A​ ​haven​ ​for​ ​Black​ ​intellectuals,​ ​artists​ ​and​ ​trailblazers—and​ ​path​ ​of​ ​promise​ ​toward​ ​the  American​ ​dream—Black​ ​colleges​ ​and​ ​universities​ ​have​ ​educated​ ​the​ ​architects​ ​of​ ​freedom  movements​ ​and​ ​cultivated​ ​leaders​ ​in​ ​every​ ​field.​ ​HBCUs are rising.

They​ ​have​ ​been​ ​unapologetically​ ​Black​ ​for  more​ ​than​ ​150​ ​years.​ ​For​ ​the​ ​first​ ​time​ ​ever,​ ​their​ ​story​ ​is​ ​told.​ ​​Written,​ ​directed​ ​and​ ​produced  by​ ​award-winning​ ​documentary​ ​filmmaker​ ​Stanley​ ​Nelson​ ​(​The ​Black ​ ​ Panthers: ​ ​Vanguard ​of the ​Revolution) ​ and​ ​produced​ ​by​ ​Firelight​ ​Films,​ ​​Tell​ ​Them​ ​We​ ​Are​ ​Rising:​ ​The​ ​Story​ ​of  Black​ ​Colleges​ ​and​ ​Universities​​ ​​examines​ ​the​ ​impact​ ​HBCUs​ ​have​ ​had​ ​on​ ​American​ ​history,  culture,​ ​and​ ​national​ ​identity.​ ​Beginning​ ​with​ ​the​ ​earliest​ ​attempts​ ​at​ ​education​ ​to​ ​today’s  campuses,​ ​the​ ​90-minute​ ​film​ ​will​ ​air​ ​nationally​ ​on​ ​the​ ​acclaimed​ ​PBS​ ​series,​ ​​Independent  Lens,​​ ​on​ ​​Monday,​ ​February​ ​19,​ ​2018,​ ​9pm​ ​–​ ​10:30pm​ ​ET​ ​(Check​ ​local​ ​listings)​.

Tell ​Them We Are ​Rising: ​The ​Story of ​Black ​Colleges ​and ​Universities ​​is​ ​the​ ​second​ ​in​ ​a  three-part​ ​series​ ​called​ ​​America ​Revisited ​that​ ​includes​ ​​The ​Black ​Panthers: ​Vanguard of ​ ​ the Revolution, ​which​ ​was​ ​the​ ​most​ ​watched​ ​​Independent ​Lens ​​program​ ​ever,​ ​and​ ​the  forthcoming,​ ​​The ​Slave ​Trade: ​Creating ​A ​New ​World.

The​ ​film​ ​is​ ​the​ ​centerpiece​ ​of​ ​a​ ​yearlong​ ​multi-platform​ ​effort,​ ​​HBCU​ ​Rising​​​,​ ​​featuring​ ​public​ ​and​ ​marquee​ ​VIP​ ​screenings​ ​in​ ​major​ ​cities​ ​across​ ​the  country,​ ​StoryCorps​ ​audio​ ​stories,​ ​video​ ​shorts,​ ​an​ ​HBCU​ ​campus​ ​tour​ ​and​ ​an​ ​all-generation,  all-school​ ​HBCU​ ​Digital​ ​Yearbook.​ ​National​ ​partnerships​ ​in​ ​support​ ​of​ ​the​ ​film​ ​include:​ ​The  Black​ ​College​ ​Fund,​ ​Color​ ​of​ ​Change,​ ​the​ ​Association​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Study​ ​of​ ​African​ ​American​ ​Life  and​ ​History​ ​(ASALH),​ ​Thurgood​ ​Marshall​ ​College​ ​Fund,​ ​National​ ​Pan-Hellenic​ ​Council​ ​(NPHC),  Alpha​ ​Kappa​ ​Alpha​ ​Sorority,​ ​Inc.,​ ​Akila​ ​Worksongs,​ ​Schomburg​ ​Center​ ​for​ ​the​ ​Research​ ​in  Black​ ​Culture,​ ​United​ ​Negro​ ​College​ ​Fund,​ ​the​ ​NAACP​ ​Legal​ ​Defense​ ​Fund,​ ​Blackout​ ​for  Human​ ​Rights,​ ​the​ ​HBCU​ ​Green​ ​Fund,​ ​MomsRising​ ​and​ ​Campaign​ ​for​ ​Black​ ​Male  Achievement.

Nelson​ ​is​ ​renowned​ ​for​ ​examining​ ​the​ ​history​ ​and​ ​experiences​ ​of​ ​African​ ​Americans.​ ​His​ ​most  notable​ ​films​ ​are​ ​​The Black Panthers: ​ Vanguard ​of the ​Revolution, ​Freedom ​Riders, Freedom Summer, ​Wounded ​Knee, ​Jonestown: ​ The Life & ​Death of ​People’s Temple, ​and​ The ​Murder of Emmett ​Till.​ ​​Tell Them We ​Are​ Rising premiered​ ​in​ ​January​ ​2017​ ​at​ ​the​ ​prestigious​ ​Sundance Film​ Festival,​ ​making​ ​it​ ​his​ ​ninth​ ​festival​ ​premiere,​ ​more​ ​than​ any​ ​other​ ​nonfiction​ ​filmmaker.  With​ ​multiple​ ​industry​ ​awards,​ ​a​ ​National​ ​Humanities​ ​medal​ ​and​ ​a​ ​MacArthur​ ​“Genius”​ ​award  to​ ​his​ ​credit,​ ​Nelson​ ​is​ ​acknowledged​ ​as​ ​one​ ​of​ ​the​ ​premier​ ​documentary​ ​filmmakers​ ​working today.​ ​His​ ​company,​ ​Firelight​ ​Media​ ​is​ ​a​ ​non-profit​ ​production​ ​company​ ​which​ ​provides  technical​ ​education​ ​and​ ​professional​ ​support​ ​to​ ​emerging​ ​documentarians​ ​and​ ​expands​ ​the  reach​ ​and​ ​impact​ ​of​ ​nonfiction​ ​film.​ ​​ 

