CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 12 . . . . November 18, 2011
Regent Park in Toronto is Canada’s oldest housing project. Constructed in 1953, it now houses over 2000 families in a 70 acre area. Originally planned as a model community, the years have not been kind to Regent Park. For this reason, over the next 15 years it is being rebuilt and redesigned. Filmmaker, Hubert Davis looks at Regent Park through the lives of Mikey and Kendell. Over the course of their high school years, the film presents the challenges that meet these young men.
Both Mikey and Kendell are bright and filled with potential; however, both seem to find themselves at odds with their schools and, at times, the law. Both of their mothers express worry for their sons and, as single parents, are alone in this worry. When Mikey was caught in a stolen car, his mother is frustrated by his arrest. He decides to “not follow the wrong crowd.” However, he admits that this is difficult to do: “What will my friends think about me? That I’m soft?”. Ainsworth Morgan grew up in Regent Park. Now a teacher, he taught both Mikey and Kendell at Nelson Mandela Public School. Although both boys have graduated, Morgan keeps his eye on them. Early in the film, he is concerned that Mikey is wandering away.
Kendell, arrested for assault with a weapon after a hall monitor reported that he threw a juice box at her, is handcuffed on school property. It “humiliated me” he recalls, but he says, “Basically my summer starts early. The judge will probably throw the case out”. Morgan is unhappy with this response and is aware of the seriousness of the situation. Morgan feels that teachers, if they are to be good, have “to go beyond school hours to be truly effective.” Aware of the toll this could take on his own family, Morgan admits, “While you’re out there saving other people’s kids, don’t forget your own”.
Kendell’s mother is visibly upset with his going to court. She does not want him to have a record and states that some mothers go to court for their children “time and time and time again.” She does not know how they can do it and admits that she cannot.
Mikey’s mother works two jobs. He wishes she could be home. “How?” she asks. “I will not go back on welfare”. Mikey’s father is not around, so she is alone.
Morgan leaves Mandela to work with Pathways to Education, a community organization that supports more than 800 high school students in Regent Park. He recalls a former student who had been shot seven times just two days before his daughter was born. Morgan states that he has attended more funerals than weddings.
Periodically, through the film, buildings are being torn down and new ones erected. The change is happening, but day to day life is the same.
Kendell’s charges are dropped when he writes a letter of apology. His mother is concerned about Kendell’s relationship with his father. “When his dad calls, Kendell lights up, but he doesn’t have time for Kendell. He has other kids. Now he doesn’t care if his dad calls or not”. She is worried for Kendell as he “keeps so much in.”
By Grade 11, both Kendell and Mikey have switched schools. Kendell’s new school has one of the best basketball programmes in the city. The coach is confident that Kendell can make it on the basketball court, “but other things get in the way.” He is not suited up for the first season game due to his academic performance and absences. Kendell’s mother does not like his friends and worries that he is getting into trouble while she is at work. Kendell feels “she doesn’t understand the real world.”
Mikey’s mother is in the same situation. Mikey disappears for periods of time, and she does not know where he is. Frustrated, she turns him in to the police for breaking the conditions of his parole. The judge warns her that once she starts this process, there is no turning back. Mikey spends a week and a half in jail. His mother could have gotten him out sooner, but she opts not to. She sadly admits that she was able to sleep while her son was in jail because, at least, she knew where he was.
Mikey’s mother left home at 16 and never had much of a relationship with her own mother. She never heard her mother say that she loved her when she was younger. Now the two have reconciled, and the mother says it often. Mikey’s mother says you are “never too old to hear that.”
By the end of Grade 11, Kendell is no longer playing basketball at school, but he says, “That’s okay”. He plays for a Regent Park team, and his mother feels that he is getting his life together.
Grade 12 does not go well for either of the boys. Despite the success of Grade 11, Kendell is failing: “I don’t really like school. I hate it”. He is tired of how people look at him. His mother sees problems with Kendell: “When he is angry, he thinks he can talk how he likes. He can’t be going into a man like that”.
The next building marked for demolition is the apartment where Morgan grew up. Twenty years later, he takes a memory walk through the halls. He remembers where his mother was when the police brought him home from a robbery. Her look of disappointment stays with him still. He admits, “There’s a lot of history here.”
Kendell’s father does not call on his birthday. After that, Kendell no longer wants to hear from him. He knows that his mother works 10 hour days, but he feels, “You still need time for your family.” When that time comes, he plans to be a better father. The relationship between Mikey and his mother deteriorates as well.
Kendell and Mikey do not graduate. While they are still close, they do not hang out together that much anymore. Kendell admits that he is still “ironing out the kinks. I got a lot of kinks in my life.” Others do graduate, and Morgan states that it is good to celebrate this. There is too much negativity.
Invisible City is more a film about Kendell and Mikey than about Regent Park. While viewers see the difficulties both families face, there is no balance. Regent Park is a multicultural community, yet both families are Afro Canadian. Viewers do not get a feel for the other stories that must exist alongside the Kendells and Mikeys of Regent Park.
My daughter in law grew up in Regent Park and has fond memories of her childhood. She feels that the film falls short of an accurate presentation of Regent Park. True, the area has its challenges, but it has had many successes.
Included with Invisible City is a film entitled Farewell to Oak Street. Made in 1953, it celebrates the destruction of the former slum area of Oak Street and the construction of the visionary project of Regent Park.
This short film makes it clear that the expectations for Regent Park were very high and, at the time of filming, all of these were being realized. The new residents left cold, vermin and pervert infested apartments to move into new and modern homes.
Farewell to Oak Street was not made to be a comedy although it has some light touches. However, juxtaposed with Invisible City, Farewell to Oak Street becomes a celebration of the naivety of the time. Things did not turn out quite like they planned. One wonders how the current renovation of Regent Park will be seen in the future.
Invisible City would have applicability in any course dealing with families, and it could also be used in a Law class or Geography dealing with city planning. Those interested in Education as a career would benefit from viewing the film.
Frank Loreto is a teacher librarian at St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School in Brampton, ON.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.