Benedictine Military School traces its roots back to a tough time in our nation's history, just coming out of our Civil War. It was in this environment that the first Benedictines came to Savannah to educate and evangelize the recently emancipated enslaved peoples. It wasn't until the 1960s when the school was able to realize our first Black graduates.
Black students have helped Benedictine flourish since the late 1960s. During this time, BC has helped to develop them into men, leaders who have achieved educational and professional success.
“Absolutely. That’s the entire impetus for this project, in a nutshell,” said Reginald Franklin, a 1979 Benedictine Military School graduate who is producing ‘The Brothers of Benedictine,’ a documentary series about the accomplishments of BC’s Black graduates.
Franklin, a multimedia film professor for 31 years, including nearly 24 years at Savannah State University, where he currently teaches, will begin his documentary series by focusing on BC’s first Black graduates from the classes of 1968 (Roy L. Allen II), 1969 (Solomon Myers III and Daniel W. Wright III), and 1971 (Lester B. Johnson III).
“At first, I was envisioning maybe doing a two-hour documentary,” Franklin said. “But then I was thinking, because there have been so many (Black BC graduates) over the last almost 50 years, to really do it justice, I want to highlight as many as possible throughout that time, and two hours just would not really be enough. So, basically, what it’s turning into now is it’s going to be a documentary series. I’ll deal with a decade (at a time), like ’68 to ’78, or ’69 to ’79, all the way to present day.”
CELEBRATING BC’S HISTORY OF DIVERSITY
In 2014, BC dedicated a plaque in Alumni Hall in honor of its first Black graduates: Allen II, Myers III, Wright III, and Johnson III. That’s when Franklin got the idea to create the documentary.
“I got the concept when the school decided to honor Roy Allen as its first African-American graduate,” Franklin said. “They had a ceremony, and his daughter came down, and there was an entire celebration about it in the cafeteria. I was there. I shot footage of it. I actually recorded that celebration on video. That’s initially when I started thinking about it. And, of course, walking through the hall and looking at all of the former graduates that you guys have in Alumni Hall, their pictures, that’s when I started thinking about doing this documentary.”
On Oct. 13, 2021, Franklin visited BC to explain his documentary series idea to BC Headmaster Fr. Frank Ziemkiewicz, O.S.B. During a one-hour meeting, Franklin asked for, and received, Ziemkiewicz’s blessing.
“In the process of our conversation, Reginald brought to mind the inclusiveness of the BC community, that whole idea of brotherhood, and that idea of brotherhood has spilled out over the course of our 100-plus years through many communities,” Ziemkiewicz said. “We think in terms of our beginnings as largely and exclusively the Irish community, eventually incorporating the Italian community that came into Savannah, the non-Catholic communities that have so greatly contributed. The Jewish, the Protestant communities, all have enriched the life of BC over the course of so many decades.
“BC would not be where it is right now without the contributions of so many of these ethnic groups and their life experiences, which have so greatly benefitted everyone,” Ziemkiewicz continued. “It has allowed our graduates from outside of any given community to go out into the world with an appreciation of what so many communities other than their own have to offer. It has contributed to their success in their professional careers. It has allowed them to pass that understanding on to their own children and to make this world a more inclusive place, a more understanding place, and a place where we understand that there is progress that yet needs to be made. Goodness knows, we’re not there yet at the final destination. Goodness knows, too, that we’re further ahead than we would have been had we seen ourselves exclusively as a siloed community addressing one ethnic group or another. The BC world has benefited greatly by the contributions of so many and it is imperative on our part that we continue to do so throughout our history.”
A TREASURE TROVE OF CONTENT
Franklin’s brother, Harold, Jr., graduated from BC in 1977. Dozens of their closest friends are BC graduates, Franklin said.
“A number of our contemporaries have gone on to have stellar careers in a lot of different avenues,” Franklin said. “I thought highlighting that would be a nice tribute to the legacy of this really interesting fraternity here in Savannah. That particular segment of it, it was somewhat unique. There weren’t a whole lot of us, but it was certainly an experience that aided us in becoming successful men; fathers and business leaders and soldiers and just all kinds of avenues where people went; doctors and lawyers.
“I’ve already reached out to a lot of my contemporaries and created a listserv,” Franklin continued. “I’ve told them about the project. I’ve told them that I met with Fr. Frank and all of them are very enthusiastic about getting on board and sharing their stories, which is the next step. I’m going to create a database. I’ve gotten peoples’ contact information. I’m going to send out some questions, a survey, for them to highlight what they’re doing, where they are, that kind of thing, so that I can start putting a database of information together, and then start planning who I’m going to interview and where I’m going to have to go, or if I have to bring them here, these kinds of things. It’s taking on a logistical life of its own to a certain extent. Somebody suggested that what I may need to do is create a project base and then bring in a couple of people to help me do the research, because tracking down everybody and making sure all this data that is collected, where they are and what stories they have to tell, is going to be somewhat of a massive undertaking with as many people as we’re talking about. What I’m going to have to do is really take it one series at a time. Because if I try to do it all together it would take forever.”
