5 Questions for Ashanti Branch
Talk about Big Ideas Fest success stories. Ashanti Branch walked off the stage at Big Ideas Fest 2014 and onto the stage at Sundance Film Festival in early 2015, where he premiered his documentary, The Mask You Live In. A high school principal, Ashanti developed a groundbreaking “emotional tool-box,” enabling African American and Latino young men to build the confidence and empathy for achieving their true potential. What started as a small school program is snowballing into a national movement. Ashanti's BIFtalk video is now available for all to see.
1) How was Sundance? How are people responding to The Mask You Live In?
Sundance was an incredible experience for me and for The Ever Forward Club. It was an honor to stand on stage with the director, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, production team, editors as well as some of the cast, including Joe Ehrmann and Jim Stayer. The comments from the audience were positive, encouraging and understanding of the timeliness of this documentary and the need for America to begin a conversation about this topic.
My only expectation was that I could provide support for a group of young men and that they could teach me how to be a better teacher. My desire was to help them see and experience the intelligence, courage, honor and passion inside of themselves. I expected each of my students to be able to pass algebra and to know that even if they did not like math, that they could gain a respect for it as a tool to learn how to problem solve in life. I did not have the vision of starting a non-profit. I was a teacher running a program, but life pushed me into the deep end and caused me to dream bigger. Now we are a non-profit organization and have had the privilege of inspiring youth to build character and transform lives.
The Ever Forward Club has turned into much more than I expected. We have supported 100% of our approximately 135 students receiving a high school diploma and greater than 90% go on to become first-generation college students.
3) Your Big Ideas Fest talk created huge buzz, and attendees are still talking about it. We’re putting it online to share your message. Anything you forgot to say that you’d like to say now?
In my Big Ideas Fest talk I spoke about how The Ever Forward Club helps young men fill their emotional tool-box so that they can open more doors for themselves and provide access to more opportunities in life.
I did not talk about what's next for the Ever Forward Club:
As an organization: The Ever Forward Club is preparing to expand to dozens of middle and high schools in the San Francisco Bay Area and hundreds of chapters nationwide. We are preparing to implement a funding model that provides our organization with sufficient funding to begin hiring our first staff members and the infrastructure to support the hundreds of students whom we will be inspiring. We will also bring an addition to the board -- someone who is passionate about young women’s issues -- so that we can begin to develop a young women’s program as a complement to the young men’s program.
As a movement: The Ever Forward Club will continue to be part of the conversation around challenges facing our young men in school and society that get in their way of being truly alive. Through the documentary, The Mask You Live In and The Representation Project, The Ever Forward Club will be a part of more conversations about this topic. We are hoping to see hundreds of screenings all over the country that will begin a conversation about what we can do in schools in response to the challenges that young men face.
4) What have you told your community about Big Ideas Fest?
I had such a great time at the Big Ideas Fest. It was much more than I ever expected. I was prepared to attend as a speaker, but after the opening activity, I realized that I should have planned to stay for the entire event. I learned so much by participating in an Action Collab and about incredible organizations in various stages of their design process. I have a new appreciation for the design process and for creating. I also told my community that I had the privilege of sharing our big Sundance Film Festival news at Big Ideas Fest.
5) What can our Big Ideas community do to help promote the great work you are doing?
If people are interested in hosting a screening they can go here: Host a Screening.
If people are interested in donating to The Ever Forward Club: Donate to EFC
If People are interested offering skills, talents or resources to Ever Forward: Partner with EFC