Lauryn Hill is known for hit records like “Killing Me Softly” and “Doo Wop (That Thing).” Now, she’s narrating and executive producing the documentary “Why Is We Americans?” that will screen at Planet Word Museum at 13th Street Northwest D.C. on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
The event is sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus, who is renting the space.
“The documentary is a long overdue account of the legendary Baraka family: Amiri Baraka, his son, Mayor Ras Baraka, and wife Amina Baraka,” Co-Director Ayana Morris told WTOP. “All the work and sacrifice they’ve made in the city of Newark, [New Jersey]. It’s a giving of their flowers because they have done so much in the fight for social equality.”
The inspiring story beings with the mayor’s powerful parents. “Amiri and Amina Baraka were integral in getting the first Black mayor on the eastern seaboard elected to the city, Ken Gibson,” Morris said. “They could have went anywhere but made the decision to stay in Newark, create culture and bring in very popular people like Maya Angelou.”
A decade after Amiri was Poet Laureate of New Jersey, his son Ras Baraka was elected mayor of Newark in 2014. He was re-elected twice in 2018 and 2022, turning the city into a model for urban growth and development that shines as a beacon for the entire nation.
“When you talk about the renaissance of urban communities, Newark is part of that conversation,” Morris said. “The struggles it endures is not unique. … We believe that Newark can be a model for the rest of the world, showing the results of when you organize, work together, build community, build culture, use art and politics all into one movement.”
The Grammy-winning Hill agreed to participate as a Newark native who once featured Ras Baraka’s voice on her iconic album “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” (1998). Knowing this, Morris called Hill’s mother to discuss the project, and a week later, Hill was in the film.
“A lot of people don’t know that Lauryn Hill is from the Newark community, so her and Ras have known each other since they were really young,” Morris said. “They’ve been friends for a long time, so she was really happy to do the documentary. I’m gonna say kudos to us, because Lauryn Hill hasn’t sat down on camera in a really long time.”
The event will include a pre-screening party with food and drinks and a post-screening Q&A with both filmmakers and Mayor Baraka moderated by Howard University Professor Greg Carr.
“This film is extremely important universally, but in D.C. it’s important because of Howard University,” Director Udi Aloni told WTOP. “Amiri, his son and his granddaughter studied there. It’s a tradition of a university that brought these amazing people to the front.”
There will also be a presentation of “The Book of Baraka,” the mayor’s Audible Original audio book, with opening remarks by Audible Vice President of Urban Innovation Aisha Glover.
Tickets are $15.