River City Drumbeat Image

River City Drumbeat

By Bradley Gibson | August 6, 2020

Alongside the tale of the torch’s passing, we also meet student drummers Imani, Jailen, and Emily as they navigate being Black in America at the same time as they deal with adolescence and life changes.

It’s tempting to take this in as poverty porn. Throw in a Sarah McLachlan track and a few slo-mo cuts, and you’d have an effective fundraising video. Here’s the electric shock that should wake you: this untenable life happens routinely in these United States of America. This isn’t the story of a poor 3rd world country where everyone is struggling. Louisville is clearly demarcated rich and poor, along the “9th street divide.” When watching a beautifully done doc like River City Drumbeat, somewhere deep in your ancient software, you give credence to the idea this is just how it is for some people in some places.


“…an edifying story of rhythm, passion, and rites of passage.”

We’ve come to accept that as part of the American story, but it’s BS. To accept that is to buy into the notion that it’s something about the people and the place that makes this the only life they can access. To hold that idea, unexamined, is internalized, unconscious racism, which drives the systemic racism we see all around. To passively observe this situation while marveling at how well the people deal with it, is like setting a man on fire and saying you respect and admire this fantastic person for figuring out how to survive the flames. The better solution is not to start the fire in the first place.

We can say Black Lives Matter (and we do), but to bring that thought into meaningful action requires a deep soul search. Should West Louisville be doomed to poverty and crime because the residents are Black? Watch River City Drumbeat. Feel good about what Nardia and Zambia did, and what Albert is doing, then get off your a*s and hit the streets to do something. Get into some “good trouble,” to borrow a phrase from the late, great Congressman John Lewis. Good trouble makes good change.

River City Drumbeat is an edifying story of rhythm, passion, and rites of passage. It introduces a beautiful creative community of mentors, parents, and inspired youth working toward a better life than they’ve had.

River City Drumbeat (2020)

Directed and Written: Anne Flatte, Marlon Johnson

Starring: Ed Hamilton, Imani Keith, Jailen Leavell, Edward White, Albert Shumake, etc.

Movie score: 9/10

River City Drumbeat Image

"…we've come to accept that as part of the American story, but it's BS."

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