The Resiliency of Oakland Teens Amid the 2020 School Year Is Highlighted in Peter Nicks' 'Homeroom' on Hulu

This project is the third in Peter Nicks' trilogy. The first, "The Waiting Room," explored Oakland’s healthcare system, and the second, "The Force," looked at the Oakland police.

In 2019, award-winning producer and director Peter Nicks set out to film a documentary titled "Homeroom." The hope was to examine the anxieties teens face in school in a rapidly changing world, thanks in part to social media.

This film was to be Nicks' third in a trilogy. The first, "The Waiting Room," explored Oakland’s healthcare system, and the second, "The Force," looked at the Oakland police.

However, 2020 had different plans.

“Homeroom” went in a different direction and became a project that takes an in-depth look into student’s lives over the course of a year that was like none other," Nicks told Inside Edition Digital. 

Nicks and one of the student leaders highlighted in the film, Dwayne Davis, spoke with Inside Edition Digital about the Hulu documentary and explored how the hope held by the teens profiled in "Homeroom" allowed them to persevere.  

“Initially, we were going to be much more focused on making a film about the emotional lives of young people and really exploring what it means to be a young person coming of age in a rapidly changing world,” Nicks said. “We were much more focused on the mental health of young kids of color in the beginning.”

The project also shines a light on how Oakland students fought to see the school district police removed from their halls. The millions of dollars spent on that resource, students said, could be redirected back to the students to make mental health resources and other programs available.

“Once Ahmaud Arbery was murdered, and then George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, that really sparked outrage within the world,” Davis said.

“And with us already having the initiative to get rid of the Oakland school police department, I think that with the help of social media and the unfortunate deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor during the summer of 2020, it really dragged more people into their initiative and helped more people understand why we wanted to get rid of the Oakland school police department," he continued.

Seeing everything unfold last summer, Davis, a senior at the time, said he was inspired by his friends who organized other protests. So he managed to pull his own together, with thousands of people marching through Oakland, calling for change to the system and their school.

“It was really those two protests that made me say, ‘You know what? We're getting all of this. We're going to make this a movement, not a moment,’” he said.

He said he was driven to community organizing not for himself, but for future generations. 

“So, fighting for them, fighting for my children. I don't have any yet, but fighting for my children for the future and fighting for all the other amazing individuals here in Oakland who are still at Oakland public schools, and just all the other students and younger siblings and cousins and generations, just around the world and around the country, really, it's who I'm fighting for. I'm not necessarily doing it for myself," he said.

The subject matter of “Homeroom” can evoke sorrow, and Nicks said that while filming, he also experienced personal tragedy.

“I mean, part of the whole focus, initially the film exploring the emotional lives of young people of color was that we had been struggling with our daughter for many years and she suffered from depression,” he said. “And we lost her at the beginning of filming in September 2019.

"And I was going to cancel the film, but I decided to keep going. And to some degree, almost kind of like the way Dwayne's describing it, when you experience a trauma that it's good to grab onto something that's meaningful and occupy your mind and your spirit," he said. "And so that's what I did.”

Nicks' daughter was supposed to graduate in 2020, and the film is dedicated to her. Not only is “Homeroom” an example of resiliency, but so too is the man behind the lens.

“I think that the major theme of the film, that optimism, is a dialectic," he said. "I think for me and my family, working through grief has been so much about learning about that dialectic, that notion of how you hold two seemingly contradictory things simultaneously. Loss and hope and grief and joy, we have a constant interplay between those things. That's the essence of being a human being."

"For me, what's most exciting is providing an opportunity for those sparks to happen for not just adults to rethink how they see young people and the role that young people can play in the adult world, but also allowing young people to see each other and themselves reflected in this way because I think it's a rare opportunity to do that."

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