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Black Filmmaker, Educator Teaches Black Kids STEM Using Film

By Victor Trammell

Photo credits: The Indianapolis Recorder

A local high school math teacher/adjunct community college professor in a major U.S. city in the Midwest is using his passion for film making to inspire more black youths to pursue careers in the STEM fields.

The Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper recently profiled the uplifting life experience of Leal “Al” Smith (pictured left). Smith teaches math at Pike High School in Indianapolis, Indiana. He is also am auxiliary professor at Ivy Tech Community College in Indianapolis.

Smith witnessed a disconnect in the young black people who he teaches as it pertained to how these students were not grasping basic mathematical concepts, which are essential to success in a number of very lucrative career fields. In an exclusive interview with the Indianapolis Recorder, Smith talked about when he decided to tackle this problem.

“I’m wondering, why is it that you know everything about [the Black Ops video game] but you don’t know anything about this equation I’m showing you? I think it’s because they don’t spend time with it. There is no desire or correlation with academic success and real-world application. I wanted to change that,” Smith said in his newspaper interview.

Using his talents as a screenwriter and filmmaker, Smith embarked on a journey of creative production, which would land him an award from the Teacher Creativity Fellowship from the Lilly Endowment. This organization funds public school teachers who aspire to produce elaborate creative projects (such as films) to inspire student learning.

The Lilly Endowment provided Smith with the monies to gain admittance into the  American Black Film Festival in Miami. He also got the opportunity to pay for classes at the Vancouver Film School, one of the best performing arts schools in the world.

Production for Smith’s upcoming film The Black Hornet of Flatland Heights was also paid for with his award from the Lilly Endowment. Smith’s film is a science fiction story about a high school basketball player whose struggles in his science class cause him to lose his basketball scholarship, his roster spot on the team, and his girlfriend.

The main character then gains mystic superpowers, which help him fight against ignorance and madness as an alter-ego called the Black Hornet. Smith has inspired a lot of black children during this fantastic opportunity he has been blessed with.

Janay Watson, a recent Pike High School graduate is interning for Smith as a film production assistant on his new project. “I see so much passion in [Smith], and whenever I see passion in anyone with what they do, it makes me want to invest in that and it inspires and motivates me to go far in my life and in my career,” Watson told the Recorder.

He keeps everyone going when things get tough,” she continued.

Smith has a lot of big plans he wants to pursue even after his film project is complete. “I really wanted to target minority males and youth, because I feel like there is a void in innovative stories. My overall goal is to create a space for math and STEM in entertainment and to make this material digestible for students,” he also told The Recorder.

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