Destiny Concealed

The Story of Eagle Academy: A Documentary

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Congress Heights campus

Destiny Concealed: The Eagle Academy Public Charter School Story is a powerful documentary film that honors the founders of Eagle Academy Public Charter School and marks its 20th anniversary. Eagle’s inaugural campus, the first public charter school for PK3-K in the District,  opened in the “Blue Castle” at the corner of 8th and M streets SE in 2003 with 114 students. After rapid expansion, a second location opened its doors a few blocks away on New Jersey Avenue Southeast in 2010. Today, Eagle operates two state-of-the-art campuses in the Congress Heights and Capitol Riverfront neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., bettering the lives of hundreds of children across the city.

Destiny Concealed Director Cheryl Montalvo

When the Covid 19 pandemic shut the world down in early 2020, Karen Alston—the Chief Marketing Officer for Eagle Academy Public Charter School—had an idea. Cassandra Pinkney, the co-founder of Eagle Academy, had passed away four years before, and Alston wanted to honor her contribution to early childhood education in DC’s Southeast wards. She reached out to her friend Cheryl Montalvo, an experienced film director, to see if she would be interested in telling the story of Cassandra Pinkney and Dr. Joe Smith, an advocate with expertise in public charter schools, and how they came together to create the school. She was.

Cassandra S. Pinkney,
Eagle Academy co-founder

And so Destiny Concealed: The Eagle Academy Public Charter School Story documentary, was born. Montalvo’s background is in news gathering. Together with a powerful team, she helps to tell nuanced and diverse human-interest stories, creating content for high profile networks and agencies such as CNN and HuffPost. Since 2023 marked the 20 year anniversary of the opening of the first Eagle Academy, the time was right for a commemoration of Pinkney and Smith’s efforts to shatter the neglect by city services in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.

Montalvo and her crew started filming in early 2020. They spent over 16 months conducting 38 interviews with parents, staff and alumni of Eagle Academy, community members, Pinkney’s family, and the many whose lives had been changed by a woman that many viewed as a modern-day biblical matriarch. Pinkney, as we learn through the documentary, was someone who – through the struggles she faced with her own son as a young mother in an underserved community – was inspired to help build intellectual generational wealth for hundreds of families.

Dr. Joe Smith, Eagle Academy co-founder

Stylistically, Montalvo’s Destiny Concealed is a quietly powerful piece of documentary filmmaking. There is no mediator. No superfluous technical detail interferes with the inherently powerful subject matter. “What’s unique about this documentary is that I used one cameraman. One Director of Photography.” Montalvo says. “Having just one person and myself created a level of comfort not only in the communities but also with those I was able to sit down with and interview.” The result of this intentional and sensitive approach is a piece of film making that gives priority to the voices of the community.

Perhaps the most impactful contributions are those of Dr. Joe Smith and Onari Jackson, Pinkney’s only surviving child. Jackson is the Executive Director of the Cassandra S. Pinkney Foundation. Through the eyes of these two people who arguably spent the most time with Pinkney during her journey, we learn more about Delrico Tyrone Durham, Pinkney’s son and the inspiration for the creation of Eagle Academy. We come to understand how, when Pinkney worked with Smith to open the first Eagle Academy Public Charter School, she had young mothers in mind who were juggling jobs and parenting along with family responsibilities and commitments within social and economic systems that weren’t sympathetic to their needs or the specific requirements of their young children. “The passion that you see from Onari as she’s talking about the journey and how Joe and her mother came together really set the pace of where we went with the story and who we talk to next.” Montalvo says, explaining how she decided to guide the production and tone of the documentary. “Everyone who spoke of Cassandra and spoke of Joe, they were full of passion. It was invaluable to hear these stories. Hear how Cassandra affected them and the families and children.”

Onari Jackson, Executive
Director of the Cassandra S. Pinkney Foundation

Throughout Destiny Concealed, Montalvo is particularly successful at detailing the context of the communities and neighborhoods that Pinkney, Smith and their colleagues were working in without making gun violence, substance abuse, lack of quality education and nutritional challenges in these areas the primary focus. Through Ronald Hasty (former principal of the first Eagle Academy Campus), Aaron Lecoin and Royston Lyttle (principals at the Congress Heights and Capitol Riverfront Eagle Academy campuses respectively), we learn about how families in DC’s wards 6, 7 and 8 struggled to find safe spaces to grow, and found them in the school.

If you need two good reasons to watch this documentary (there are many), do it to learn more about the famous swimming pool at the Eagle Academy Congress Heights campus that Pinkney fought for, and to witness first-hand the effect that Pinkney’s legacy had on her young grandchildren through a powerfully raw interview with them. Be sure to keep your tissues handy.

Destiny Concealed: The Eagle Academy Public Charter School Story can be streamed by creating a free 30-day account at umff.com