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Businesswoman plans to document lost black men

Black men in Alton, IL is the focus of a pending documentary by a Chicago businesswoman.
Black men in Alton, IL is the focus of a pending documentary by a Chicago businesswoman.
Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

A Chicago businesswoman, who is a native of downstate Alton, said she has begun filming a documentary about the loss of black men but needs help to finish the project.

Shawn Taylor, a 47-year-old former reporter for the Chicago Tribune, said she spent $1,800 of her own money so far and is prepared to spend $2,000 more on the project, which she estimated would cost $65,000 to complete by 2015. The money raised will be used to help pay for equipment, production and a film crew.

Through an online campaign at Taylor is trying to raise $35,000 before the campaign ends on Sept. 22. As of this week she raised a little over $1,000 but said she is confident she will be able to raise enough money to complete “Gone Too Soon: Alton’s Endangered Black Men.”

She also said she would make a donation to the Miles Davis memorial statue fund in Alton where Davis was born.

“Until now, Alton has ignored Miles Davis’ legacy,” Taylor said. “Erecting this statue is progress toward the community beginning to value and recognize the contributions of African Americans.”

According to Taylor, the life expectancy of black males in America is 71.1 years and while that number has increased slightly, she said many black men in Alton rarely live beyond that time span due to vehicle accidents, heart attacks and debilitating strokes.

A study by the National Center for Health Statistics at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that Blacks lived longer when they had a college degree. Deaths from 1993 to 2001 for people 25 to 64-years-old were examined by the study.

Premature death rates fell an average of 6 percent a year for black men with a college degree, according to the study, compared to black men without one or who dropped out of high school. And Black men with a college degree were less likely to die from heart disease, cancer, and AIDS.

According to the census, Alton has a population of 27,415, which includes 6,725 black residents and 3,492 black men.

“In a small community (like Alton) that is still struggling with issues of race and equality, black men that are educated, well-raised and civically engaged are critical to family stability,” explained Taylor, who lives in west suburban Oak Park and has family living in Alton. “There’s too much acceptance, in my view, that Black men have the lowest life expectancy and I’d like to tell a different story about black men who strive and do well by their families and their communities.”

And should Taylor fall short with her online fundraiser she said ultimately she would end up doing some sort of Alton-based documentary. One documentary idea she has is to do one on the Black Alumni Reunion for Alton High School over the Labor Day weekend.

“Participants will be there from the classes of 1978 through 1986. It will be a great opportunity to learn and capture how people feel about loss and the town of Alton itself,” Taylor said.

But ultimately Taylor said she wants to finish what she started and that’s documenting the life of black men in Alton.

“In the film, I’ll show the impact on employment, wealth building and asset creation when Alton lost its two black construction contractors within weeks of each other. Their deaths cost black tradesmen middle-income jobs,” said Taylor, founder and president of Treetop Consulting, a Chicago-based media and communications company.