Alternative High: The Troy Shawn Welcome Story

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Alternative High: The Troy Shawn Welcome Story
Written and directed by Michael A. Pinckney
Produced by Garret Anton Harkawik
Youth Communication/Reel Works Teen Filmmaking
18 minutes. DVD.

This short film, a collaboration among adult and teen filmmakers, dramatizes Troy Shawn Welcome’s journey “from high school dropout to high school principal.” It opens in 1991 at huge Harding High School in the Bronx. Unable to hear the teacher above the voices of a family argument inside his head, Welcome – played by Mark John Jefferies – walks out of class to join friends on the street.

His guidance counselor persuades Welcome to transfer to University Heights Alternative High School. Uncomfortable in its intimate setting, Welcome refuses to participate in his homeroom’s “family group,” where students share their problems. When another boy reports a painful estrangement from his father, Welcome finally opens up about not hearing from his own father for years. “I finally found a place to be myself,” says Welcome.

After graduation, Welcome enters Baruch College, part of the City University of New York. Soon overwhelmed by working an evening job and attending tough daytime classes, Welcome is discouraged by an impatient professor who says, “Maybe college isn’t right for you.” As Welcome walks away dejectedly, a deep voice intones, “Don’t run away from challenges.” Suddenly the adult Welcome himself appears onscreen to tell the rest of his story.

Dropping out of Baruch, Welcome flourished at Purchase College of the State University of New York, outside the city. Then his high school principal hired him to teach. Now many of his students “remind me of myself,” he says, hiding their intelligence “in a cloudy place.”

“Difficult times in life are there for a reason,” Welcome declares. “If you can find the courage to stand up to it, to examine it, not run away from it, figure out how to conquer it,” you’ll find “green pastures.” Closing screens picture Youth Communication’s books that contain Welcome’s early writings. After receiving his master’s degree in education, he became director of Arturo Schomburg Satellite Academy, an alternative high school in the Bronx.

Viewers who wish to know more about Welcome’s life can read his five stories in the Real Men anthology, including the two stories on which the film is based. The book continues where the film ends. “Heading for the Unknown: Behind the Scenes with Troy Shawn Welcome” conveys his philosophy in the tone of an inspirational coach: “You don’t need to wait for life to do something to you. You need to do something with life.”

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