Oct 01, 2015 09:56 AM EST

Aviva Kempner’s Rosenwald — Sharp Businessman Invests in Education for All

Aviva Kempner’s Rosenwald — Sharp Businessman Invests in Education for All
In the early 1900's, the poor, southern blacks found an educational champion in the most unlikely of places.  The son of a German Jewish immigrant, Julius Rosenwald, made his fortune and chose to share it with the blacks of America, first by building schools, and, later, by offering grants to young, talented artists.  In her new documentary, Aviva Kempner, in conjunction with the Ciesla Foundation, explores his life and legacy.

Through interviews with historians, family members and celebrated, African-American artists, Kempner details the person Rosenwald seemed to be and the impact he had on the larger black community nation wide.  Kempner breaks the film in to three components as she features his early life, his rise to fame and fortune and his work to educate African-Americans, and finally his desire to fuel creative minds by offering them the funds to focus on their craft.

Julius Rosenwald was born into an average middle class family with a father who started out as a young "peddler" who managed to become a shop owner.  Following in his father's footsteps, Rosenwald left school and went to work for Sears & Roebuck, eventually becoming pat owner and CEO of the company.  Once he amassed his great fortune, and a reputation for being an astute businessman, he set out to help educate African-Americans. 

For a small investment, and some Help from Booker T. Washington, he was able to build schoolhouses throughout the south and offer the people not only a proper education, but also a sense of community that helped strengthen the black towns in America.  By the time schools were desegregated in the United States, there were over 5,300 "Rosenwald" schools that had been built.  With all he accomplished, Rosenwald wasn't satisfied and eventually used the Rosenwald fund to give grants to young African-Americans to help them pursue and cultivate their talents, including Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois.

Kempner's approach to the subject matter is pretty much straight forward, infusing facts with opinion from both current black artists and Jewish leaders.  While I found her overall concept interesting, her editorial method is little choppy with an abrupt ending that leaves the film stilted and the viewer unsatisfied. 

The man, himself, was fascinating, devoting his later life to helping others succeed while never having completed his own formal education.  I would have liked to have heard about any other projects he may have funded besides those aimed at African-Americans.  Regardless, to me he was an enigma who knew how to balance work life and fortune with a life of philanthropy that bettered the lives of thousands of blacks throughout the United States.  Grade: B-

For more information about Aviva Kempner's Rosenwald film visit the official website at rosenwaldfilm.org.

About Allison Skornick-Rose

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