By Tasia Smith, Special to the NNPA from the Los Angeles Sentinel –
What began as a project to get Compton High School seniors excited about college--and to counteract negative stereotypes about the often maligned inner city--became a chance for community-building that even founder Court Crandall could have never imagined.
Crandall, Executive Creative Director at ad firm WDCW and screenwriter from Manhattan Beach, came up with the idea while watching his 16-year-old son, Chase, play club basketball alongside a number of youths from Compton. As he said in a short video clip filmed to help launch the project, "it kinda wasn't lost on him or me that while they were the same age, and playing the same sport, and good friends and all this, [Chase] had certain opportunities and means that they did not." And so, Crandall set out to move beyond the lines that often divide communities and to unite them around a different one: the free-throw line.
He created a charity event aimed at offering high-achieving Compton High seniors the chance to win a $40,000 college scholarship by way of a free-throw shooting competition. All seniors with grade-point averages of 3.0 and higher were invited to apply, and from the 80 students that did so, eight contestants were randomly chosen. On March 25th those eight students, Efren Arellano, Elisabed Cervantes, Donald Dotson, Allan Guei, Omar Guzman, Victory Holley, Arturo Mendez, and Diana Ramirez, shot free-throws in front of their entire school for the chance at the prize--though the pressure was somewhat lessened by the knowledge that the seven runners-up would receive $1,000 scholarships just for participating.
However, as a screenwriter, Crandall also conceived of this project as an opportunity to showcase a more positive side of Compton than is usually presented. The city has suffered for years from pervasive stereotypes of rampant violence and lawlessness, stemming from N.W.A's groundbreaking 1988 album Straight Outta Compton and perpetuated by mass media. Crandall wanted to help retool the public image of a city that, although historically dragged down by gang violence and corruption, has made serious improvements during the past 20 years. From the outset, he raised money not only to fund the scholarship prizes, but also to create a documentary film about the project. And so, after the eight contestants were chosen, he and his film crew delved into their lives, following them as they prepared for the dramatic free-throw shoot.
On that fateful Friday in March, Compton High students gathered to watch as Allan Guei, captain of Compton High's basketball team, beat a trembling but talented Diana Ramirez for the prize by one basket. Guei was soundly congratulated on his win, and the crowd roared even louder when Compton High principal Jesse Jones announced that due to very successful fundraising, the seven runners-up would not just be receiving $1,000 scholarships--instead, each would receive one year paid tuition at his or her intended college. The students, for whom paying for college looked to be a huge strain on family finances, were stunned and elated.
But, the real twist in the narrative Crandall helped start came last weekend, when Guei, who recently received a full basketball scholarship to Cal State Northridge, announced that he would be splitting his $40,000 free-throw prize evenly between the other seven contestants. Despite his basketball prowess, Guei had been allowed to compete in the free-throw contest to reward his academic achievements. Because of that talent, and Guei's superb character, the contest morphed into a testament to the kind of students who really come out of Compton: intelligent, talented, driven, and, above all, compassionate.
Crandall had hoped that this competition would build collaboration and a sense of community among the students of Compton High. Now, Crandall says, the students have gone above and beyond what he ever imagined when he was pondering on inequalities within his son's basketball team.
Crandall plans to submit the full-length documentary to Utah's Sundance Film Festival in September.
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