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C-SPAN to Air Documentary by Ramsay High School Students Jacari Dillard, Erial Malone

Ramsay High School students Jacari Dillard, left, and Erial Malone, will receive $1,500 for their C-Span short documentary. (C-SPAN)

By Sym Posey | The Birmingham Times

Two students at Ramsay IB High School are second-prize winners in C-SPAN’s national 2024 StudentCam Documentary competition.

Jacari Dillard, 17 and Erial Malone, 17, will receive $1,500 for their short documentary, “The Two Trillion Dollar Crisis” which will air on April 14. In Birmingham, C-SPAN is available locally through Spectrum.

StudentCam is C-SPAN’s annual national video documentary competition that encourages students to think critically about issues that affect communities and the country. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the competition. Students were asked to address the theme: “Looking Forward while Considering the Past”.

C-SPAN awards cash prizes totaling $100,000 to the student filmmakers of the top 150 student documentaries.

Dillard and Malone, the only Alabama students to place, chose to address student loans because “it is such a popular topic especially with [President Joe] Biden’s student loan forgiveness program being big right now as well as, being seniors in high school, we don’t really understand how student loans really affect us,” said Dillard.

“Last year we decided to pick inflation as our topic because we were doing a lot of things in the classroom related to that specifically,” he said.

Their video, “Inflation, A Losing Game” earned them a third-place finish in 2023.

“Winning last year with no background in filmmaking, we knew that we were creative and capable of doing something big before we left Ramsay. We wanted to tell the stories of our facility,” said Dillard.

Malone has eyed the University of Alabama where she wants to study business and as well as take required courses for psychology in graduate school.

Dillard said he’s undecided where to attend school but would like to study computer science to become a software engineer.

Participating in the C-Span competition has allowed Dillard to be a creative in a way he didn’t think was possible, he said.

“It makes me feel validated. I can remember when I was younger, I didn’t feel like I had creativity. I didn’t like to draw. I didn’t like art class. Looking back on where I was then, and where I am now, it really gives me validation that I am a creative and that I can make award-winning films on a national level,” he said.

Malone said, “the biggest thing is making sure people are heard and that they understand the importance of scholarships, good grades, and a great ACT score, so that you will not have to deal with student loan debt. Student loans are so big to our community. I always hear my mom hoping that they forgive her student loans. It affects so much, like your credit score. Credit is how you live your life.”

Together, they created a four-step plan for their documentary that can be implemented over the next 20 years that includes income driven repayment, interest free loans, more Pell grant money, and free tuition.

“First, we need to make sure that people are educated on student loans. A lot of the feedback that we heard from our teachers were that they didn’t know what they were getting into. They just signed a dotted line, took that money, and now they must pay it back and they didn’t understand the repercussions.

“Secondly, we researched something called income driven repayment as well as interest free loans … If you are paying on the loan, depending on how much your income was, your student loans would not include interest. Something that keeps people paying for their entire life.  Our third step would be expanding the Pell grant. When it first started out, it covered almost 90 percent of your education. Today is less than 30 percent. Our last step is making sure that college would be tuition free,” said Dillard.

C-SPAN television networks will broadcast each of the grand prize, first prize, and second prize winning documentaries during the month of April. For more on the prize-winning documentaries visit here.