Boys of Baraka – Review

Directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
84 minutes
Opens February 10, 2006

*** ½ stars out of five

Seventy-six percent of black male students in Baltimore city schools do not graduate from high school – an astounding and disturbing statistic. In September of 2002, twenty “at-risk” 12  to 13-year-old boys are taken from the tough inner city to attend the Baraka school in Kenya, East Africa in the hope that they will escape the toxicity of their environment and have a chance at success in life. With a school moto of “where the blessings of Africa change boys into men”, children who are immersed in and complete the two-year residential program have a pretty good success rate when applying for entrance at the city’s most competitive high schools.

This poignant documentary follows four of these boys on their life-changing journey to Africa. We meet Devon, Montrey and the two brothers, Richard and Romesh, It is interesting to get to know each boy because each one has a dream and hopes for a better life. We also witness the positive changes that take place in their lives as they attend the strict African school. Devon, who is musically inclined, dreams of becoming a preacher. Montrey, a troublemaker, learns how to control his anger. Richard improves his reading and even composes and incites a poem. Romesh, who initially tries to run away, stays and makes the honour roll.

When the boys arrive back to Baltimore for summer vacation they get the crushing news that their second year at the Baraka school is cancelled because of regional politics and threats to its security. We observe the disappointment in the boys and their families. Now they have to struggle, once again, in an environment that is so depressing.

The directors, Heidi and Rachel, follow these boys for three years and observe how the educational experience changes them. This documentary successfully captures the personal and emotional side of the story. I would have liked to have seen more facts about the Baraka school in the film but other than this I would not change a thing. Boys of Baraka was a popular film on the 2005 festival circuit winning eight awards – quite impressive. I think its success speaks for itself. The highlight of the film for me is when Montrey goes on to achieve one of the top scores statewide on the Maryland School Assessment test in math during his eighth-grade year – now that’s impressive.