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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

For Ahkeem

For Ahkeem is an affecting coming-of-age documentary that shines a light on what it means to grow up poor and black in 21st Century America. Below, former White House Social Secretary Deesha Dyer shares her thoughts on this powerful film.

By Deesha Dyer

I knew something good would come out of my insomniac Twitter scrolling. A few months ago I came across the trailer for the documentary For Ahkeem. I had never heard of the film but watched the trailer and was completely taken back. I saw myself in Daje, the teenage girl whose story it follows. While circumstances are quite different between us, the parallels were strong. The most striking was the balancing act she struggled to master—being labeled a "bad kid," an unstable family structure, and poverty.

Not long ago, this was my reality. It’s how I felt growing up in Philadelphia and later at a boarding school in Hershey, PA. I was a loud kid, and I mean loud! While my parents always encouraged me to stand up for myself, this attitude and communication method was not highly accepted in an academic or residential environment. Every time I got in trouble, I would get more defensive because while I took responsibilities for my actions, I didn’t understand why the world was afraid of me. I watched Daje go through these same emotions.

When I finally watched the complete film, I wanted nothing more than to hug Daje and let her know that it is okay and she is okay. I say this from experience because I ended up okay—actually more than okay, working for President and Mrs. Obama at the White House for almost eight years. Looking at headlines, it is easy to see how the stigma attached to young black girls still exists. I don’t know why I was naive to think it didn’t. For Ahkeem moved me to start focusing more on the narrative labeled around young black girls who are perhaps deemed too loud, too sassy, or too grown. I started to have open conversations with young girls—even taking some to see For Ahkeem—about how they are beautiful, assertive, bold, and courageous. How they can use their voices for good, as I had.

I encourage everyone to go see For Ahkeem. It gives a human glimpse into a perspective that may have you questioning if Daje needs to change, or the system needs to change. Daje is hopeful and that shines through the whole movie. It’s hard not to catch that same feeling when watching this brilliant film.

For Ahkeem screens Oct 13—19, and tickets are on sale now.

Starting with a White House internship at age 31, Deesha Dyer rose to become White House Social Secretary to President and Mrs. Barack Obama from 2015—17.

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