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Still from Let the Little Light Shine

ReFrame Review: Let the Little Light Shine

Written by
Madison Marvin
and
and
February 2, 2023
ReFrame Review: Let the Little Light Shine
Still from Let the Little Light Shine

From acclaimed director Kevin Shaw who produced America to Me (2018), comes a new documentary Let the Little Light Shine (2022), which showcases the strength of the students at National Teachers Academy (NTA) in Chicago. The film opens with students and teachers alike chanting, “Keep our schools open” in a symphony of solidarity for their education. Amidst an unprecedented mass amount of school shutdowns, NTA isn’t the first school to be targeted nor the first to fight back. But what makes NTA different is that it is a high-performing elementary school composed of predominantly BIPOC and specifically, Black and Latinx students. The documentary highlights the courage of the students of NTA to stand up against Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and the dedication of the teachers and parents to support the students in their fight. Throughout the film, we meet various students and teachers from NTA, learning their stories, their struggles, and their stances on NTA’s closing. 

NTA was not threatened with “closing” in the conventional sense of boarded-up windows and tumble-weed halls, but instead was set to be converted into an integrated highschool to accommodate the overflow of students from South Loop Elementary School. However, this merging of schools would undermine the achievements and successes of the Black students currently attending NTA, as it essentially makes the claim that “an all Black classroom cannot be smart. It is not an educationally viable classroom. It can only be good if it’s integrated… You’re saying we’re not good enough. We’re not smart.” Not only that, but there was evidence brought forth in the documentary that the reason for overcrowding in South Loop was due to a reluctance and even refusal of parents to send their kids to NTA. And with the merging of schools, not only would the students from South Loop and NTA be kept segregated with different arrival and dismissal times, as well as separate entrances, clubs, lunchtimes, etc. but one interviewee claimed that this demand for separation was not a matter of race, but of class and elitism. “I don’t think it’s ever been racial,” says white man. 

The other schools that were shut down amidst the large-scale school closings in 2013 were dismissed as “underperforming,” and while this may or not have been the case, NTA has consistently proven that it is anything but. Not only does the school boast impressive grades and a strong curriculum, the school also works to build an inclusive and understanding community of students, teachers, and families. This strength of bonds and community was present throughout the film, from the youngest grade-school students to the principal of NTA. There was a question posed in the documentary if this shut-down would be happening had NTA been predominantly white. Though this film may be viewed as biased towards NTA, it is noted in the film that the producers reached out to CPS with interview requests, but were denied.

This film was striking and groundbreaking in both its ending and throughout the film, showcasing courage and kindness that was heartwarming to watch unfold. The true strength of the documentary was its illustration of the students and teachers' connections. The fight for education is a worthy one, and one that can speak to all viewers. From students whose lives have been changed by that one teacher, to educators who understand that teaching goes beyond the classroom. Overall, the film was about hope; about having it when all felt lost, and finding it within each other when it was needed most.

The 2023 ReFrame Festival runs from January 26th-February 3rd. A list of films, tickets to events and screenings, and more information can be found on the Festival Website.

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