In 1987, The Beethoven Project sat smack dab in the middle of Chicago's Robert Taylor Homes, the largest housing project in the country with over 30,000 families dwelling within eight square blocks. Crime was rampant, gangs were everywhere, and the often urine-scented hallways far too often planted seeds of doubt and hopelessness instead of hope and possibility.
Originally from the community themselves, audacious educators saw possibility and planted The Beethoven Project despite nearly everyone telling them it was impossible. Instead, these educators became determined to deliver a quality early childhood education and an unmistakable message - you matter.
By the late 90's, Robert Taylor Homes was coming down and no matter how difficult life had been there the uncertainty and doubt that had always existed for these residents became amplified by the question "Where will I go?" In 2000, The Beethoven Project morphed into an even more astounding project - Educare.
Tomorrow's Hope focuses its lens largely on three of the students who were in that first Educare class - Jalen, Crystal, and Jamal.
Jalen, who lost a brother to gun violence during high school, aspires to being a pediatrician. She writes poetry and expresses herself beautifully, a creative spirit seemingly shared by all three of the film's key subjects.
Crystal, in one of the film's more poignant scenes, swears that the sun looked different during her years in Educare. Getting prepared to head off to college in hopes of becoming a psychiatrist, Crystal worries about her mother when she's gone but often seems the most amazed at how well her own life is turning out.
Then, there's the musically gifted Jamal, a well-spoken young man who is aiming to become a musical engineer and who seems the most in awe of Educare once he returns in scenes captured throughout the film in which his deep appreciation simply radiates.
Screening at this week's SXSW, Tomorrow's Hope has also been picked up by indie distributor Abramorama and definitely tells the kind of feel-good, inspirational story that audiences love. While we may be tempted to consider it somewhat miraculous, every child in that first Educare class finished high school.
There is always hope, though sometimes it doesn't look like what we expect.
Tomorrow's Hope also spends time with the educators themselves, committed souls who lived in the areas they serve now and who've long believed in the potential of every single child they serve. While Tomorrow's Hope for the most part stays positive other than a few transitional scenes, it's clear that there were tremendous odds stacked against those who started Educare and while the program has had its challenges it would be nearly impossible to call it anything but an overwhelming success creating inspirational success stories.
Tomorrow's Hope was produced by The Saul Zaentz Charitable Foundation after they discovered the work of The Ounce of Prevention, or Start Early, the parent organization behind Educare and an organization committed to supporting the potential of children up to age five during the years research has shown is the most remarkable in terms of development.
"You matter" radiates through every frame of Tomorrow's Hope, a passionate and inspiring film about the importance of early childhood education and the communities that benefit when we do everything we can to equip our children for a better future.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic