Tuesday, August 23, 2016

All The Difference

by Monique McIntyre

This year, on Sept. 12, PBS will air All The Difference, a documentary from Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Tod Lending, Joy Thomas Moore and Wes Moore.

(Check your local listing.)

The documentary follows the stories of Robert Henderson and Krishaun Branch as they fight to survive in the Englewood section on the South Side of Chicago. It shows the ups and downs of each young man’s education, as well as the powerful impact of one grandmother’s support.

For Robert, his fight started early. When he was just 17 months old, his father killed his mother. In that crucial time, his grandmother, Ona Mae Gooch, became his lifeline. 

However, at 62, Ona was tired. With only the last four of her 17 children at home, she had just finally started to see a slower life for herself. She worried about having to start over with such young children, but she knew Robert and his six siblings needed her. 

She knew she would do whatever it took to provide a good life for her family. As such, she decided to take them in and help grow their lives.

Raising her grandchildren was going to be a challenge, but she knew she could handle it. Ona was no stranger to hardship. 

She grew up as a sharecropper in Mississippi, where she picked cotton and had to leave school in the 5th grade. Around 30, Ona decided to leave her abusive husband and move with her children to Chicago. 

Once there, she continued to farm on any patch of land she could find. She tended, supported, nourished and helped her garden thrive, much in the way she did with her family. In particular, her strength and effort helped Robert succeed.

After graduating from an all-male college prep high school, Robert went on to pursue secondary education at Lake Forrest College. During one semester, he struggled in a chemistry class and sought out help from his professor. 

In one meeting the professor told Robert the hardest part of his success would be staying motivated. Robert quickly jumped in and told her his “motivation isn’t the problem. I won’t give up,” he said. “My grandmother didn’t give up on me… so why should I give up on myself?”

Robert's drive, which his grandmother instilled in him, helped push him to finish college.

Ona has been there for all of Robert’s accomplishments. Towards the beginning of the film, he and Ona are shown sitting at the kitchen table while she goes through a box of old items. 
“Look at this junk I’ve got,” Ona says, handing Robert a piece of browned paper. 
“That’s not junk,” Robert chuckles.
She had handed him his kindergarten diploma. 
“I keep this stuff for you to show your children one day,” Ona says.
As a high school and now college graduate who’s teaching math in middle school in Colorado, Robert has a lot of “junk” to show his future children. And he owes a lot of that success to his grandmother, Ona, who made a difference in his life.

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