America's embattled public education system provides kindling for numerous negative news stories -- school shootings, drugs, and gang violence. Accidental Hero: Room 408, a new documentary from award-winning filmmakers Terri DeBono and Steve Rosen, provides a powerful exception to those stereotypes. Following a San Francisco East Bay public high school teacher and his class for over two years, the film tells the story of Tommie Lindsey, an extraordinary man who is changing lives by introducing his students to a little known academic sport called "forensics." Accidental Hero has important messages about the tremendous potential that young people from diverse backgrounds can realize when they are given the support of good teachers and ample educational tools.
Tommie Lindsey teaches forensics (competitive speech, debate and oral interpretation) at James Logan High School, a working-class school where fewer than 38% of the students go on to four-year colleges. This powerful African-American encourages his students to succeed against all odds while preparing for competitions. "These kids are not supposed to be in forensics, let alone win the top awards," says Lindsey. But by instilling his students with poise and self-confidence, and by giving them the motivation and opportunity to use these skills to win, he inspires kids to dream and make those dreams reality. Nearly 100% of Lindsey's students go on to study at colleges and universities.
Guiding his students toward literary material that allows them to draw on their own culture and experience, Lindsey helps kids channel their emotions positively into spellbinding interpretations -- performances that are startling in their professionalism. His teams regularly win state and national competitions usually dominated by upper-class private schools. Their success demonstrates the tremendous potential that can be found in high school students from public schools in under-served and challenged areas -- and how one teacher's support and faith in his students is encouraging them to move beyond society's stereotypical expectations of them.