D.C. was a different place in the 80’s. It was the murder capital of the nation, crack cocaine devastated entire communities, and the school system was absolutely abysmal. In the midst of what is described as a “low level civil war,” 67 students in Anacostia’s Kramer Middle School were picked for the I Have a Dream program, funded by wealthy local businessman Stewart Bainum. I Have a Dream’s sole goal was to see all of the Dreamers graduate high school and go to college (which would be paid for by Bainum). However, as Southeast 67 explores, just giving these students the financial ability to go to college isn’t always enough.
A mixture of archival footage, photographs, and current day interviews, Southeast 67 explores all aspects of the I Have a Dream program. From its inception and greatest achievements, to its downsides and flaws. Director Betsy Cox does not shy away from the difficulties educators Steve Bumbaugh and Phyllis Rumbarger dealt with just trying to make sure all of the Dreamers graduated middle school. Nor does it shy away from Bumbaugh’s and Rumbarger’s naiveté. At the time, neither of them realized how bad some of the Dreamers home lives were until it was almost too late. Many of the Dreamers had parents or relatives who were addicted to crack, some even lived in shelters with their entire family.
What makes this documentary feel especially alive, despite the fact that many years have passed since the Dreamers went to Kramer, is its in depth exploration of a few key students lives, both now and then. Many of the Dreamers, like Martece Yates and Antwan Green, share very personal stories about growing up in Anacostia. While not all of the Dreamers made it to college, they all seem look back very fondly on the close relationships they formed with each other and their teachers during their time in the program. Even though many years have passed, you can still see that they treated each other like family.
It’s easy to look back on the past and say what you would have done differently. Many of the Dreamers in Southeast 67 lamented over the fact that they didn’t take school as seriously as they should have, or that they waited years and years to go to college. What makes this documentary interesting and important is not what they should have done, but what they were able to do. Even though many of the Dreamers did not take Bainum up on his offer to send them to college, they grew exponentially as people during their time in the program. It changed their lives. That’s what matters.