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New Basketball Doc Series “Benedict Men” Provides Valuable Lesson in Selflessness

Chris Carpenter - Director of Internet Programming

St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey has developed a well-earned reputation over the last decade or so for its basketball excellence.  Winners of seven of the last nine state basketball championships, the Gray Bees have sent many of its players on to play major college basketball.

But if you were to ask anyone associated with the team or school what makes this small school buried in the heart of one of America’s most industrial cities so successful, they would be quick to say it all comes down to one core belief: “Whatever hurts my brother, hurts me.”

Featuring NBA superstar Steph Curry as its narrator, Benedict Men, is a new documentary series (available now) on Quibi that follows the success and failures of a St. Benedict's team that is maneuvering their way around the pressures and heartbreaks associated with inner city high school basketball.

Watch an Exclusive Video Clip from the Benedict Men Documentary Series:

I recently spoke with Father Edwin Leahy, headmaster of St. Benedict’s, about what makes his school a special place, the importance of making selflessness a core value of one’s life, and why understanding another person's suffering is what allows us to change for the better as human beings.

Benedict Men executive producer Mark Ciardi says St. Benedict’s School is a “special place”. What makes it special?

The kids that attend St. Benedict’s. Kids from Newark, African-Americans, Latinos, white kids, Christian kids, Hindu kids, Muslim kids, the Jewish kids they all make it special. They all make it special, because lots of places in the world, we're killing each other over religion. Right? What we hope to be, that's why we have a fence around the place, to mark off holy ground. It’s to be a sign to people of what's possible. If you give the Holy Spirit enough room and let it have its way, then God is a God of surprises. That's exactly what's happened here. There's no way that you could have possibly predicted this when we started doing this back in 1973. There's no way you could have possibly predicted that where we are now would happen. No way. It's impossible.

For someone who has never seen Benedict Men how would you describe the documentary series to them?

(Director) Jonathan Hock told a very compelling and accurate story about the situation of urban America, and the situation of kids and families who are sometimes desperate to find a way to afford a better life … at least what's been presented to them and what they've been allowed to have. What the African American community has been allowed to have his basketball. So, basketball belongs to the African American community. They try to take over something else and then there's problems. That's the problem in the country. So, basketball is seen as a way out of desperation, out of poverty. Jonathan told a great story.

And thank God for Steph Curry. What's happening now is that these (NBA) guys are no longer seeing themselves as having to just simply run around in short pants and play a kid’s game. They're using their voice to talk about significant and meaningful things in this country. That's what we need. So, I'm super grateful to Steph. I've never met him, but the kids are all amped up about him to be able to use his voice, to talk about the plight of African Americans in this country.

One of the core themes of this documentary series and the school for that matter is selflessness – putting other’s needs before your own.  Could you reflect on that a bit in relation to St. Benedict’s?

It's all about community. The whole place was built on community. That's what it is. It is a community. All the instructions that are given, are given to the community, whether they're oral at our morning meeting, whether they're written with emails, it's to the community. When we have our morning meeting and many of our alumni come to the morning meeting, they'll all say good morning to the community. It's part of who we are. When you have a community, what happens is some people are limping while other people are running. But that's the nature of community, right? In order to successfully complete their freshman year, all of our ninth graders have to backpack the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey.

It’s a 55 mile hike. In order to get down the trail, we've had kids who have had to carry two packs because one guy couldn't carry it. He wasn't in shape enough to carry it. You can always walk as fast as the slowest guy in your group. The rules are that you have to stay up there. And so, everything we do and the everyday operation of the place fosters community. We have a pretty sophisticated counseling center because you can't function sometimes. You can’t function if your heart's not right. That's the biggest problem for a lot of our folks in the country right now. They have heart disease.

People have heart disease because of their emotions as well. If we have that kind of heart, we have a pretty sophisticated counseling center. We run group sessions and we run face-to-face talk therapy. About 40% of our kids will contact the counseling center sometime during the year.

We want our kids to discover their voice and make sure that African American and Latino kids discover and amplify their voice.

What valuable life lessons can be learned from this documentary series?

I hope one of the things that happens as a result of it is that people who watch it realize the suffering of these kids and their families. What will change our country is the understanding that others suffer. And that's what we struggle with. There is a Jewish proverb, the story of two jurors. Two Jewish men were talking to each other and one said to the other, ‘Do you love me?” The other guy’s response was, ‘You know I love you.’ So, the other guy said, ‘Do you know my suffering?’ And the second guy responded, ‘No, I don't know your suffering.’ The first guy fired back, ‘Then how can you say you love me?’ So, understanding others suffering is what allows us to change as human beings.

That's what we struggle with right now. Nobody wants to know anybody else's suffering. Well, everybody wants to defend their own position and beat each other over the head.

And until we understand the other’s sufferings, we will be in the same mess. If we survive as a country, we'll be in the same mess for ages until people learn to accept the other. That's the message of the Cross. The Lord loves us as we are and died for us as we are. Jesus says, ‘Love one another.’ We're all for that. Right? That's a good idea. The second thing is, ‘Love others as I have loved you.’ In other words, die for the sake of the other, giving yourself up for the sake of the other. That's what we can't do in this country right now. That's what we've got to learn to do. And that's what we try to fill this place up with. Yeah. That's what the 2018-19 St. Benedict’s boy’s basketball team had a hard time doing.

After audiences have seen Benedict Men, from your perspective what would you like them to get out of the viewing experience?  What is your greatest hope for the series?

I think one of the things that makes this (documentary) series work is Steph Curry and his voice. I think that's huge to people. It gets people's attention and him talking the way he's talking, not talking about basketball, but to see Steph Curry in a different domain and a different set of interests, passion, and concern, is one thing that sets it apart. This is so much better than having some professional narrator do it. And the other is the ending of it is not all that pleasant. You really see the sufferings of people that are ongoing. I think it makes people think, ‘I wonder where those kids are now?’  For every one of those kids who went on to play in college there are others who are somewhere else.

Watch an Exclusive Video Clip from the Benedict Men Documentary Series:

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