In the heart of Kansas City sits “The Castle on the Hill,” an educational institution with a storied history that has served the predominantly Black neighborhood where it is located since 1867. Lincoln College Preparatory Academy at 22nd and Woodland Ave., Kansas City’s first all-Black high school, will be featured in a new documentary, “Heart of the City,” by Kansas City PBS and Nico Giles Media (NGM), which will premiere on September 9 at 7 p.m. on Channel 19.1.
Recently in the national spotlight for a winning football program, Lincoln Prep is realizing a dramatic shift in demographics at the same time that families of students could soon be priced out of their neighborhoods. In 2020, 21% of Lincoln students were white, 34% were Latino and 34% were Black.
“‘Heart of the City’ is the story of a community, of a team, and of a shared history of excellence and triumph,” said Kliff Kuehl, President & CEO of Kansas City PBS. “We are excited to bring the latest inspiring documentary from Nico Giles Media to our audiences this month.”
Lincoln Prep started last school year with the best football program in school history. While the team had its eyes set on a state championship, the city was facing its most violent year in decades.
In recent years, Lincoln Prep – a Kansas City Public School institution – was awarded the Blue Ribbon Designation from the U.S. Department of Education and was twice named Best Public High School in Missouri by U.S. News and World Report.
A source of pride for the Black community for more than 150 years, Lincoln Preparatory Academy boasts a roster of exceptional teaching staff and a long list of well-known graduates. Formerly Lincoln High School, the institution is historically known for educational excellence and supporting a traditionally underserved population of Black students. In fact, until desegregation in 1954, Lincoln Prep was the only school for miles to provide high school education to Black students.
This storied institution can now add athletics to its list of accomplishments as its football team with a history of back-to-back losing seasons recently boasted four Division I football commits, an unprecedented turnaround that only took five years. “Heart of the City” captures four seniors in their pursuit of a state championship while also navigating the complexity of their home lives in a neighborhood that is known for high crime rates, yet sits on the verge of development and the gentrification that comes with it.
As high school sports become a multi-billion dollar business, student-athletes from inner-city programs are being recruited to play at well-funded, private or suburban schools. “Heart of the City” is a story about kids who choose to stay in their neighborhood and play at their local school, achieving their dream in spite of those challenges.
“On the surface, ‘Heart of the City’ is a story about high school football,” said Nico Giles, Founder and CEO of NGM. “But as the story unfolds you realize that it is about preserving history, about recognizing injustice, and about humanizing the pressure teenagers have to perform at a high level.”
Founded in 2017, NGM has produced a wide range of content noted for its intellectual yet authentic and relatable voice. In 2019, Nico Giles Media spearheaded the creation of a short documentary series, “The Opportunity Gap,” that examined inequality in the American education system. Recently, NGM produced the award-winning film, “Land Of Opportunity,” a broadcast documentary that aired on PBS, focused on housing discrimination and historical racism in Kansas City real estate development.
Located in the heart of Kansas City, MO, Kansas City PBS is a non-profit multimedia organization that has been serving the community since 1961. The PBS member station airs diverse content focused on civic affairs, science, food, drink, arts and culture on four television channels. Kansas City PBS serves students, caregivers and the local education community through free online resources, workshops for parents and teachers, and annual conferences and events.
For more information and to view a short preview of the documentary, visit kansascitypbs.org/heartofthecity.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated from its original version to reflect the percentage of races that attended Lincoln High School in 2020 (9/22/21).