Downloads: Press Release
Filmed Over Five Years, Documentary Follows Robert and Krishaun from Chicago’s South Side as They Pursue Dreams of Higher Education, Middle Class Careers
A Co-production of American Documentary | POV; Part of American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen
“I have to be the one to make it through college.”— Krishaun Branch
“It isn’t how you start, it’s how you finish.”— Robert Henderson
The largely invisible and often crushing struggles of young African-American men come vividly — and heroically — to life in All the Difference, which traces the paths of two teens from the South Side of Chicago who dared to dream a seemingly impossible dream: to graduate from college. As this intimate film shows, Robert Henderson and Krishaun Branch’s determination started them on the road to success, but it was the support from people in their lives—parents, grandparents, teachers and mentors— that brought them to their destination.
Emmy®-winning producer/director Tod Lending’s film, inspired by Wes Moore’s bestselling autobiographical book, The Other Wes Moore, will have its national broadcast premiere on the POV (Point of View) documentary series on PBS on Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 at 10 p.m. (check local listings). Now in its 29th season, POV is American television’s longest-running independent documentary series and the recipient of a 2013 MacArthur Foundation Award for Creative and Effective Institutions.
The story opens on a street corner in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. “We’ve got shots fired over here,” a first responder says over the police radio. Young men are cut down in the prime of their lives. Patricia Hurel, Krishaun’s former elementary school teacher, has heard kids in Englewood say, “If I make it until 18, I’m going to have myself a party.” But reaching 18 is only the beginning for Robert and Krishaun; they have plans to graduate from high school and go on to college.
They would be the first in their families to graduate from college. And though the odds are against them—the average high school graduation rate for black males in Chicago is 41%—their motivations are quintessential expressions of the American dream. “I just want to make a positive contribution to the society I live in,” says Robert, while Krishaun hopes to become a U.S. Marshal and have “a gorgeous wife” and children.
Lending, whose earlier work includes the Academy Award®-nominated Legacy and the POV films Omar & Pete and The Principal Story, documents five years of hard work, sacrifice, setbacks and uncertainty in pursuit of a future many Americans consider a birthright. All the Difference is a co-production of American Documentary | POV and is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities keep more students on the path to graduation, college and careers.
As All the Difference shows, both Robert and Krishaun faced huge obstacles growing up. Robert was just 17 months old when his mother was killed by his father. He and his six siblings were taken in and raised by their grandmother. Krishaun, like many of his family members, joined a gang.
But both also had a key asset: the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men, where mentors and teachers encouraged them not only to get through high school but beyond. And while family stability has not been constant, what remains plays a crucial role, especially for Robert. Grandmother Ona, who started life as a Mississippi sharecropper and never got past the fifth grade, offers calm but powerful guidance. She is assisted by their church, another bulwark against neighborhood violence.
Though Robert and Krishaun experience personal and academic struggles during their high school years, both graduate and set their sights on college diplomas. This puts them in an elite group. While the estimated national high school graduation rate for African-American men is 59%, only 16% graduate college with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Krishaun chooses historically black Fisk University in Nashville, while Robert decides on predominantly white Lake Forest College, about 30 miles north of Chicago.
They soon encounter typical college challenges—developing stronger study habits, getting used to living away from family and friends and eventually adjusting their goals to fit more closely with their evolving academic strengths—and challenges amplified for young men of color: cultural adjustments and the fear of having to drop out if they can’t pay their student loans. Robert, who sets aside his dream of becoming a doctor and switches to a history major, faces an additional obstacle—being one of the few black students in his classes. His white classmates, he says, “look at me like, ‘Oh what the heck are you doing here?'” But his infectiously upbeat nature, along with encouragement from a college adviser and a girlfriend, help him move forward.
Fisk University, in contrast, is “like a family” for Krishaun. It also provides numerous social distractions that don’t help his studies. From playing basketball to feeling the sting of rejection from a fraternity he hoped to join, “anything can get me off track real quick,” he says. Throughout their four-year college experiences, both face continuous pressure to maintain the necessary grade point average to qualify for financial aid. Finding summer jobs is an additional struggle: In Chicago, according to the film, 91% of black teenage males are unemployed. Krishaun also suffers a devastating loss when his 17-year-old brother, Devonte, is killed in a drive-by shooting. Krishaun blames his own absence, in part, for the tragedy. “While I was here, I was protecting him. I came back to a little brother that was in the streets. I feel like I let him down when I left because I was all he knew.”
