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Heart of Stone

February 16, 2013

Cinequest 2009

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Heart of StoneI’m really glad I managed to fit this one in. It had gotten my attention in the festival program but I set it aside because you only need so many Stand and Delivers and Lean On Mes. But after I spoke with the director earlier in the week my friend and I were intrigued, and then after my son saw it and liked it I decided I had to see it too.

It does follow the same type of storyline, except it is an actual documentary. It is the story of Weequahic High School in Newark, built in the Jewish and African-American section of town, and which churned out more graduates who went on to get PhDs than any other school in America, 1930-1970. Philip Roth, who I just spent an entire semester studying, graduated from this school. But in the 1970s things started changing, and the entire neighborhood was overrun with Crips and Bloods.

In steps new principal Ron Stone. At this point the school had won a single football game in three years, and no state championship in 25. Fights ran through all the halls. The Crips and Bloods were trying to kill each other. And Ron Stone, wearing his bullet proof vest, vowed to make a change.

It wasn’t all Ron Stone’s doing though, and I wasn’t clear who was the chicken and who the egg, but there is also an alumni association involved here. Made up of Jewish graduates from the good times, there is a marked contrast between their lives and those of the current students. Doctors, lawyers and businessmen, they arranged meetings and barbeque fundraisers to help Ron Stone build a gym and create college scholarships. Through the association’s help, students are able to go on ski trips and even a trip to France.

17heart_600Through the six years of Ron Stone’s rein, the football team wins the state championship and mediators make actual headway with the gangs. Many gang members vow to make sure all their members are going to graduate high school – and they not only do this, but they go on to college.

As promised by Beth and my son, there is a marked ending to this documentary. I’m not going to tell you just like they didn’t tell me – you may possibly see this on TV one day. I will say it’s a tragic ending but not an expected one, and this really catches the viewer off guard. Regardless of that tragedy though, it is obvious that the good that Ron Stone and the alumni association are doing will continue on, and that takes some of the sadness away.

Pretty unbelievable that I can’t find this available on Netflix or Amazon, but you can buy a DVD from their website.

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