By Harry Colbert Jr.
Let’s face it: reality television is not doing Black people any favors. Often, the prevailing image of Black people in almost every reality show is one of dysfunction, savagery and buffoonery. Seldom are African-Americans shown in a positive light. Even those who have achieved successes prior to television somehow seem cartoonish when shown under the lights of reality TV. Ateya Ball-Lacy is fed up by it and seeking to change the narrative. Now she just needs a network to see the profitability in showing Blacks in a positive light.
Ball-Lacy, an assistant principal and academic dean at Gen. James Gholston Middle School in Prince George’s County, Md., is out to show the world that there is great talent in largely African-American communities with her proposed reality competition television show, “Hood Smart: The Urban STEMulus Project.” The show is a concept without a home, but Ball-Lacy is in talks with several networks trying to get one to take a chance on the idea. If picked up, “Hood Smart” will feature several African-American teens living together for eight weeks and competing weekly in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) challenges with the ultimate prize, a full-ride college scholarship.
Think of it as “The Real World” meets “American Idol,” with one key difference. “No one gets eliminated after a challenge,” said Ball-Lacy. “Everyone picked for this show is already a winner.” The concept for “Hood Smart” came about four years ago when Ball-Lacy went to see a movie targeting an African-American audience and she left with an empty feeling. “My heart was heavy because there were no positive images of us (on television and film) and I wanted to change that. Our students are having to see this manufactured image of themselves that’s not a healthy one, so I started writing and came up with ‘Hood Smart,’” said Ball-Lacy. The question is can the concept sell – first to a network, and then to advertisers. “I know TV has to be entertaining. This is an entertaining show,” said the show’s creator.
“It’s got drama, but the drama here is organic and without the buffoonery we see on a daily basis on television.” A graduate of Howard University, Ball-Lacy was an educator in the Twin Cities for nearly five years, working under Eric Mahmoud at Seed Academy & Harvest Preparatory School. While in the area, Ball-Lacy came to know Stokley Williams of Mint Condition. Williams appreciated the show’s concept and agreed to lend marketing support via his social media channels. “My experiences in Minnesota helped shape this project and my passion for education,” said Ball-Lacy.
According to Ball-Lacy, another supporter with a big name is comedian Dave Chappelle. Although the show has not produced a full episode, it has filmed a seven minute demo reel that is available for view on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=281xItqDC2Y. The reel is unique in the fact that most of the professionals (or elders, as they are referred to) on the show are people of color and all of the students are African-American. Also, quite noticeable on the reel is many of these high-achieving teens dress and are styled in what could be deemed “hood” attire, further eroding the narrative that one must look a certain way to be “smart.”
Ball-Lacy hopes the show will be picked up within a year by a network. If picked, a new cast would be chosen and the series would run for eight weeks, with weekly challenges and a winner at the end of each episode. A final prize of a college scholarship would be awarded during the show’s finale. –