Review: STEP is a Powerful Reminder that Black Girls Never Give Up

By:  Asher Primus

The documentary STEP reminds the audience that we should never forget the death of Freddie Gray and the radical activism from black millennials.  Activism is not just about being radical or aggressive, but the message should always be about creating a positive change.

Dance is very important to the African American community, especially for black girls as it is an alternative to keep them disciplined and lead to college scholarships.  Stepping is life to many girls who are a part of the Lethal Ladies of the Baltimore (L.L.O.B.) Leadership School for Young Women.  Blessin is the captain of her step team, but her tempter, self-esteem and grades create obstacles that she cannot face alone.

She wants to go to college, but her grades may hold her back from being accepted.  She is the face of vulnerability as she feels alone in the world.  Blessin Giraldo is not on the best of terms with her mother, especially when her mother is needed for parental and financial guidance for a PTA meeting.  Blessin’s college dreams are nearly crushed as she receives a rejection letter from the mail.  It embarrassed her in front of her family.  It becomes saddening to see the subconscious jealousy she has for her fellow L.L.O.B. teammates as they only have to worry about paying for college.

Getting accepted was the easy part for Cori Grainger (another L.L.O.B. member), even though she feels happy with her results of attending with a full ride scholarship, she felt that her blackness would hinder from being treated equally in a PWI.  She is a smart and beautiful young blerd, but she is more relatable in the black experience as much as her teammates and most black children as she worries about her parents’ income and she is a product of her mother’s teenage pregnancy.  The film was open enough to tell the audience that Cori’s mother was told to have an abortion, but her mom kept her and despite the situation things worked out.  You cannot beat having a child who was the valedictorian.  I admire her positivity as she expresses joy in her life, even she was homeless.

The film was more than just about dancing, it was the telling of the black experience that hasn’t been shown not to often from the perspective of youths.  We are used to seeing and hearing reports of how black students are failing and their likelihood of going to prison versus college.  Despite the small positive portrayals of black girls striving for higher education, the force of a counter-media to keep them in a state of worthlessness is real.  The film reclaims the art of dancing that was bastardized by pop culture in generalizing the belief that black girls are only good for twerking or stripping and that something like coordinated dance would be too complicated.  Seeing these black girls succeed brought tears to my eyes from day 1 of filming, to the college acceptance letters, to losing faith in their abilities, to graduation, to now how they can look back and say that this film and opportunity saved their lives.

I can see myself in these young women’s experiences.  I know what it was like not having a job and heavily depending on my mother to buy groceries (knowing that it would not last too long).  Blessin’s struggle reminded me of my college years.  I was the mediocre student whose grades weren’t worth showing off amongst my friends.  Despite the potential people saw in me, my opportunities were slim in the poverty-stricken city of Augusta, Georgia.  I was constantly receiving emails on how I did not qualify for the jobs in my field.  Black students appear to be magical as I saw them in positions that had me shocked and quite envious.  I remember the times my anger got the best of me.  Blessin’s college acceptance and graduation were the most powerful scenes in the documentary.  She had to succeed because she had no way else to go, it could have been life or death.

The sisterhood of the L.L.O.B. is admirable because black girls need self-love.  They need to be their own cheerleaders.  Despite being the only person in the theatre (at least for the showtime), I was proud to see black excellence.  I was proud to see black girls going to college and leaving their stagnate lives behind, but also using it as a reference that our past does not define our future.  Black girls need this film, especially to combat the negative commentary that tells the world that they are nothing or only for sex.  The most important message to take away is that all black girls need our help.  We need to stop applying respectability politics that only some can be saved, while the rest fall victims to the streets.  Stopping cherry-picking and choosing who deserves to be saved.  Blessin was not the privileged debutante who had everything made on her will.  Granted her grades were not superb and her attitude needed work, but her instructor saw something in her that would make her a leader.  Even as black men and mentors, we have to be careful on what we say to black girls as their vulnerability is masked by hardness and carefreeness.

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