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High hopes

Film about Weequahic alumni inspires a national schools campaign

Weequahic High School in Newark
Weequahic High School in Newark

Beth Toni Kruvant’s father attended Newark’s Weequahic High School at a time when it was considered one of the best in the nation. It was more rigorous than the law school he attended, he would tell her.

Times have changed. Like many urban public schools, Weequahic has fallen into a spiral of violence, diminished funding, and general ennui. Despite these problems, Kruvant, a documentary filmmaker from Montclair, sees a slow reversal, which she chronicled in her award-winning 2009 film, Heart of Stone.

The movie documents how Ron Stone, who became the school’s principal in 2001, was struck by the amount of violence at Weequahic and, with his staff, put together a conflict resolution program. The movie also shows how Jewish and African-American alumni returned to their alma mater to help contemporary students by raising funds for activities the school could not provide.

Kruvant has taken the next step by creating Campaign Kinship, in which she brings the lessons of the film to high schools, universities, and Jewish and African-American communities to promote tzedaka and tikun olam, repairing the world.

The campaign — which kicked off this week in honor of Martin Luther King’s birthday remembrance — has two goals, Kruvant told NJ Jewish News in a telephone interview.

“We are looking to reach out to alumni of urban schools across the country to raise funds for college scholarships and activities to broaden the horizons of inner-city students at their alma maters, and we want to inspire inner-city schools to create conflict resolution programs and non-violence zones, just like Weequahic did, so they can exist with gang members in a peaceful, educational environment.”

Although Stone won the Audience Award at the Slam Dance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, in January 2009, Kruvant had no idea it would take off the way it has. “It’s just been one big fabulous run,” she said.

Word of the documentary spread; educators and school administrators expressed interest in showing Stone to a wider circle of groups and building courses around the film’s message. “It’s being picked up in that vein and that’s how I’m outreaching it, to promote dialogue and discussion” after audiences view the film.

“There are so many other cities that are just like Newark,” Kruvant said. “Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, LA — they all have a similar history that Newark had, so they felt this was a model that could be used.”

Kruvant received a grant from the Righteous Persons Foundation to promote the film beyond the usual theater and film festival venues. Students from Jewish day schools, public schools, and private schools will be the guests at a screening at the Educational Alliance in Manhattan in February, which is Black History Month. In addition, several cable stations around the country will offer Heart of Stone as part of their video-on-demand menu next month.

Kruvant’s work has already borne fruit. One inner-city student who attended a screening in December said he had been inspired by Principal Stone — who reminded him of his grandfather — to get his diploma. “These are kids that would not have the opportunity to see the movie in theaters,” she said. “You have to bring it to them. I see that it makes a difference in their lives. That’s the importance of outreach. That’s the basis of this whole campaign.”

For more information about the documentary, including future screenings, visit heartofstonethemovie.com.

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