By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

It is no secret that many if not most of life’s important lessons are learned outside the classroom. What is perhaps less understood is that what one takes from these lessons can be equally affected by the experiences one brings to them.

Miguel Gonzalez, a Villanova University student going into his senior year and a Kennedy-Kenrick High School grad, was one of a score of Villanova students who participated in a short documentary filmed in one of the poorest, but certainly not typical neighborhoods of South Philadelphia.

The 28-minute film, a project of a class conducted by Professor Hezekiah Lewis, examined the daily life of Julius Wright, a young African-American who has done time in prison and is living in a drug-and-violence-infested environment.
A rap musician with the persona “Lyric God,” Wright looks at his chosen field as a way to a better life.

The synopsis of the film on the Internet, while generally sympathetic, tells us Wright and his peers “adopt a victimizing attitude that prevents them from taking responsibility for their lives.”

Gonzalez’s role in the film production was as line producer, participating in the day-to-day production and overseeing the financial end of the production.

His take on Wright is somewhat different than the view presented in the synopsis.

First of all, Gonzalez notes, most of the other students on the production were upper middle class, which is common at Villanova, while he is not.

A member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish, he grew up in Norristown, which is really not a typical suburb but Philadelphia in microcosm, with a mixture of different social strata.

The South Philadelphia neighborhood where Wright lives is riddled with vacant buildings and decay.

“They were shocked,” Gonzalez said of his classmates. “I could see it in their faces.”

He better understood Wright, who wants to escape the drug culture but rejects the idea of education because he can make $300 a day as a street musician and hopes to become a music star.

“He’s the same age as I am,” Gonzalez said. “I can relate to him; he’s more than a neighbor, he’s a brother.”

With that said, Gonzalez does not share Wright’s values.

“My mother and father instilled in me the need to get good grades when I went to Kennedy-Kenrick, and when I came to Villanova I got a few scholarships, that’s why I’m here,” he said. “I’m the first one in my family to go to college, but I’m not satisfied with that.”

He is cautiously optimistic about Wright.

“He’s better off than he was because he learned a lot about himself through our questions,” Gonzalez said. “The change in him also gives me inspiration to follow my dreams. If he can keep pushing on in spite of his troubles, so can I.”

Gonzalez’s major is communications, and after this experience, he is definitely looking into a possible career in film as a means to make a difference.

“As a Catholic your job is to try to help people,” he said. “In his (Wright’s) situation, he wanted somebody to see his story.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.