The beat of an African drum echoed across Eastern Michigan’s University Park. EMU senior and political science major, Darius Simpson, was sitting in the grass in front of the lake staring at what was in front of him with a drum positioned between his legs.
He was beating on it with all that he was feeling. It was his first year at EMU from Akron, Ohio. As a black male in college, Simpson was experiencing racist jokes. He did not think it was funny and he reacted with rhythm.
The outlet of drumming was given to him by Alchemy Inc., an after school mentoring program for urban youth in Akron, OH. He has been attending the program since the ninth grade, but in 2011 as a freshman in college, he had graduated.
A total of 26 out of 28 of the core group of Alchemy Inc. graduated from high school and went to college that year and experienced their own problems of being a black male in college.
Hosted by Diversity and Community Involvement and BrotherHOOD Initiative, on Feb. 3 in the Student Center Auditorium students and faculty of EMU were given a chance to see six of the young men stories out of the group of the graduates through a feature-length documentary titled “Finding the Gold Within” featuring Simpson as one of the six protagonists.
Created by award-winning German filmmaker, Karina Epperlein, the documentary followed the men for three and a half years from high school to their first year in college and showcased the mentoring experience that they have received participating in Alchemy, Inc.
Under the founder and facilitator, Kwame Scruggs, and co-facilitator, Jerry Kwame Williams, in the program the boys would sit in a circle and participate in African drums, listen to mythology and ancient storytelling, journal, discuss what they took out of the story and apply it to their own lives. The method was to help them explore their strengths and dreams and to follow their hearts to find ‘their gold in the darkness.’
“I liked that the documentary was over the years showing the progress of the boys and their method of releasing their feelings in the circle,” said freshman Anthropology major, Taylor Erndt. “Getting in the circle, everyone felt safe and could cry. It was really good.”
While in the documentary, Simpson shared his story to viewers of how he missed his father and how he experienced racism on and off campus at EMU. He brought his drum on campus and played frequently to release his feelings on being called the N-word and other insults and slurs in and out the classroom. The cameras followed him around campus such as the Student Center and the university dorms and his experience as a poet in EMU’s Poetry Society.
The cameras also showed Simpson attending the Alchemy program and participating in drumming and telling his story to other black males experiencing the challenges of college.
“It is therapeutic to listen to myself say the things I said and reflect on experiences as they occurred in my life,” said Simpson. “It is amazing to look back on the process of growth and learn even still.”
Simpson said that his experience in the filming of the documentary was nerve wrecking and also interesting as his story was being told.
Simpson attended the screening and conducted a Q&A for viewers so they could share what they resonated from the story like the men would do after a myth reading in Alchemy.
“I’m extremely thankful to Karina Epperlein and Kwame Scruggs for his founding of the organization and the work he started and her filmmaking and friendship,” said Simpson.
His favorite part of filming was the ending where they were at Drake’s beach at Point Reyes National Seashore in California where the protagonists stood on a cliff.
To this day, Simpson keeps his journal and drum from Alchemy and will be graduating from EMU in April.
“My dream is to change the world and for my words to be heard around the world,” he said.