Beaverton native makes films to empower men of color

by: COURTESY OF THE BLACK FATHERHOOD PROJECT  - Aloha High School graduate Jordan Thierry focused his new documentary on fatherhood in the African-American community. He will show the documentary at his alma mater this week and talk with students and staff about the impact African-American fathers have on their families and on society.Twelve years ago, Jordan Thierry was at Aloha High School, playing basketball and struggling to keep his grades up to graduate.

Luckily, Thierry says his parents pushed him to keep going and apply to college, which he did — and it was there that he found his inspiration in life: black history.

Thierry, who just turned 30, returns to his high school this week to showcase what he’s been doing since.

With an undergraduate degree from the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication and a master’s degree from the historically black Howard University in Washington, D.C., Thierry has explored and documented the history of fatherhood among black men.

Thierry’s resulting documentary, “The Black Fatherhood Project,” is a 70-minute film he has screened at college campuses and for nonprofit organizations and other groups nationwide.

He’ll show it to Aloha students and staff Thursday and talk with small groups of student leaders about the issue.

“It’s about understanding and breaking down stereotypes about African-American men and families,” Thierry said from his home in Beaverton. “I think anybody can benefit from understanding the root causes and the dilemmas.”

Thierry hopes the film will spur dialogue on the subject and inspire everyone — educators, social service workers, parents and the community at large — to look at trends today through a historical lens. The entire film can be viewed online at

“The goal is to try to get as many people to see the film as possible, possibly for it to be set up so people can host their own events and take control of the presentation and conversation themselves, without me having to be there,” he says.

Person of character

The documentary launched the start of Thierry’s company, Better Man Productions, which will make films aimed at empowering men of color.

As a child, Theirry remembers, he was always in the minority.

“If there was a black person walking down the street, or any black person in Beaverton, I knew him — literally,” he says. “It was a very small community, that changed with gentrification, the growth of Intel and Nike, and other folks of color to the Beaverton area.”

Aloha High Principal Ken Yarnell knew Thierry in high school as his basketball coach. They kept in touch via Facebook, and a few months ago Yarnell heard about a screening of “The Black Fatherhood Project” at a North Portland church.

The film also has been shown at Portland State University and at Northeast Portland’s King School.

Yarnell went to the church that day to support his former student, saw the film, and says he was so impressed that after they got to talking, he invited Thierry to be Principal for a Day at Aloha — and to bring the film with him.

“He was a normal, good kid” at Aloha, Yarnell says. “I never knew he’d be an activist, but it never surprised me because he’s a real person of character.”

A daily journey

Like most school leaders in the region, Yarnell has been working on improving student achievement through the lens of equity.

Aloha High is the most racially and socioeconomically diverse in the Beaverton School District, with 51 percent students of color and 53 percent qualifying for free or reduced price meals. Thirty percent are Hispanic, 4 percent black, 8 percent Asian or Pacific Islander and 7 percent multiple races.

Yarnell says one of his goals has been to make enrollment in the school’s Advanced Placement classes reflect the school’s demographics. He says they’ve made some strides so far: AP Human Geography and U.S. History reflect the school but in math and science, it lags.

Yarnell says it’s about being strategic. “You have to make sure you’re invitational,” he says. “Some students may assume they’re not an AP kid because of their background.”

He’s also aware of financial barriers that may keep students of color from taking AP classes; there is a fee of $89 to take the national AP test.

Yarnell says a partnership with Westside Community Church has brought about $12,000 to a “principal’s care fund” to use at his discretion, with about $4,500 dedicated to sponsor scholarships for students who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford the AP test.

The parent-teacher equity team at Aloha High, Yarnell says, will work to further improve their cultural competency and narrow their achievement gap.

“It’s a daily journey,” he says. “We hope this spurs conversation along the journey.”

See it yourself

The public is invited to a free screening of “The Black Fatherhood Project” today (Thursday) at 6:30 p.m. at Aloha High School, 18550 S.W. Kinnaman Road. This documentary film by Aloha High School graduate Jordan Thierry offers an honest exploration of fatherhood in Black America. Following the screening, participants will meet the director.

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