black and white.” 

In the 1980s, Washington D.C. was known as the “Murder Capital”. Stewart Bainum, a businessman in the area, promised college scholarships to 67 rising seventh graders through the I Have A Dream program. Out of the 67 Dreamers, 72% graduated from high school and 6 went on to get degrees. Writer/director Betsy Cox catches up with some of the Dreamers and their teachers, Phyllis Rumbarger and Steve Bumbaugh, and captures a family reunion on screen amongst the group. It’s clear that the time in the program was a special moment in everyone’s life. 

Each personal story presented is diverse. No two Dreamers are the same. The entrancing part of being able to catch up with the Dreamers twenty years later, is that you can formulate an answer to whether the opportunity to get out of a drug and violence filled environment to pursue a better education was enough to put them on the path to success. For some of the Dreamers that appear in the documentary, the opportunity came at a price that we may not instantly think of. Most of them were worried more about their mother being in an abusive relationship, possibly overdosing on drugs in their absence, or where they would get money to live while being away. These haunting thoughts kept some of them paralyzed to move forward, while others were able to take full advantage of the opportunity. Yet, the outcomes twenty years later are equally positive in their own way.   

One of the most intriguing things about the documentary is seeing the generational impact of decisions. Sadly, many of the Dreamers were fighting just to make it into the middle class, but the opportunity to have hope for a different future had a lasting impact that has touched their children's lives. The film could have easily slipped into the sensationalism of one white man giving 67 underprivileged black kids a helping hand. Instead, it focuses on love, which sees no color, and permeates each frame from the inside out with undeniable results. “Southeast 67” plays at the DC Independent Film Festival on Friday, February 27th at 7:30PM

Rating: B

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