For Ahkeem is described as the moving portrait of 17-year-old Daje Shelton, a Black girl in North St. Louis, as she navigates the many challenges of growing up in inner city America with one goal: to graduate high school.
The documentary film from award-winning directors Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest, had its World Premiere earlier this year at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival, and will have its North American Premiere at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival.
Filmed over a three year period, we watch as Daje struggles against countless obstacles to obtain her high school diploma, her only hope of a better future, while navigating life as a teenager in America. The camera quietly follows her as she experiences her first love and explores a challenging new role as a teen mother. Despite the daily struggle to maintain focus in school and graduate, Daje and her family show the strength, resilience, and determination it takes to survive.
People been labeling me a bad kid all my life. You don’t have to really do nothing, people just expect it. So you start to expect it of yourself.” – Daje Shelton
For Ahkeem follows Black teenager Daje Shelton as she comes of age in a rough part of St. Louis. Daje has a fiery and charismatic personality, loves to sing, and hopes to become a comedian or a journalist one day. All this despite never quite believing she’d live to see eighteen.
After a school fight gets Daje expelled and sent to a court-supervised high school, her hopes of being accepted to a good college are dashed. Her mother Tammy, who was also expelled from high school, reminds Daje of how important it is for her to stay the course and graduate..
“I don’t want you to get comfortable thinking this neighborhood and the things around here is the way of life, cus it’s not,” says Tammy.
“There are so many bigger and better things out there, you wouldn’t even believe it.”
We’re with Daje for over two years as she strives to turn things around and maintain focus on school, which becomes even more challenging after suddenly losing a friend to gun violence. She falls in love with Antonio, a charismatic classmate who can identify with the trauma Daje is feeling. Struggling with schoolwork though, Antonio drops out and starts getting into trouble on the streets. Later, Daje learns she is pregnant with a son and wrestles with the heartbreaking reality of raising a Black boy in America today.
At the start of Daje’s senior year, an unarmed Black teen is killed by a police officer in nearby Ferguson, seizing the national spotlight. The incident further awakens Daje to her vulnerable position in the world, reinvigorating her mission to graduate from high school and make a better life for herself and her newborn son, baby Ahkeem.
Through Daje’s intimate coming of age story, For Ahkeem illuminates challenges that many Black teenagers face in America today, and witnesses the strength, resilience, and determination it takes to survive.