This short film — “As I Am” —  first appeared in late 2012, thanks to The Commercial Appeal, Memphis’ daily newspaper, which underwrote it as part of a special project called “Memphis Poverty: What Obama Didn’t See” — a deep and thoughtful journalistic examination of poverty in the city.

A year earlier, President Barack Obama had visited Memphis’ Booker T. Washington High School to deliver its commencement address. The student chosen to introduce the president that day was Chris Dean, who later became the subject, the writer and the heart of this film. The film came together during Dean’s 2012 internship at the The Commercial Appeal, where he worked with one of the newspaper’s photojournalists and filmmakers, Alan Spearman.

Spearman and cinematographer Mark Adams spent eight weeks with Dean, walking around his neighborhood, recording his observations about the place that is his home, the surroundings in which the young man grew up.

Today, Chris Dean is 22 years old and beginning his senior year at Lane College in Jackson, Tenn., a historically black college founded in 1882, where he is majoring in psychology and minoring in business.

He is remarkable not only for his achievements, but also for the fact that he was alive to make them. Dean's heart stopped when he was 2 years old. Essentially, he died but came back. When he was 5, his father, Ray Lee, died in a gang shootout in South Memphis, his body riddled with more than 20 bullets.

The Bitter Southerner makes no claim whatsoever on the creation of this remarkable film, but we are grateful that its makers gave us permission to present it. We show it to you today because it offers an extraordinary and affecting perspective on the forces driving events we see unfolding in the news right now.

“As I Am” reminds us that reconciliation — whether it’s between two children arguing over a toy or among citizens of an entire nation — begins to happen only when we take the time to look at the world through the other person’s eyes.

— The BS Crew


As I Am


ACT I : The Question

Imagine your dreams. See what you’ve been through. Think about yourself....

where you going ... where you from ...

Think about the dreams you’ve had ... the nightmares you’ve had.

I used to have nightmares ... that I would be stuck in a storm drain ... people would walk past me for days and leave me down there ... and I would see and hear everything. I would see people selling and buying drugs, folks fighting, hookers, hustlers. Street life. My hands and arms would just be sticking out and nobody would help me. I can’t pull myself out on my own. People just keep walking past me like I don’t exist.

I shouldn’t be here.

I died when I was 2. Tell you the truth ... the doctors gave up on me. God brought me back. I always think I gotta be here for a reason.

My dad got murdered, shot more than 20 times on the same streets that I walk today.

I close my eyes now and I can’t see nothin’.

I’m afraid of the future.

You gotta know the cuts. Sometimes, the lines in our hands intersect like the cuts in the ’hood. You just gotta feel your way through. We take shortcuts to stay out of sight, but they just keep us out of mind.

Where I’m from, ain’t no rose bushes; they just sticky bushes.

I’ve had the same exact dream over a thousand times. I keep throwing money out of a helicopter ... to the homeless people. I still have that dream.


ACT II - The Struggle

It’s a day-to-day struggle and an everyday hustle.

You do what you have to. No matter what it is, you do what you gotta do.

We don't know what they been through. We don't know their story. People just looking for a hand.

They say there’s a better life. But when you go out there, looking for that better life, you don't get no help when you try to do the right thing.

The streets taught me to be hard. It’s hard.... Most times, it’s too hard.

I shouldn't be here.

In a blank state, in a city with no fight, in an area code with no hope, in a house with no lights, in a body with no soul, in a mind with no goals.

I shouldn't be here.
This state shouldn't be my life.

I can see the stress in his walk. I can hear ... the pain ... in his voice....

His finger’s itchin’. You can’t sell him a dream, he’s not a dreamer. He’s a thinker and a doer.

Nine-to-five money too slow, though. In 45 seconds …click ... vroom ... he could be gone in your car.

You gotta stay moving. Gotta stay in motion.

What if I was never born?

Am I lucky to be unfortunate?

Where I’m from, babies have babies all the time.

You’re gonna get a lot of chances to make choices. But make the wisest choice every chance you get.

When your stomach touchin’ your back, your stomach touchin’ your back.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure ... just lookin’ to find a way through the day ... to have a life for the night.

When we dream, we enter an empty space that’s filled with hope.

Stuff happens every day. Stuff you shouldn’t get used to, but you do. Most stuff just wanna make you give up.

They know deep down inside that they’ll never have a mansion or smell the ocean. But they’ll never admit it. Because their minds don’t work like that.

You can only try so hard to pull yourself out. And if you can’t - you gonna pull somebody down with you.

Friends turn to foe. Family turn into people you just don't know.

The streets are cold. Even in the summer.

Two blocks from the ’hood it’s a whole new world, but why? Is there a new world two blocks from the ’hood? More importantly, why is the ’hood two blocks from the new world?

How far can a flip go?


ACT III - The Release

I don’t know anyone who can say they walked in my shoes and made it out of the ’hood.

Maybe that’s why I’m afraid of the future.

An ocean of violence lit from within — it’s the truth....

Find something you love, and give it your soul.

Do you believe there’s a Greater Being, greater than you? A hand over the ’hood? A soul deeper than the soul you have?

The more I keep thinkin’ — about when I died, when I was a child — the more I think God was like, “Naw, you’re gonna do something.”

I got a job to do.

I wish I could remember what God told me to do.

I wish I could remember what cuts I’m supposed to take, what cuts I’m supposed to create

What I do know is ... we’re meant to connect, to find each other.

Eyes to see, hands to feel, hearts to love.