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It Takes a Village

Concordia Studio

All These Sons (2021)

The documentary “All These Sons” looks at two Chicago nonprofits – Maafa Redemption Project and Inner-City Muslim Action Network’s Green ReEntry – working to deescalate the gun violence plaguing the city’s south and west sides. Billy Moore, life coach and case manager at IMAN, served a 20-year sentence for murder. Robert Ervin, life coach and program manager at Maafa and deacon of New Mount Pilgrim Church, is apparently also a former convict. Having been lured down the wrong paths themselves, these reformed men now serve as father figures to at-risk youths struggling with broken families, mental health issues and/or substance abuse, and help steer them in the right direction.

It’s a herculean effort as one would imagine. In addition to a myriad of social ills bedeviling them, there are also structural obstacles such as the city closing some 50 schools in 2013 alone. The rebellious young men are sometimes too caught up in their own world and don’t think others truly grasp their circumstances – one can always lead them to water; making them drink poses an entirely different set of challenges.

The film, directed by Bing Liu of the Oscar-nominated “Minding the Gap” and Joshua Altman, doesn’t set out to be that inspirational feel-good story featured on the local evening newscast or a self-congratulatory puff piece for fundraising purposes. There is a clear-eyed moment in the film illustrating the hustle of the nonprofit industrial complex, within which different social service organizations vie for the same coin. On top of carrying out their missions, they must also devote time and energy to appeasing their funders.

“All These Sons” doesn’t offer any easy solutions or send us off with a disposable happy ending so we can carry on with our lives. It does provide a fairly comprehensive at-a-glance view of the factors surrounding these inner-city issues. Organizations and people like Mr. Moore and Deacon Ervin are doing their heroic best, but they desperately need meaningful cooperation from governments and across different communities.


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