Franklin said he hopes to have the first documentary in the series completed by the summer of 2022.
“That initial one where we go from Roy Allen to maybe 1980,” Franklin said. “And then once that’s done, it should garner some interest amongst the later graduates to participate. It will also aid me in finding some people who know these people because I don’t. And then be able to reach out to them. And they’ll also have something to base what this project is going to be about.
“It’s shaping up to do what I’m planning for it to do,” Franklin continued. “We’re going to talk about not just our days at BC and our experiences, but also how those experiences shaped us moving forward, our college lives, our other successes, which is really what I want to highlight. Even if we don’t have everybody’s story, at least we’ll have a picture of everybody that came through the class. Even if it’s just a picture over music, if I can just get some information about where they are now and what they’ve done. I won’t be able to interview everybody.”
Franklin said one aspect he plans to explore in the documentary series is how BC students, despite their ethnic differences, came together to form a brotherhood even during a time when racial tensions were high.
“The African-American students weren’t in a bubble,” he said. “We had friendships that extended beyond our ethnic, cultural background, and I think those friendships were an important part of being able to survive the Benedictine experience. I certainly want to highlight those as well. As the framework for this documentary series begins to take hold, I want to highlight the entire experience as much as possible and have that, hopefully, be something that is inspirational to people coming afterwards; just a good kind of showcase for how the evolution of these things has continued.
“The tentative working title of it is ‘The Brothers of Benedictine,’ which has its own connotation,” Franklin continued. “Technically, brothers is a class of monks, but it has a couple of different connotations. For the African-American community, the word ‘brother’ has its own connotation as well. It’s called a working title because it may change but that’s the title that I like because that particular term embraces a lot of stories about us going (to BC). The production value of the project is something that, needless to say, I will be paying quite close attention to. I’m hoping to, in addition to the interviews that we do, collect a lot of additional pictures and information. I’ve got some pictures from the yearbooks but I’m also hoping that people will have pictures of themselves in their youth and their activities, things that they were doing.”
MULTIMEDIA FILM BACKGROUND
In addition to being a BC graduate, Franklin has extensive multimedia film experience. He earned a full four-year academic scholarship to Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., “based primarily on my test scores,” he said. After graduating from Jackson State, Franklin earned a fellowship to the University of Michigan, where he earned a master’s degree in telecommunication arts, which was television and film production.
“After I graduated (from graduate school), I went into a video production business with a family member,” he said. “That lasted about six months, because I came back to Savannah after Michigan to start a video production business with one of my cousins. And then I decided to leave Savannah and go to Atlanta just because I wanted to get out of Savannah. I was a young person and Savannah is a very old town in a lot of ways. I went to Atlanta, and I wound up getting a job at CNN. I worked at CNN for almost three years. I was there when CNN moved from Techwood (near Georgia Tech) to the CNN Center downtown. It was an interesting time. It was very cool. For someone who had been trained in video production, to be able to work there was a very fundamental training ground for me.”
While at CNN, Franklin’s former Jackson State department chair invited him to the university’s annual communications conference to talk about his role at CNN.
“I came through there in March and that June she called and asked me if I would be interested in teaching because they had an opening,” he said. “I really wasn’t all that enthusiastic about teaching until she told me what it paid. And it paid about $4,000 more than I was making at CNN. I was like, ‘Teaching? That sounds like it might be an option there.’ I accepted the position and that was 31 years ago. I’ve been teaching ever since.”
Franklin returned to his alma mater and taught at Jackson State for seven years until he accepted a job offer from Wayne State University in Detroit.
“I went up there for what turned into just a year, even though they wanted me to continue,” he said. “Detroit was really cold. For someone from Savannah, Georgia, even though I had been to the University of Michigan and got my master’s degree there, I understood cold but it was a little different. Ann Arbor and Detroit were completely different kinds of places. Luckily for me, Savannah State was looking for somebody to teach production at that point in time. I just call that providence. I think the Lord, in order to get me out of Mississippi, He moved me out of Mississippi to Detroit and then back to Savannah. And I’ve been at Savannah State for the last … this is coming into year 24.”
Beginning in early January, Franklin said he plans to recruit a couple of Savannah State students in his documentary class to assist with the project.
“I’m going to assign them to start collecting some data and establish a database so people can send us stuff, and we can start putting this together,” he said. “Luckily, I do teach a documentary class. I’ll be utilizing that class to assist in this particular project, as well as students doing stuff on their own. It’s a huge undertaking.”
Anyone interested in assisting Franklin with ‘The Brothers of Benedictine’ documentary series may contact him at (912) 373-4689 or firstname.lastname@example.org