Despite the hurdles, Krishaun and Robert succeed. Their emotional graduation ceremonies illuminate the significance of their achievements. They have not only beaten the odds, but have positioned themselves for entry into the middle class.
And both have made deliberate choices to take jobs that will allow them to give back to the community. “When I finally see my mother again, I will look at her and smile,” Robert says tearfully. “Look how far I’ve made it. I’ve made you proud.” He departs to work at a Columbia, S.C. high school that is part of the national organization City Year, which enlists young adults in a year of service supporting at-risk students. Krishaun makes good on a promise to work at Urban Prep, the school that helped him find a new life. “When I go back to Englewood, I feel like LeBron when he goes back to Cleveland!” he exclaims with pride. “I’m doing it for my community and my ‘hood.”
While Robert and Krishaun are focused on the future, they have not forgotten where they came from. They offer advice to other young men who might dream of following in their footsteps. “If you believe in yourself, there’s no telling what you can do,” says Robert. Krishaun, whose new life includes fatherhood, says his newborn son “is starting many steps ahead of where I started. I feel that nothing is impossible now.”
“It only takes one generation to dramatically change the destiny of a family, and when families change, communities change,” said director Tod Lending. “Robert and Krishaun exemplify that change. It’s important to remember that they made it to college not because they were academically exceptional. They made it because their mentors, teachers, academic advisers, family members and pastors believed in them and taught them to believe in themselves.”
“Robert and Krishaun,” Lending continues, “had struggles and at times came close to dropping out, but the support they had made all the difference, and so they succeeded. If this type of very affordable support is made available to all young men growing up in the chaos and despair of poverty, we will see a whole new generation bring an end to that cycle of poverty. I think our country desperately needs to make this happen.”
The All the Difference Campaign
In partnership with American Graduate and leading organizations around the country, the POV and All the Difference teams have launched a national campaign to mobilize students, families, educators, mentors and PBS stations to support first-generation students and young men of color as they prepare for and graduate from college. This endeavor is supported by a set of strategic tools, including an online, interactive College-Bound Student Handbook, a Facilitator’s Guide and Family Tip Sheets.
Tod Lending, Producer, Director, Cinematographer
Tod Lending is an Academy Award-nominated and Emmy-winning producer, director, writer and cinematographer whose work has aired on ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and HBO; has screened theatrically and been recognized with awards at national and international festivals; and has been televised in Europe and Asia. He is the president and founder of Nomadic Pictures, a documentary film production company based in Chicago, and the executive director of Ethno Pictures, a nonprofit film company that produces and distributes educational films.
Tod’s documentary Legacy was nominated for an Academy Award in 2001. The film aired on Cinemax/HBO in 2000 and received a primetime national PBS release in 2002. Legacy inspired the creation and passing of federal housing legislation on behalf of grandparents rearing their grandchildren. The Transportation, Treasury and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill signed into law on Nov. 30, 2005 included $4 million for LEGACY Housing pilot programs.
His Emmy-nominated documentary Omar & Pete, which followed two men before and after their release from prison, premiered on POV in 2005 and garnered the Henry Hampton Award. In 2008, Tod was awarded a $1.5 million grant by the Wallace Foundation to produce, direct and photograph the documentary film and outreach project The Principal Story for POV. The film, which chronicled a year in the life of two public school principals in Chicago, was licensed by the U.S. State Department and is being distributed to more than 150 U.S. consulates around the world.
Over the last few years, Tod has served as producer, director and cinematographer on assignments for Al Jazeera English. He was a University of Maryland Journalism Fellow in Child and Family Policy and an adviser at the Sundance Institute.
Joy Thomas Moore, Executive Producer
Joy Thomas Moore is the president and CEO of JWS Media Consulting, dedicated to finding innovative ways to use media and messaging techniques to further the goals of her clients. She worked for 15 years for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropy devoted to developing a brighter future for disadvantaged children and families in the United States. She continues to consult for that organization.
Prior to her work in philanthropy, Joy was an award-winning writer and field producer in New York City, where she contributed to numerous local and national television productions, including ESSENCE: The Television Program; Women Into the Nineties; America’s Black Forum hosted by Julian Bond; and the acclaimed eight-part documentary series Images & Realities: African American Men and its sequels. She previously worked in Washington, D.C., winning a George Foster Peabody Award for excellence in radio documentaries. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the American University School of Communication.
When media projects aren’t consuming her life, Joy happily connects with her three grown children (including Wes Moore) and two grandchildren.
