A Blade of Grass Films


Black Self-Determination: The Black School

The Black School is an experimental art school that uses socially engaged art, Black history, and radical thought to educate Black and POC students and allies in becoming agents for social change. Featuring A Blade of Grass Fellow for Socially Engaged Art Joseph Cullier, Co-Founder of The Black School, on location in a Brooklyn high school.

AIRED: August 03, 2020 | 0:05:08

Cuillier: So let's talk about what The Black School is.

Definitely it's about how we can make an impact on the world,

starting with our community.

Self-respect, community respect,

but most importantly, unifying,

unifying together for collective action.


♪ I-I a eight

♪ Oh, you know what's up

♪ Got that Chik-fil-A lemonade

♪ When I'm pulling up

♪ Got to for days

Cuillier: The Black School mission

is to radicalize youth around Black radical politics.

It came clear to me that we have to go to the youth.

Starting with them before they become indoctrinated

with these Western lenses.

So the structure of The Black School

is all about going wherever Black people are.

We partner with youth organizations.

We partner with high schools. We partner with middle schools,

even down to elementary schools,

trying to get these kids out of the way of thinking

that they don't have anything to contribute

because over the history we've been taught that Black people

don't have much of anything. So we're going to the youth

and we're telling them, "The knowledge you have is valuable.

And it can be used to help that community."

Self-determination is to motivate yourself.

Is that?

I said it's the ability to continue to push yourself

to achieve greatness.


After I graduated,

I started reading Bell Hooks' "Teaching to Transgress,"

and then I found out about the Freedom Schools

of the Civil Rights movement.

And then later on, I found about Liberation Schools

of the Black Panther Party.

So all of those kind of came together

and gave me the idea for The Black School.

First before we do any art making, we start with a survey.

So we start with what you love.

Then we ask what you want to change.

So that's, like, basing the art making we do

in a social reality.

I would like to change the way my community

uses violence to get revenge.

What I love my community is that some of them,

they're very kind to me, and that --

what I'd like to change is the gang violence.

Cuillier: They're seeing that cycle of, like, violence

being perpetrated on their community

and they're thinking that their community is inherently violent,

but their community is actually just being failed

by every major institution in American society.

The Black School is saying, "Enough is enough.

If these institutions aren't going to serve us,

we're going to work to build our own institutions.

And we can't change things on our own,

but we can come together and change things collectively.


Art is the picture, it intersects with the platform,

in that the principles that they learn in this school,

they learn it through art making.

Girl: It's a robot trying to harness the power of the sun

to create an alternate planet

that's filled with a new start and, like, a new beginning.

Cuillier: We are inspired by activism,

but we're not activists. We're artists.

Basically, what they were doing was developing

Afro-futuristic tools to deal with the issues

these students were seeing in their community.

It's supposed to be, like, a watch,

but it's also going to have, like, a safety option,

like, three presses, then it alerts 911, "Hey,

you know, she's in trouble.

You know, we got to go to this location."

I am surprised by the students' political engagement,

and it's coming out and the art.

They have answers. They have solutions.

And that's a lot of what The Black School is about.

We're trying to get the students inspiring

collective action

to, like, correct some wrongs that they see

and they have the capacity to correct.

♪ I just want to ride around my city with my windows tinted ♪

♪ Just go

♪ Hanging with my brothers, riding undercover ♪

Cuillier: Over the course of the first year

of The Black School, we did about 15 workshops

at about 12 different

high school and youth organizations.

And the idea was to celebrate the culmination of the program

with Black Love Fest,

which is, like, opening up this school

to the greater New York City community.

Like, come out, see what we've been making.

And that's the idea of, like, bringing everybody collectively

in one space and inspiring that change that we want to see.

♪ That's just the way it goes

♪ Knowing it's gon' bring me home ♪

♪ Drink it up like it's tasty

♪ These are loving in our glass ♪

♪ It's the way it goes


♪ Drinking, I just hope it's


♪ I just want another blunt


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