Petersburg Rising

Petersburg Rising – now available to Educators nationwide

Produced by Alan Blankstein, in association with Emmy Award winner and Academy Award nominee Sam Pollard (Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crosswords, Blood Brother: Malcom X and Muhammad Ali and MLK/FBI) and Alice Elliott, Executive Consultant and Academy Award winning writer, director, producer (The Collector of Bedford Street, Miracle on 42nd Street) Petersburg Rising is now available for educational licensing through Video Project.

The film is now being used in professional development with Dr. Marcus Newsome and Alan Blankstein to catalyze cohesive and collective action to address post-Covid learning issues and assure student and educator success in districts and states nationwide.


The Petersburg Rising Story

This a common American Story of economic boom-to-bust, with an unusual twist: an extraordinary group of leaders entered the picture to turn the tide by investing in children and their education. Petersburg was to be their model for the state, and perhaps the nation. Yet challenges remain enormous.

For more than a decade, Petersburg schools struggled, failed, and even lacked basic accreditation. Students dropped out in large numbers and faced tough times at home in one of the poorest communities in the state. Their future was bleak. Generations of children were lost.

When the superintendent of the neighboring district announced his retirement from a large, wealthy, successful district to act on his second doctorate in divinity, he was asked if he would consider instead running the poorest and lowest performing district in the state. This is that story, told through the struggles… and triumphs of 5 students we followed for a year.

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It’s not every day that you’re offered an opportunity to help an entire city recover from economic crisis by investing in its children. Yet that’s exactly what happened to me. You too can be a part of this extraordinary story.

My life has been spent in helping the “underdog” because that was once me living in a group home in Queens, New York. When my longtime friend and colleague told me he was leaving one of the most successful, wealthy and largest school districts in the state of Virginia to run the poorest and lowest performing one a few miles away, I immediately asked: “How can I help?”

Dr. Marcus Newsome replied that he had no money to offer, but that people in Petersburg, VA had come to believe, and thereby recreate, the negative news told about them. If we could change the narrative, we could change the schools, and if we could change the schools, we could change the city.

By divine intervention, I was in a room with a great PBS Documentarian, Sam Pollard, who became interested in this American Story. After the anger and protest that consumes our nation to achieve racial equity and social justice, the road to recovery will begin with education. We are starving the poorest of public schools as well as the professionals and students in them, and we then blame them for failure. This film proves that new results come with new resources & support, and that new resources come with good leadership that believes in, and commits to their children. There are no “throw away” kids, there are only kids being “thrown away.”

This is the story of Petersburg Rising, seen through the eyes of 5 students we followed for a year. This is a chance to change the trajectory of their lives, and that of future generations of an entire city. By doing this, we can also change other cities, states and regions. Now we could use your help!

Your Gift Can Make A Difference

We have NOW Produced a Feature Length Award-winning Film to Air on PBS Affiliates throughout the Nation. WHAT NEXT?

We still need your support to make sure this film has a lasting impact in communities throughout the country to assist them in uplifting the lives of young people who would otherwise have very limited chances of success. By fully distributing this film, and turning local screenings into communitywide action-planning for collective impact in cities across the nation.

Meet the Team!

Sam Pollard is a primetime Emmy award-winning producer, writer and director with over 30 years experience. Sam’s career as a producer started in 1989 when he produced the documentary series “Eyes on the Prize II: America at the Racial Crosswords”, for one of which he received an Emmy. Later he co-produced Henry Hampton’s last documentary series “I’ll Make Me a World: Stories of African-American Artists and Community”, for which he received The George Peabody Award. In addition, he co-produced a couple of documentary productions for the small and big screen, one of which received an Emmy (Spike Lee Presents Mike Tyson) and another one was nominated for an Academy Award (Four Little Girls). His recent award-winning spate of films include MLK/FBI, and Blood Brothers. There is no doubt that Mr. Pollard has spent his life working on black people’s progress and showcase through documentaries and film in general. 

Alice Elliott is a successful writer, director, producer, cinematographer and an adjuct professor at the NYU School of Continuing Education - she is a strong advocate for the disabled and minorities, along with a founding member of New Day Films (an educational film distribution cooperative) 

Alice Elliott has over 20 years experience in acting, participating in two feature movies and many commercials. “The Collector of Bedford Street” (1991) was her first debut as a director and producer. Since then, she has won numerous awards and was nominated for an Academy Award for Documentary Short Subject. 

Alan Blankstein is an award-winning author and education leader who served for 25 years as President and Founder of the HOPE Foundation, whose honorary chair was Nobel Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A former “high-risk” youth, Blankstein began his career in education as a music teacher. He worked for Phi Delta Kappa, March of Dimes, and Solution Tree, which he founded in 1987 and directed for 12 years while launching Professional Learning Communities beginning in the late 1980s. 

Blankstein is the author of the best-selling book Failure Is Not an Option®: Six Principles That Guide Student Achievement in High-Performing Schools, which received the Book of the Year award from Learning Forward. He is senior editor, lead contributor, or author of 18 books, including Excellence Through Equity with Pedro Noguera (2016), and Breakthrough Leadership with Marcus Newsome, Foreword by Pedro Noguera (2020) . 

Blankstein has provided keynote presentations and workshops for virtually every major U.S. education organization, and throughout the United Kingdom, Africa, and the Middle East. He has served on the Harvard International Principals Centers advisory board and the Jewish Child Care Agency, where he once was a youth in residence.

Film Festival Awards

2021 - Best TV Documentary - Culver City Film Festival

2021 - Triple Winner at the Richmond International Film Festival 

2019 - Winner of the Oliver White Hill 2019 Short Film Festival on Social Justice Competition

See the 3 minute version of our film in the Gallery.


Award-Winning Documentary, Petersburg Rising, the remarkable true story of transforming one of the lowest-performing school districts, is now available to Educators nationwide.

Highlighting success in overcoming crisis, learning loss, and
systematic challenges to equitable education, the film is catalyzing change efforts nationally.

Petersburg Rising, a “must-see” film from Producer and Award-winning Author Alan Blankstein (Failure Is Not an Option), is a testament to the impact of courageous leadership, equitable education, and a community, that against all odds, came to believe there are no “throwaway” kids, only kids being “thrown away.”

Petersburg Rising is our collective moment to “rise up,” celebrate, and expand the wins. we still need YOUR help to maximize this film's impact!

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