Wes Moore, Executive Producer
Wes Moore is a youth advocate, U.S. Army combat veteran, social entrepreneur and author. His first book, The Other Wes Moore, about the fates of two kids named Wes Moore (one being himself) born in the same Baltimore neighborhood who traveled down different paths, became an instant New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. His most recent book, The Work, debuted at No. 15 on the New York Times bestseller list.
He graduated Phi Theta Kappa as a commissioned officer from Valley Forge Military Academy and College and Phi Beta Kappa from Johns Hopkins University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations. Wes subsequently became a Rhodes Scholar, studying international relations at Oxford University.
He was a paratrooper and captain in the United States Army and served a combat tour of duty in Afghanistan. As a White House fellow from 2006 to 2007, he was a special assistant to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. He serves on the boards of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Johns Hopkins University; founded the organization STAND, which works with Baltimore youth and the criminal justice system; and is the founder and CEO of BridgeEdU, which addresses the college completion and job placement crisis. He executive produced and hosted a three-part PBS series about returning veterans, Coming Back with Wes Moore, in 2014. He is a regular contributor to NBC News and was host of Beyond Belief for OWN. He lives in Baltimore with his wife and two children.
All the Difference is a co-production of Nomadic Pictures, Ethno Pictures, JWS Media Consulting, Omari Productions and American Documentary | POV.
Producer, Director, Cinematographer: Tod Lending
Executive Producers: Joy Thomas Moore, Wes Moore, Simon Kilmurry, Chris White
Co-Executive Producer: Bhagyashree RaoRane
Editor: Melissa Sterne
Music Composer: Selma Mutal
Running Time: 86:46
POV Series Credits:
Executive Producers: Justine Nagan, Chris White
Vice President, Content Strategy: Eliza Licht
Associate Producer: Nicole Tsien
Coordinating Producer: Nikki Heyman
American Graduate: Let’s Make It Happen is public media’s long-term commitment to supporting community-based solutions to the dropout crisis. Supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, more than 100 public radio and television stations have joined forces with over 1,400 partners and at-risk schools across 40 states.
Produced by American Documentary, Inc., POV is public television’s premier showcase for nonfiction films. Since 1988, POV has been the home for the world’s boldest contemporary filmmakers, celebrating intriguing personal stories that spark conversation and inspire action. Always an innovator, POV discovers fresh new voices and creates interactive experiences that shine a light on social issues and elevate the art of storytelling. With our documentary broadcasts, original online programming and dynamic community engagement campaigns, we are committed to supporting films that capture the imagination and present diverse perspectives.
POV films have won 34 Emmy® Awards, 18 George Foster Peabody Awards, 12 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards, three Academy Awards®, the first-ever George Polk Documentary Film Award and the Prix Italia. The POV series has been honored with a Special News & Documentary Emmy Award for Excellence in Television Documentary Filmmaking, three IDA Awards for Best Curated Series and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) Award for Corporate Commitment to Diversity. Learn more at www.pbs.org/pov.
POV Community Engagement and Education (www.pbs.org/pov/engage)
POV’s Community Engagement and Education team works with educators, community organizations and PBS stations to present more than 650 free screenings every year. In addition, we distribute free discussion guides and standards-aligned lesson plans for each of our films. With our community partners, we inspire dialogue around the most important social issues of our time.
POV Digital (www.pbs.org/pov)
Since 1994, POV Digital has driven new storytelling initiatives and interactive production for POV. The department created PBS’s first program website and its first web-based documentary (POV’s Borders) and has won major awards, including a Webby Award (and six nominations) and an Online News Association Award. POV Digital continues to explore the future of independent nonfiction media through its digital productions and the POV Hackathon lab, where media makers and technologists collaborate to reinvent storytelling forms. @povdocs on Twitter.
American Documentary, Inc. (www.amdoc.org)
American Documentary, Inc. (AmDoc) is a multimedia company dedicated to creating, identifying and presenting contemporary stories that express opinions and perspectives rarely featured in mainstream media outlets. AmDoc is a catalyst for public culture, developing collaborative strategic engagement activities around socially relevant content on television, online and in community settings. These activities are designed to trigger action, from dialogue and feedback to educational opportunities and community participation.
Major funding for POV is provided by PBS, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding comes from Nancy Blachman and David desJardins, Bertha Foundation, The Fledgling Fund, Marguerite Casey Foundation, Ettinger Foundation, New York State Council on the Arts, New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee, and public television viewers. POV is presented by a consortium of public television stations, including KQED San Francisco, WGBH Boston and THIRTEEN in association with WNET.ORG.