The word griot is a noun that means a member of a class of traveling poets, musicians and storytellers who maintain a tradition of oral history in parts of West Africa. The word also means a spokesperson, mediator, or diplomat; an ambassador to the community. Lemuel LaRoche is all of these things and more.
It is a little known fact that the United States incarceration more of its citizens than any other country in the world. The impact that one single imprisonment has on families, communities, and society as a whole has never been seriously studied or even taken into account. Incarceration costs taxpayers about $30,000 per year per inmate, yet the government spends less than $12,000 per year per primary school student. The majority of prisoners are young men that are being held for non-violent crimes and young men of color are arrested and jailed in disproportionate amounts.
The consequence of this is that all the potential these young men have is either lost or misdirected. The solution is definitely not in building more prisons or in creating yet another system that’s only going to profit off of the mistakes of the youth. The solution lies in investing more to help these young men and women find themselves and in helping them realize that a prison sentence is really a life sentence because once a person has a criminal record it stays to haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Through the use of poetry, music, a game of chess or camping in the woods, the griot and his supporters stand with the youth to teach them the skills they need to maneuver through life. It’s not all about talk; it’s about experiencing real life by using all the senses and learning how to make wiser choices.
The chess tournaments, geared towards young people between the ages of 12 and 17, teach kids how to challenge each other through their minds and not through their fists. As they develop skills for the game, kids learn to act instead of simply reacting; they learn to plan, strategize, and analyze.
Lemuel LaRoche is a social worker, poet, chess enthusiast, and activist on a mission. His inspirational words entertain and touch thousands with a simple truth: if we want to see better, then we have to do better.
This film chronicles one man’s effort to make an impact on the lives of as many youth as possible by activating change.