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“What to do?”
A simple but profound three-word call to action sent via text from Oklahoma City Thunder General Manager Sam Presti to his lifelong friend Mike Johnson in the midst of our nation’s civil unrest and on the eve of the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre planted the seeds of a potentially life-changing academic program.
OKC Thunder Films will premiere Seeds of Greenwood, a documentary short chronicling the origin and first year of Thunder Fellows, at a free screening tonight in conjunction with Oklahoma City’s famous deadCenter Film Festival.
The Thunder Fellows Program’s mission statement is to address the prevalent opportunity and racial wealth gaps in our community and unlock new opportunities in sports, entertainment, and technology for Black high school and college students in the Tulsa area.
The 50-minute movie swiftly balances the program’s backstory, inception and first year journey, all against the backdrop of one of the single worst incidents of racial violence in American history. And despite the short running time, the film’s finest feat is investing viewers emotionally into the students and teachers who are the true lifeblood of Thunder Fellows.
It’s impossible not to be inspired by Reece, a softspoken yet quietly confident and witty 9th grader. The freshman wakes himself up at 4:45am (plus a couple hits of the snooze button) every morning to hop a bus for a one hour ride to Crossover Preparatory Academy and immediately heads to Thunder Fellows at the end of his school day. From Reece and Nzinga to Daniel and San’Ya, you’ll root for every one of the program’s 24 inaugural students.
But the star of the show is unquestionably LaKena Whitley, the teacher and Programs Manager with Steven Adams sized charisma. Her candid care for these kids shines through every time she’s onscreen and her exuberant passion is unleashed in song, dance and comedy.
Thunder fans will get a kick out of peeping pee wee Presti football clips, courtesy of Papa Presti. His friendship with Johnson traces back to those days on the gridiron and continued into their high school basketball days. I won’t spoil anything, but the film may or may not contain selfie footage of Presti and Johnson on an outdoor court and let’s just say Sammy is a real life Billy Hoyle.
Director Michael Zubach and the OKC Thunder Films team, including familiar Thunder names Dan Mahoney, Matt Tumbleson, John Read, Paris Lawson and Nick Gallo, have produced another one of their annual high quality documentary shorts.
Last year’s Pause The Game, an intense recounting of the infamous Thunder-Jazz Covid game, and Seeds of Greenwood have both tackled subject matters with worldwide impact and told them through the personal lens of Oklahoma community and resiliency.
What to do?
Watch Seeds of Greenwood.