Sy Stokes and Black Male UCLA Bruins Take A Stand

College admissions have always been a tenuous process. When that process involves race and ethnicity, people become divided, temperatures rise and questions are raised.

In the case of UCLA (University of California – Los Angeles), Sy Stokes has brought national attention to the dearth of black males on campus. He brings up the statistic that black males make up only 3.3 percent of the male population at UCLA, of whom 65 percent are athletes. Stokes also addresses the fact that UCLA has made cuts to financial aid in recent years, but that hasn’t stopped the university from spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on flights and hotel suites.

While some may take issue with the video and say, “well why don’t more black males just work harder and get better grades,” the matter isn’t that simple. Poor and failing schools, a shortage of resources, and in some cases a lack of quality teachers, too often occurs in black and brown neighborhoods. If these students don’t have access to supplemental help through the form of strong support systems or tutoring, many will fall through the cracks. And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the issue of financial aid.

The lack of diversity at UCLA reminds me of my college experience to a certain extent. My campus wasn’t particularly diverse, but it has improved in recent years. I remember a number of times being mistaken for an athlete (this is the main reason why I never brought any football or basketball t-shirts from the bookstore). Because there were so few black men on campus, many people naturally assumed you were only there because you were a member of a team. I’m sure the guys at UCLA must get this all the time and are probably tired of it, I know I was. Credit to them for taking a stand and making their presence known.

Thoughts on Fruitvale Station

After a month delay and several months of being intrigued by the premise of the film, I finally saw “Fruitvale Station” last week. It left me feeling a number of emotions upon exiting the theater.

“Fruitvale Station” is the story of Oscar Grant and the 24 hours leading up to his death at the Fruitvale subway stop in Oakland, California, on New Year’s Day 2009. But it’s really so much more than that. It’s a story that truly does explore the human condition through Oscar’s eyes and makes the viewer see a troubled man who was trying to turn his life around.

What makes “Fruitvale Station” different than most movies is that you have some idea going in how the story will end. Anyone who has heard about the film or done any research on the case, knows ultimately that Oscar Grant will be killed. Similar much in the same way as a movie like “Titanic,” where (spoiler alert) the ship sinks, with a film like “Fruitvale Station” character development becomes all the more crucial when the audience knows the final result.

Michael B. Jordan gives an excellent performance as Oscar Grant. Through him, we see more of a 360 degree portrayal of Grant. By that I mean director Ryan Coogler is careful not to paint Grant as some figure headed for sainthood before death. Too often in dramas about people’s lives, we see heavy handed attempts to portray the protagonist in the most positive light possible with little to no faults. In essence the main character becomes reduced to little more than a cardboard cutout of virtue, instead of a fleshed out human being with emotional, physical, mental, or spiritual obstacles to conquer. This is exactly the criticism I leveled at the film “42”; I was glad to see “Fruitvale Station” didn’t follow that same script.

Over the course of the film we see Oscar not take his prospects of getting a job seriously. We see a man at times quick to anger, but even quicker to flash his smile at someone. We see a person learning to accept the responsibility of fatherhood while trying to become a more supportive partner to his girlfriend. We also witness the interactions he has with his mother (great job by Octavia Spencer) and the initial guilt she feels immediately after his death.

“Fruitvale Station” on its surface is a movie about a shooting, but really it’s a movie about the relationships between Oscar Grant and those around him. Through his friends and family we see him as a person bending in the direction of slowly, but steadily, improving his life. I would strongly recommend anyone who hasn’t yet seen it, to make an effort to watch it while it’s still in theaters. It may leave you teary eyed at points, but chances are, you’ll be better for the experience.