The CASA story is an American story; A story of how structural inequalities affected communities like the Bronx. We explore how redlining, education defunding, and the influx of drugs, turned a once diverse and culturally vibrant Bronx community into an area of concentrated poverty, despair, and violence. The loss of industrial jobs, the heroine epidemic, the Cross Bronx Expressway, disinvestment, white flight, and the burning of buildings literally left the Bronx to die – until Hip Hop culture was born.
Public education has also been under attack. Policies continue to favor the middle and upper class while neglecting and abusing our most vulnerable youth and families. The abandoning of public schools has created vulture capital opportunities for school privatization and an attack on organized labor in our country. Policies like "No Child Left Behind” and annual high stakes standardized testing have been used as weapons to blame teachers and the victims of structural inequality for their so-called failures. Think tanks consisting of corporations, politicians, and the wealthy, have facilitated pro-privatization policies in public education since the 1970’s, while also supporting private prisons and stand your ground laws. Public education was on the verge of being demoralized – and then came CASA.
Just as Hip Hop is a youth movement that transformed the world and revitalized the culture of a community, CASA is a model of how the youth in our schools can be empowered to lead the fight against injustice in both public education and the larger society. Hip Hop, as education transformation, will finally ensure the well being of our children, while nurturing their innate genius.
The CASA documentary is written and directed by Johwell StCilien, a long time activist born and raised in Paris, France and Co-founder of NegusWorld, an international organization which connects young students around the world through art. The film is also co-written and produced by Jamaal Bowman. JeanMichel “MK" Dobaria is the Director of Photography. Also born in Paris, MK has collaborated with the likes of Nas and Swizz Beatz just to name a few. He recently worked on acclaimed documentaries such as "Rubble Kings”. The protagonist of this film is principal Jamaal Bowman, raised by a single mother who taught him that education was essential. Bowman was born the same year Hip Hop was founded and has spent most of his career as an educator in the Bronx where the culture initially started. Just like most of his students, Bowman grew up to face many challenges and Hip Hop was key in helping him succeed. Hip Hop is still what drives him today. Against all odds, Jamaal Bowman founded CASA middle school based on the very principles of the culture that raised him — Hip Hop.
Over 50 interviews have been conducted so far. In our documentary, we hear from parents, teachers, artists, activists, and education leaders about the state of public education, how we got to this point, and where we go from here. Students remain the voice at the center of our narrative. CASA: An Education Revolution, pushes back against the narrow standardization and privatization agenda attempting to govern our public schools. We resist practices around the idea that our students are raw materials to be molded into square pegs for a narrow economy, and we resist any form of injustice. This is a story about the genius of our students -- in the Bronx and all over the world, and how their voice, love, curiosity and creativity must be nurtured to solve the world's biggest challenges.
Hip Hop is a youth movement born of the neglect and trauma of the Bronx in the 1970’s. This depravity provided the energy for a new culture. The system and poverty inflicted on the children, inspired their imagination and ingenuity. Turntables were transformed into instruments and card board became the dance floor. The city became a canvas of creativity as the youth demanded to be seen and heard! Their presence and genius was undeniable. In a time where society vilified the youth and labeled them hopeless, these young people roared through DJ’ing, MC’ing, breakdancing, and graffiti. Like Hip Hop, CASA is a revolutionary public school that is inspiring every student to discover their genius and use it to transform the world.
At CASA, the principal is the DJ, providing the vision and purpose while strategically and instinctively blending actions to motivate teachers to perform at their best. The teachers are the MCs, providing clear and deft oratory while exchanging knowledge and wisdom with parents and students. The students are the B-girls, and B-boys, expressing their passion, ideas, joy, and limitless ability in performance and movement. The school culture is Graffiti displayed on classroom, hallway and office walls, and in the living and breathing behaviors of school staff. The culture also provides the feel and soul of the school. Finally, Knowledge of Self is the energy, affection, and intellect that is transferred from the parents, through students, to teachers, and back again. Students, staff, and families share the knowledge of themselves, their history, their gifts and their vulnerabilities. Through this process, we become a community of peace, love, unity, and having fun.