Adjunct Creates Film About West Orange African Heritage Organization


Heroes Among Us, a documentary that captures the story and history of the leaders in the West Orange African Heritage Organization, is a story that appeals to everyone, said Prof. Brent Draper Scott, a School of Business adjunct and WOAHA Vice President. 

The WOAHO was founded in 1999 to address issues in the public school system in West Orange, and how the merging of two Public High Schools – West Orange High School and Mountain High School – had affected the black community in this small town in New Jersey. 

 Scott is the former historian and current Vice President of the West Orange African Heritage Organization. He moved to West Orange back in 2016 and he noticed that people were not happy with West Orange High School.

“As I became more involved in the organization through monthly gatherings…I began hearing whispers about the problems at West Orange High School…This whispering intrigued me.”

Scott was concerned about the discrimination black students were facing at West Orange High School and besides his position during his time as a historian, he still managed to do everything he could possibly do to fight this systematic racism in this school. 

Scott mentioned that after spending several years in this organization, he wanted to make a record of everything about the West Orange African Heritage Organization and came up with the idea of making a documentary in order to make a record of this. He mentioned that it took him weeks to months to find the first members of this organization.

“Some were sick, and phones and emails changed.”

This made it hard to find people and in spite of that Covid -19 delayed the process in many ways, it took one full year to finish this project that he had in mind. Thankfully he was able to find many people who were one of the first leaders and founders to start this organization.

Scott turned to the Media Studies program at Mercy College to help edit the film, notably Program Director, Louis Grasso, and student Yadira Barrios. 

“With the generous support of (Grasso and Barrios), a documentary film, “Heroes Among Us” was produced.”

Mike Taylor is one of the original founders of the West Orange African Heritage Organization. He is an It Professional and could not believe that his son was experiencing systematic racism in his school. 

At one point Taylor’s son got into a very minor altercation at school and was suspended. When he went to find out about the situation, it was non-violent and between his son and a female student. “It was just someone trying to get someone else’s attention and they just chose the wrong way to do it. My son and the young lady were suspended for what I felt was something really minor stuff…it was overblown.”

Not only did Taylor believe that this problem was highly exaggerated but when he brought up his concern he did not feel supported. It actually reached the point where he had to hire a lawyer for this altercation. 

Taylor said, “At one point I had to hire a lawyer because they would just give me such a hard time and I found out when you show them you’re prepared to fight, they straighten themselves out.”

It has been proven that “Black students are often subject to harsher discipline at school than white students, and those punishments can damage students’ perceptions of their school and negatively impact their academic success years later,” according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Taylor was not the only one feeling like this. Alongside him was Gwen Franklin, one of the original founders of the WOAHO was also in disbelief that in the 21st century, students were still being treated unfairly. Franklin mentioned, “We felt like the concerned black citizens were not active enough and fighting racism at the high school.”

This feeling is what drove black citizens to raise their voices and bring awareness to this situation, Taylor added. 

Scott was also able to speak to other founding members of the WOAHO Linda Bullock, and Greg Bullock, who were previously members of another organization called Concerned Black Citizens which was founded in 1984. During the time the two high schools were merged together in 1984 they noticed that suspension was fairly common among black students rather than white students.

Greg Bullock mentioned, “When both high schools merged in 1984 there was a tremendous amount of discord and lots of fighting and suspensions disproportionately with the African-American students.”

Bullock said that researchers from the American Psychological Association also found that among Black students those who were suspended for a minor infraction, during the first year of the study had significantly lower grades both one and two years later rather than those who weren’t suspended.

Since then this program has helped many high school students by providing tutoring and scholarships to help students make their college transition easier. Scott mentioned that students might get a scholarship from $2,500 to $5,000 depending on how much they are able to fundraise throughout the year. 

To help fundraise this sum of money many activities are hosted to help this organization. Inside the WOAHO there is a program called “Men Who Cook” which is a competition of 25 men cooking their best plates. This celebration is held every year and purchasing your ticket is funding to cause of the students. 

Scott also mentioned, “All of the money that is raised goes to students even down to the last penny.” 

Scott’s next goal is to create a GoFundMe page to help fundraise for the organization in order to help the students go to college in hopes to help many more students along the way.