New Project In-Progress
Dr. Cathryn Devereaux
writer | director
About the Project
The Blackgirl Dreaming documentary will explore the lived experiences of Blackgirls from communities across the United States and their dreams of and visions for K-12 schooling. The pilot, which will be filmed in New Jersey, will feature documentary-style interviews with local Blackgirls, capturing their firsthand accounts of school experiences, struggles, triumphs, hopes, and dreams. Integrated with the perspectives of educators and scholars in the field, this documentary will showcase the potential of what schools will be when we take time and space to listen to and honor the visions of Blackgirls. Overall, Blackgirl Dreaming pushes back against negative narratives surrounding Blackgirls, allowing them to display their authentic selves and the multifaceted experiences of Black Girlhood.
About the Director
My name is Dr. Cathryn Devereaux, and I am the writer and director of Blackgirl Dreaming. I received my doctorate of education in Curriculum and Teaching with a concentration in Urban Education from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. Currently, I am an Assistant Professor of Education at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey. My research focuses on diversity, equity, cultural responsiveness, and student voice. I enjoy engaging young people in participatory research and providing platforms for their perspectives to be centered. My experiences teaching in alternative schools and at a juvenile detention center have also pointed me to questions around Black girlhood, the school-to-prison pipeline and the “opportunity gap.”
As an artist-scholar, I engage in filmmaking, playwriting, acting, and directing, using my love of performing arts to uplift the voices of marginalized communities. Previously, I co-wrote and assistant directed an award-winning film, Beyond the Silence, that raises awareness to the stigmas of mental illness in the Black community. My most recent ethnodrama, Recovering Ladies, based on dissertation work, captures the dynamic stories of four Black, high school girls from a low-income neighborhood navigating K-12 urban schools.
The Blackgirl Dreaming documentary is deeply personal to me as a Blackwoman, once Blackgirl, and forever educator who envisions a better, brighter, more equitable education system that builds upon Blackgirls’ dreams and catapults them into actualization.
Want to get involved?
What can we do for Blackgirls? For a long time, that question has weighed on me. I used to believe that Blackgirls needed to be empowered. Through community outreach, I focused so much of my energy on empowerment efforts thinking that I was making a significant contribution to their lives.
Then one day, my mentor, Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz told me:
“Blackgirls don’t need to be empowered. They need people to move out of their way to allow them to access the power they already possess.”
At that moment, I realized that I, like so many of us seeking to make a difference, had become the problem I was yearning to solve. It was then that I knew I had to move aside, and create a space for Blackgirls to share their own voices. This documentary will be the product of their voices amplified.
The Blackgirl Dreaming documentary stands on the shoulders of my dissertation study, Breaking the Fourth Wall: An Ethnodrama of Blackgirls’ Life Notes on Urban Schooling. The title speaks to the film and theater concept of “breaking the fourth wall” when the actors on stage break out of the scene and address the audience directly and uninhibitedly. This is symbolic of the ways in which the girls would not be spoken for in the project, but rather their words would speak for themselves, directly to the hearts and minds of educators. For nine weeks during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, I met with a group of four Blackgirls from an alternative high school in New Jersey twice per week for 90-minute Zoom focus group sessions and creative writing time. During the focus groups, the girls unpacked their lived experiences in K-12 education and their personal lives, and explored their visions for their dream school. At the end of each session, the girls would individually reflect on the topics that came up, using any creative form of writing that spoke to their hearts at the time. These life notes came in the form of poetry, letters, stories, journal entries, etc. Together, we laughed, we cried, we bonded, and we weaved together their powerful narratives, infusing their life notes to more fully capture the sentiments behind them. This became our co-created play script, which the girls went on to name “Recovering Ladies,” because they were “recovering from traumatic school experiences.”
Once the study ended, and the play script was complete, I knew that would only be the beginning of this work for me. There were so many Blackgirls with powerful stories to tell, who might also be in need of a space to reflect and recover; so many schools that were missing the mark for Blackgirls and other multiply-marginalized groups; and so many dreams waiting to be actualized in order for educational equity to be fully realized. The Blackgirl Dreaming documentary was a natural progression of this work that would allow for a broader reach and the stories and dreams of Blackgirls across the nation to resound.
The purpose of the Blackgirl Dreaming documentary is to provide Blackgirls with a platform to tell their stories their way. In doing so, the project seeks to inspire educators to take up the work of engaging students from marginalized communities and listening to their K-12 experiences and their dreams for how they reimagine schools as sites that genuinely, holistically serve them.
My vision is that the Blackgirl Dreaming documentary will serve as a catalyst for school systems around the country to identify oppressive practices, procedures, and structures that stifle multiply-marginalized groups, like Blackgirls, and to guide them into transformative possibilities for the present and future. Transforming schools in this way requires having tough conversations and considering that the ways in which some students experience school can be vastly different than the way others do. It also requires deeply analyzing how students, families and communities are welcomed or excluded in the school system, the barriers that prevent student, family and community participation, and how strong partnerships can be cultivated and maintained to uphold the collective mission of safe, equitable schools for all students.
While productions have a tendency to not run on schedule, we are on a mission to do our best work in the time that we have allotted. However, if it doesn’t go exactly as planned, please show us a little grace!
February 2022 - July 2022
Production & Editing
July 2022 - December 2022
Funding Campaigns for Full-Length Feature
Securing Distribution Deal
(We will be trying to secure a distribution deal with a major streaming company, however, we recognize that it may be in the best interest of the pilot to enter into film festivals prior to securing a deal. We will be actively working to market the documentary in the best ways possible, and therefore, must remain flexible with this particular timetable.)