What are the social, emotional, and cultural costs of an elite education for a young student of color? Andre Robert Lee’s documentary, The Prep School Negro, illuminates the filmmaker’s journey from a tough neighborhood in Philly to one of the most prestigious prep schools in the nation. The education he received–all expenses paid–was top notch, but there were other prices to be paid when it came to his identity–his relationship with his family, and the pressure of fitting into two very different worlds. The film allows Lee to reflect on his past, as a family emergency necessitates him coming to terms with his present.

Woven throughout his poignant personal narrative are the voices of current prep school students of color who, Lee finds, are navigating the same rocky roads that he did decades ago. Both low income and affluent students of color express anxiety, as the former feel uncomfortable having classmates over to their houses, while the latter find trouble fitting in with the few other students of color at their school.   Students work to explore their racial identity, dealing with both intense white privilege at school, and the pressure of being “Black enough” at home.  Additionally, along with the amazing educational opportunities, some face an underlying sense of guilt associated with receiving an invitation into this world while others are left behind.  For Lee and the students he profiles, and those of us who also identify as “prep school negroes,” an elite education can contribute a great deal to both challenges faced and success achieved.

The documentary raises big questions about race, class, and education. What factors go into the decision to send a child of color to a prep school? What can elite schools do to foster dialogue and create change, rather than give lip service to diversity? How are parents, siblings, and those in the community who don’t have access to a prep school education impacted by the experiences of the prep school student of color? While Lee is in the process of completing the extended version of the film, the educational version has toured to hundreds of schools which includes curriculum guides and workshops that allow the art to inspire action.

You can find more information at www.theprepschoolnegro.org.

What are your thoughts on the challenges and benefits of a prep school education for students of color?

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