"Put It in a Book":
Every now and then you meet someone who has overcome so much adversity their life story would motivate the Grinch to save Christmas, but it's rare when you come across one who is so young and has so much life still to live.
Jabril Muhammad is one of these people; a sophomore at Santa Monica College, he was selected by the Make a Film Foundation to write and star in a short narrative film titled "Put it in a Book" along side well known actors Michael Ealy and Kerry Washington.
"Put it in a Book" is a film about a young boy named J.B. being raised by his older brother Akmed in a tough Los Angeles neighborhood. Akmed gets gunned down in front of his home and is found by Sheila (Akmed's love interest) and J.B. lying dead on the sidewalk.
J.B. has to now choose his destiny by either avenging his brother's death or taking the advice given to him by Akmed: avoid gangs and do well in school. After his brother's death J.B. is rummaging through Akmed's collection of books when he comes across a note, he remembers his brother telling him "if you want to hide something from a black man, put it in a book."
When taking the note to Sheila, J.B. is stopped by the same group of thugs that murdered Akmed. In a powerful scene, J.B. and his brother's killer stare each other down, their faces inches away from each other.
Whether or not J.B. goes after the man who killed his brother is left open, although, there's a great scene that leads you to believe he does. "It's like a twist for film, for J.B. to do the right thing," says Jabril. "Put it in a Book" is directed by Rodrigo Garcia and was financed by donations and grants through the Make a Film Foundation.
"This is a story of a young man growing up in L.A. searching for the answers," said Jabril. This story is very similar to his own story of struggle as well. "I wanted to write something that I was involved in, something that will touch others," said Muhammad who was raised in foster care with his older brother Shareef since the age of nine.
Although his brother didn't die in reality, his film death was inspired by the growing differences in the direction of their lives. "He didn't die but I felt he died spiritually," said Muhammad.
Muhammad was born in 1988 in Ladera Heights to a middle class Muslim family. In 1997 his family life was deteriorating; his mother Khadijah had been placed in Olivine hospital for mental instability while his father Rasheed was sent to prison.
Both he and his brother moved within the foster care system for the rest of their adolescent years. Their mother was released from the hospital but in order to get her children back she needed to complete a parenting program for the department of children and family services.
After she completed the program she was not granted custody of her children. Khadijah passed away when he was 15 years old, he said that moment changed his mind set in life. His father was released in 1999 but never obtained custody of his children.
"All my family were poets," said Muhammad who in high school started getting recognition for his poetry. At 17 he was asked to star in a documentary called "Peace Process" by director Katrina Parker.
The film was about a young inner city teen that is not involved in gangs and wants to further his education by going to college. Not only did Muhammad's encounters with gang members in the film have a lasting effect on him, but the film making process itself did as well. "
'Peace Process' was the first time I had ever been in front of a camera like that, I knew that I wanted to be an actor after that," Muhammad said. That was the first time he was apart of a film, although, he credits his love of acting to Mr. Ogden, his high school drama teacher who introduced him to Shakespeare.
In his senior year he was contacted by Tamika Lamison, founder of the Make a Film Foundation along with co-founder Sarah Elgart, to be their first recipient. "[Muhammad] was recommended to me by his creative writing teacher, he told me I should meet him," said Lamison.
The Make a Film Foundation is a non-profit organization, their goal is to grant children or young adults suffering critically or terminally life threatening diseases an opportunity to write and star in a movie to leave for their legacy.
Jabril has been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, because of which he had to spend a month in the hospital after he graduated high school. The Make a Film Foundation works with volunteers within the film industry, using donations and grants to create the opportunity to for these children to write and star in a film.
"Put it in a Books" will be screened next at the Hollywood Black Film Festival, June 2-7 of this year. As for future projects, Muhammad is focused on getting good grades at SMC. His major right now is Liberal Arts, although he said semi-jokingly "I might change it to science. Who knows, regardless of what I do I know I'll have a lot to offer."
Muhammad has persevered despite his ongoing bout with sickle cell, the years within the foster care system, through crime and gang influence over his short time on earth to stand tall and passionate for education, life and what the future holds; "The whole process of life is about learning," said Muhammad, and he is eager to learn more.