DIRECTOR’S​ ​STATEMENT    My​ ​parents​ ​were​ ​the​ ​product​ ​of​ ​HBCUs.​ ​For​ ​generations,​ ​there​ ​was​ ​no​ ​other​ ​place​ ​our​ ​parents,  grandparents,​ ​and​ ​great-grandparents​ ​could​ ​go​ ​to​ ​school.​ ​Yet,​ ​higher​ ​education​ ​has​ ​always  been​ ​a​ ​prerequisite​ ​for​ ​entering​ ​and​ ​competing​ ​in​ ​mainstream​ ​American​ ​society.​ ​So,​ ​in​ ​many  ways,​ ​historically​ ​black​ ​colleges​ ​and​ ​universities​ ​form​ ​the​ ​core​ ​of​ ​the​ ​African-American  community.​ ​The​ ​sacrifices​ ​made​ ​to​ ​create​ ​these​ ​institutions​ ​are​ ​significant,​ ​and​ ​are​ ​what  compelled​ ​me​ ​to​ ​capture​ ​this​ ​essential​ ​chapter​ ​of​ ​American​ ​history.

I​ ​set​ ​out​ ​to​ ​tell​ ​a​ ​story​ ​of​ ​Americans​ ​who​ ​refused​ ​to​ ​be​ ​denied​ ​a​ ​higher​ ​education​ ​and—in​ ​their  resistance—created​ ​a​ ​set​ ​of​ ​institutions​ ​that​ ​would​ ​influence​ ​and​ ​shape​ ​the​ ​landscape​ ​of​ ​the  country​ ​for​ ​centuries​ ​to​ ​come.​ ​In​ ​particular,​ ​it​ ​was​ ​essential​ ​that​ ​this​ ​film​ ​highlight​ ​authentic,  personal​ ​accounts​ ​alongside​ ​archival​ ​footage,​ ​letters,​ ​diaries,​ ​photographs,​ ​and​ ​even​ ​home  movies​ ​of​ ​the​ ​people​ ​who​ ​have​ ​lived​ ​the​ ​HBCU​ ​experience.​ ​The​ ​legacy​ ​of​ ​these​ ​institutions​ ​is  not​ ​marked​ ​only​ ​by​ ​milestones​ ​and​ ​achievements;​ ​it​ ​is​ ​encapsulated​ ​by​ ​the​ ​minds​ ​and​ ​lives​ ​of  the​ ​people​ ​who​ ​walked​ ​those​ ​storied​ ​halls.

If​ ​education​ ​is​ ​a​ ​cornerstone​ ​of​ ​society,​ ​then​ ​HBCUs​ ​are​ ​the​ ​groundwork​ ​for​ ​advancing​ ​justice  in​ ​America.​ ​Thoroughly​ ​examining​ ​the​ ​history​ ​of​ ​HBCUs​ ​not​ ​only​ ​allowed​ ​me​ ​to​ ​highlight​ ​their  importance​ ​within​ ​black​ ​communities,​ ​but​ ​demonstrate​ ​how​ ​they​ ​were​ ​instrumental​ ​to​ ​the  formation​ ​of​ ​protest​ ​movements​ ​across​ ​the​ ​United​ ​States.​ ​The​ ​ground​ ​was​ ​ripe​ ​on​ ​these  campuses.​

​There​ ​is​ ​a​ ​distinct​ ​reason,​ ​imbued​ ​by​ ​the​ ​institutional​ ​legacy​ ​of​ ​HBCUs,​ ​that​ ​the  challenge​ ​to​ ​school​ ​segregation​ ​and​ ​the​ ​sit-in​ ​movement​ ​had​ ​to​ ​come​ ​out​ ​of​ ​Black​ ​schools.  These​ ​were​ ​places​ ​where​ ​African-American​ ​students​ ​could,​ ​for​ ​once​ ​as​ ​the​ ​majority,​ ​talk​ ​about  issues​ ​that​ ​affect​ ​the​ ​African-American​ ​community.​ ​That​ ​atmosphere​ ​is​ ​what​ ​I​ ​sought​ ​to  capture​ ​in​ ​the​ ​film​ ​to​ ​give​ ​audiences​ ​a​ ​sense​ ​of​ ​the​ ​energy​ ​that​ ​emerged​ ​out​ ​of​ ​HBCUs.

It​ ​is​ ​impossible​ ​to​ ​capture​ ​the​ ​entire​ ​breadth​ ​of​ ​HBCU​ ​history​ ​in​ ​under​ ​two-hours.​ ​My​ ​hope​ ​is  that​ ​the​ ​film​ ​reaffirms​ ​the​ ​indisputable​ ​relevance​ ​of​ ​HBCUs.​ ​With​ ​on-going​ ​campus​ ​racism​ ​and  an​ ​increasingly​ ​hostile​ ​national​ ​climate​ ​for​ ​communities​ ​of​ ​color,​ ​the​ ​need​ ​for​ ​institutions​ ​that  prioritize​ ​a​ ​quality​ ​educational,​ ​cultural,​ ​and​ ​social​ ​climate​ ​for​ ​black​ ​people​ ​is​ ​as​ ​important​ ​as  ever.