Chastity lives with her mother and three brothers in a homeless shelter in the Bronx. She’s trying to graduate high school. Her mother, who dropped out of school, explains: “She sees exactly what happens if you don’t have an education. She sees that. She loves school; thank god she loves school. . .”
Chastity’s story is featured in Part I of the Bernardo Ruiz documentary, “The Graduates,” which aired on PBS on Tuesday. The 55 minute video is now available to stream online in English and Spanish. Part I, titled “The Girls,” gives first-hand accounts of challenges facing Chastity and other Latinas who fight through discouragement, discrimination, poverty, pregnancy, and violence to receive their diplomas.
The film intersperses the girls’ stories with commentary from family members, school officials, social workers, activists, and San Antonio’s Mayor Julián Castro. The end result is an illuminating and genuine tearjerker that made this blogger grateful for his relatively cushy high school experience.
What particularly stands out is the girls’ sense of shouldering profound responsibility for their families and their communities. Stephanie, who lives in Chicago’s south side and walks through a metal detector every day to enter her high school, cares for her family, her neighborhood, and even flies to Africa at the end of the film to help build schools in Senegal.
The entirety of Part I can be viewed for free in Spanish and English at the Independent Lens website. PBS also offers an interview with the filmmaker and a list of resources for community engagement, undocumented youth, gang prevention, anti-bullying, homelessness and poverty, youth action, and more.
Part II, “The Boys,” is apparently not yet available online and I cannot find it listed on the PBS TV schedule.