America is a country full of possibilities – and massive disparities that define who can pursue them. Where you’re born and raised can have a massive effect on your choices later in life. Access to basic services, economic opportunity and an environment where a child can flourish can’t be taken for granted. Tomorrow’s Hope tells the multi-decade saga of bringing early childhood education to Chicago’s south side, specifically a branch of Educare located in the area formerly known as Grand Boulevard. Educare is a network of birth-to-five preschool centers that operate in historically disinvested communities. Through the story of Educare’s presence in the community, the film intimately explores the broader issue.
Key here are the stories of Jamal, Crystal and Jalen, three 18-year-olds who represent the first graduating class of students at the center. They come from diverse backgrounds that were nonetheless affected by the community in which they were raised. Drugs, violence, absentee parents and lack of real upward mobility gave them every reason to turn their backs on the education system. But with the support of their parents and teachers, they each were admitted into universities.
Although only 45 minutes, Tomorrow’s Hope covers a lot of historical ground. Educare is simply the current result of a decades-long push to bring a safe learning environment to that community’s children. Along with the three students, we meet Jackie, Portia and Brenda, all of whom served the community before Educare was in the picture. They discuss what it was like to develop childcare curriculum in the old Robert Taylor Homes housing project. Before its 2007 demolition, RTH was the largest housing development in the United States, made up of 28 high-rise structures. Like many similar developments, it became infamous for drug dealing, gang violence and poverty. It was one of the poorest census tracks in the United States. Bringing early childhood care to the neighborhood was an incredible challenge, and the stories about what came before Educare are the film’s most interesting segments.
That said, there’s plenty of helpful information about Educare here, and that ultimately feels like the purpose of the film: letting any parent who might catch this on YouTube or a public television channel know there are options for their children. The schools emphasize parental involvement in their children’s education and school community, and the administrators work hard to make that happen. There’s also a focus on personal investment in students’ lives and interests. These are aspects of public schooling more affluent Americans might take for granted. By combining the personal stories of Jamal, Crystal and Jalen, and the broader, more historical perspective of their teachers, Tomorrow’s Hope does an excellent job shining a light on the disparities in the American experience – and the work many people are doing to help solve them.