Wakanda for a day? Area students view ‘Black Panther’ in style

Jay Bailey saw the Black Panther character on screen two years ago while watching “Captain America: Civil War” on a flight from California to Atlanta.

The moment immediately transformed him from 40-year-old man to 12-year-old fan, he said. He wanted to give that same experience to kids once the Black Panther movie hit theaters.

“I called my wife (two years ago) and said we’ve got to do something,” Bailey said.

His vision was realized Tuesday morning.

More than 700 DeKalb County School District and Atlanta Public Schools students attended a private viewing of the film — put on by Bailey’s Phoenix Leadership Foundation, Movie Tavern in Tucker, the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce and the Atlanta Association of Black Journalists, with help from private donations.

Tucker’s Movie Tavern was transformed into a fictional paradise. Students received a red-carpet greeting, with entertainment from local African dance groups and musicians, ahead of viewing the film, which smashed several opening weekend box-office records. The students packed buses and received a police escort there. They also received lunch from Chick-Fil-A and unlimited popcorn for the movie.

Bailey said he wanted to treat students of color to something worthwhile in addition to a movie that represented people who looked like them in a positive light.

“For our kids to remain hopeful, they have to see their reflection in powerful things,” he said.

DeKalb County School District Superintendent Steve Green, who greeted students heading into the theater, was excited for what the movie could be for the students.

“What they’re going to see is the power of heritage, but they’re also going to see an interesting twist between technology and tradition and the way that works out in the movie,” he said. “And they’re going to get a chance to see it’s not just about the athleticism and the heroes, but they’re going to see intellectualism. You put those two together and that’s powerful.

“I want our students to appreciate that and that we’re standing on the shoulders of people who bled, fought and died so this day could come.”

Many who were part of the event said they shared a similar motivation, which made the event an easy one to get behind.

“Jay reached out to the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce, and they reached out to us,” said Shelbia Jackson, director of the DeKalb Entertainment Commission. “From there, the dominoes just kind of fell into place.”

Carl Ulysses dressed the part of an African king as he arrived for the showing. A tailor who worked on designs used in the Black Panther film, he said he was honored to be present for such a mind-blowing experience.

“Growing up, we had the Cosby Show, things like that,” he said. “This surpasses that. The students are going to see themselves as leaders and not followers. And it’s futuristic. It allows them to see how they can change the future.”

Local celebrities were on hand for the festivities, including singer Keri Hilson, comedian Rickey Smiley and his Dish Nation cohosts, including rapper Da Brat, former Real Housewives of Atlanta star Porsha Williams, Gary with da Tea and Headkrack.

“None of us should have made it, but we made it,” said Headkrack, flanked by the Dish Nation cast, to students in one of the movie viewing rooms. “Don’t ever think because of where you come from there’s nothing you have to offer the world, because the world is always looking at you and what they can take from you and what you have to offer.”

Students said they were floored by the collaborative spirit projected by Wakandans — the people of the movie’s fictional African country — as well as the many women in leadership positions, things they say they see in their own communities, but never depicted on the screen.

“Oh, the girls!” said Morgan Black, 15, a sophomore at APS’ Frederick Douglas High School. “They were running things. It was really nice to see.”

“It showed me no matter what was going on, you can come together for a final cause,” said Angel Carter, a 14-year-old freshman at Frederick Douglass High.

Students took selfies with celebrities after the movie, and were treated to performances from members of the UniverSoul Circus, set up in the movie theater parking lot after the movie.

“We love you,” Bailey told students as they began departing to their schools. “The village is here to support you. And it’s not over.”