During the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, Strayer University, in partnership with The Blackhouse Foundation — a leading voice working to elevate and increase the number of diverse voices in filmmaking — announced the winner of ScriptED, a nationwide competition to discover a talented, up-and-coming scriptwriter who can help bring real perspectives to Strayer’s Criminal Justice program. While at Sundance, Strayer and The Blackhouse Foundation will host a panel on the impact of authentic storytelling through film on the future of education.
Donald Dankwa Brooks was awarded first place for his original script that demonstrated a keen awareness of the complex perspectives surrounding criminal justice. He was one of five finalists — selected from the more than 100 submissions that came from competitors across the country — awarded a trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah to pitch their scripts to a panel of esteemed judges. The judges included representatives from Strayer University, The Blackhouse Foundation, the criminal justice system, and the film and television industry.
To recognize the unexpectedly high caliber of the final scripts, each of the four finalists were given a $10,000 gift from Strayer. In addition to the $10,000 grand prize for winning the contest, Brooks also received an additional $15,000 gift from Strayer. Brooks also won the opportunity to be a writer in residence with Strayer Studios — a production team dedicated to infusing course curriculum with cinematic content to better engage students and help them grasp subject matter in more meaningful ways.
“We are proud to announce Donald as the winner of the ScriptED competition. His script captured the complexities and community experiences surrounding criminal justice in a powerful way,” said Karl McDonnell, CEO of Strategic Education, Inc. (SEI), the parent company of Strayer University. “Strayer Studios is dedicated to engaging students by infusing course curriculum with cinematic content. Brooks has developed a concept that we believe will resonate with students and bring Strayer’s Criminal Justice program to life. We’re thrilled to have him working alongside the Studios team.”
The contest called for an original script that addressed the key principles and reality of community experiences in criminal justice to spark debate and understanding of this topic among Strayer University students.
“This is an amazing feeling. I can’t wait to join the Strayer Studios team and bring my concept to life. I’m proud to be part of this important movement to advance criminal justice learning and spark debate among Strayer students,” said Brooks.
Brooks, from Brooklyn, NY, is a screenwriter and filmmaker who formerly worked to build scenario-based training materials for the Baltimore Police Department. As a writer in residence, Brooks will work with Emmy Award-winning filmmakers to develop a series of educational videos that pair with course curriculum, over a six-month period.
“We were impressed with the authentic story Donald told in his script that we believe will spark a sincere debate and better understanding of criminal justice among Strayer University students,” said Brickson Diamond, Chairman of The Blackhouse Foundation. “As we work to elevate and champion diverse talent in film, we hope to continue to partner with education institutions, like Strayer University, to advance storytelling for these new important audiences.”
A panel of judges evaluated submissions and participated during the live pitch session at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, including Karl McDonnell; Nicole Cattell, Head of Strayer Studios; Judge Victoria Pratt, former Chief Judge in Newark Municipal Court, current Professor of Professional Practice at Rutgers University’s School of Criminal Justice and nationally acclaimed advocate for criminal justice reform; Aaliyah Williams, Founder and CEO of Just A Rebel; and Brickson Diamond.
“Donald’s script about a rookie cop in training and the ethical dilemmas he faces reflects cases our justice system encounters every day. I believe it will draw students in, help them understand the realities of the criminal justice system, and foster greater compassion for the individuals, families and community members impacted by it,” said Judge Pratt.
“Donald undoubtedly captures the nuances and complexities of today’s criminal justice system,” said Williams. “His script exhibits the difficult balance of insightful and authentic storytelling while also managing to compel and entertain. I believe his work will help increase student engagement in their course work and I look forward to helping Donald elevate his work commercially as well.”
Strayer Studios and the ScriptED competition are part of a series of initiatives by the University and SEI to support working adult students, including the implementation of cutting-edge AI technology and other programs to deliver student services and support persistence towards degree completion. To learn more, visit: https://www.strayer.edu/outcomes
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About Strayer University: Founded in 1892, Strayer University is an institution of higher learning for working adult students. It offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in business administration, accounting, information technology, education, health services administration, public administration, and criminal justice. Strayer University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19104 (267-284-5000, www.msche.org). The Commission is an institutional accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. For more information, visit www.strayer.edu.
About The Blackhouse Foundation: The Blackhouse Foundation works to expand opportunities for black content creators by providing pathways to opportunities within film, television, digital, and emerging platforms. Blackhouse provides opportunities for minority creatives to learn about the financial, production, marketing and distribution resources that will raise the profile of their content, while also providing participants with a nucleus for continuing support, community, and education. To learn more, visit www.theblackhouse.org.