Friday, September 14, 2012

My Block: Documentary "The West" Gives People a Gritty Dose of Life in Southwest Houston

Happy Friday readers.

In my recent efforts to enrich myself and broaden my knowledge, I made a promise to myself to watch at least 1 documentary a week on any particular subject. This past week I stumbled upon one which hits really close to home and that's because the documentary was about and filmed in the area of Houston I called home from middle school all the way through college: Alief, Texas (aka SWAT; South West Alief Texas). 

The West, a documentary produced by Damilare Sonoiki--a student who I assume from the video is going to Harvard--sheds light on the history of the southwest side of Houston known as Alief and how it went from a prosperous part of town with largely white residents to an area which became concentrated with African Americans and immigrants and eventually became an area of Houston notorious for crime and gangs. The film looks at the perspective of different people who reside in Alief, a good lot of them involved in gangs and cliques. You can watch the 53 minute Documentary below. (Warning: The documentary depicts explicit language and images that are NSFW, viewer discretion is advised)

For the better part of my youth, my family and I lived in Alief (and they still do) and experienced first-hand the condition of the area. My siblings and I went through the Alief school system. Thanks to Allah, despite the vibe the video gives of the place being a warzone, my family and I in large stayed out of trouble and were able to live peacefully for the most part.

A lot of what kept me off the streets and rolling deeper with friends I had that were involved or influenced the the gang and hip-hop culture was due to Islam. My faith kept me grounded and repelled me from the despicable and often unmentionable things I faced and witnessed day in and day out living in Alief. Reading the Qur'an and being involved in my schools MSA(Muslim Student Association) Friday gatherings allowed me to see the big picture and realize the path that many of my peers were going on was a path to destruction.

"The West" is meant to be a gritty birds-eye-view into life in Alief, Texas and is a pretty accurate depiction of the reality. "West up, Vests up", "Kill or be killed" are just a few of the sayings in the film that can resonate in Alief as well as other gang-ridden areas of the world where poverty and unemployment is high, decent education and opportunities are lacking.

Though there are a lot of bleak moments in the video when it comes to the future of the city, I do like how the film took a positive turn near the end. A gripping scene which stood out was the parents of a young 15 year old gang member nicknamed "TOY" ripping into the youth that attended his vigil, notably the mother lamenting to the youth that it was because of the stupidity of cliques and gangs she lost her son. Another gang member ruminated out loud about the state of affairs in the area, pleading for President Barack Obama to visit Alief and help his area. It astonished me that gang members wanted to go legit and get jobs to support themselves and their families but weren't receiving help, getting "turned away at the Worksource" when looking for gainful employment because of the way they look or act. Out of helplessness, it seems, they are turning to robbing and drugs because of the lack of support to help them get legitimate jobs, even ones that are minimum wage.

On a brighter note, it was encouraging to me near the end of the documentary of efforts being made to change the way things are with sports and recreation for the youth, religion also playing a part and better systems in place so the youngsters won't get sucked into the whirlwind of gang life. Even the gang members interviewed in the movie regret the steps they took and despite being proud of what set they represent, admitting that if they could go back they would've just been better focused in school and stayed out of the "BS" of gang life. They even go as far to say that they are proud of the documentary filmmaker Damilare Sonoiki for doing something positive and going to school and making a difference as well as people like him who avoided the streets and invested in their future.

I do recommend this film and lend my support to the filmmaker for a great job producing this piece. Keep up the good work.

1 comment:

  1. Bro, I missed this blog post. Almost brought a tear to my eyes. Everyone I know hated on the documentary. An elsik administrator even went online calling the guys in the doc "losers". This was a great post man