BLOOMINGTON — Eighty-six junior high and high school students and 15 chaperones packed a theater Thursday afternoon at the Marcus Wehrenberg Galaxy 14 in Bloomington.
What may result is 86 young people who better understand their potential and the potential of others.
“The kids understand this is more than an action movie,” said Tony Morstatter, CEO of the Boys & Girls Club of Bloomington-Normal.
The 86 students are members of the Boys & Girls Club and the chaperones —club staff and family members — saw the movie “Black Panther” in a Bloomington-Normal effort that was part of the nationwide Black Panther Challenge.
The challenge encourages people to raise money to allow marginalized children — especially children of color — to see the movie, which has been celebrated for portraying black Americans and Africans in a positive light.
The local challenge was organized by Shelley Brooks of Normal and fellow members of the KES Alumnae Chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., a black Greek service sorority.
Brooks set up a Go Fund Me page, which raised its goal of $1,500 in two weeks.
That money — along with a discount from the theater — allowed the sorority to buy out the entire 105-seat theater along with providing a drink and popcorn for each attendee.
“Whatever money is left over, we will give to the Boys & Girls Club,” Brooks said.
Among club members who attended the showing were Bloomington Junior High School students Deonte Lewis, 13; Mary Hall, 11; and Saniya James, 13.
“This is amazing,” Lewis said before club members boarded buses for the theater. “Some kids don’t have the money and transportation to get to a movie theater.”
“I’m very excited because I haven’t been to a movie in a long time,” Hall said.
“I like giving back to the community,” Brooks said. “Our sorority slogan is ‘Greater Service, Greater Progress.'”
“I went to see ‘Black Panther,'” Brooks said. “I was so blown away.
“There were powerful women,” she said. “I want young women to see that they can be whatever they want to be. I’d like the boys to know that they can be leaders.
“The superhero is a person of color,” Brooks continued. “The stereotypes of people of color are not in this movie. It shows that everyone can be a superhero, no matter your race, color or size.”
Brooks read about the Black Panther Challenge, and she and her sorority sisters decided to organize a Bloomington-Normal effort. As of Wednesday, $1,530 had been donated by 71 people.
“There are generous people in this world,” Brooks said.
Boys & Girls Club signed off on the effort and provided transportation from the club’s locations at 1615 W. Illinois St. and in BJHS, 901 N. Colton Ave., both in Bloomington.
The club offers after-school programs at both locations. Nearly all club members are from low-income families, and 75 percent are from single-parent households.
“It’s a very powerful movie,” Morstatter said. “This is an opportunity for kids to learn outside the walls of the club.”
Lewis said, “Some of us African-American people think we’re not a part of anything.” “Black Panther” celebrates African and African-American culture, he said.
“I think it was a good movie,” James said. “It shows people that you can do anything you want to do.”
“It’s motivating me to reach for my goals,” Lewis said.
What’s the message for people who aren’t African-American?
“The message is the same for everyone,” Lewis said. “It shows our community that we need to reach out to different groups instead of hanging out with the same groups.
“I hope there is less violence within our community and more peace between different races so we can all get along,” Lewis said. “No one is worse or better than anyone else.”