Weequahic High School principal Ron Stone hopes to turn fortunes around with the help of WHS alumni.
Photo courtesy www.heartofstonethemovie.com
Beth Toni Kruvant
Courtesy Beth Toni Kruvant
If you go
Heart of Stone will be screened at the New Jersey International Film Festival at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, on Sunday, June 7, at 7 p.m., and at the South Orange Performing Arts Center on Monday, June 8, at 5:45 p.m. as a fund-raiser for the Weequahic Alumni Association. Admission is $25. For information and tickets, visit www.heartofstonethemovie.com.
June 4, 2009
Beth Toni Kruvant grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, far removed from the problems that affect inner-city institutions such as Newark’s Weequahic High School.
Before 1960, Weequahic had a reputation as one of the best schools in the country (with a heavily Jewish student body). “My father, who went to law school after, said that Weequahic was harder,” she told NJ Jewish News in a telephone interview from her home in Montclair.
But it fell on tough times since, earning a reputation as one of the most dangerous schools in one of the most dangerous cities in America, she said.
The students of her father’s generation retained a soft spot for their alma mater and continued to be true to their school. Kruvant read an article in NJJN (“Weequahic gala bridges area’s past and present,” June 26, 2008) about alumni raising funds for college scholarships for the current students. “I thought that was really cool,” she said.
She was surprised by the “aggressive commitment” of the alumni, which she called “extremely admirable and unusual.” (To date, she said, she believes the alumni have raised more than half a million dollars.)
She went to work on Heart of Stone, a documentary that has been making the rounds nationally at film festivals. Stephen Whitty, movie critic for The Star-Ledger, called it “a well-reported, sharply photographed, and cleanly edited look at what is, and how teachers, police, and a wonderfully inspired alumni association have been working to stop mourning the past or fearing the present but, instead, start concentrating on the future.”
The film documents how Ron Stone, who became the principal of Weequahic High in 2001, was struck by the amount of violence in his school and, with his staff, put together a conflict resolution program. “As he gained the trust of the gang members, he used [their] leadership skills to transform the school into a non-violent zone and they became leaders of the school in a positive way,” said Kruvant.
At the same time, she said, the alumni association became more active. Its members worked with Stone to raise funds not only for scholarships but for the everyday activities that are commonplace in suburban schools, but basically unknown in Newark.
“The suburbs have hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in their music, their arts, and sports,” she said. “The alumni saw they were fulfilling a real need that nobody else was fulfilling and they were galvanized to give back. They felt if the old Jewish alumni joined together with the African-American alumni, they could support for these kids not only economically, but be role models and show them that people who went to the same schools as they did care.”
Heart of Stone, which took two-and-a-half years to produce, has won several citations, including the Audience Award at the Slamdance Film Festival and best feature film from the Philadelphia Film Festival, among others. Kruvant is proud of the attention it has received, particularly across ethnic lines, being shown at Jewish and African-American film festivals.
Kruvant said her initial goal was to use Heart of Stone for educational purposes to help inner-city kids learn to extricate themselves from gang life, in Newark and beyond.
“I hope [it] serves as a role model for other inner cities around the country, for alumni and other families who have since left their great downtowns, like Detroit and Cleveland, Chicago and Atlanta — where they had great inner-city schools — and to try and give back and see what’s happening in the inner cities and not turn away from it and ignore it.”
“If we don’t give back, it’s going to bring our country down,” Kruvant said.