McCoy featured in 10-part Starz docuseries ‘America to Me’

“America to Me” created by Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) investigates racial inequity at Oak Park and River Forest High School (OPRF) in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park, Illinois, a school with a diverse student body, a 94 percent graduation rate, and a persistent 9 percent achievement gap between white and black students.

Kendale McCoy
Kendale McCoy ’20

Kendale McCoy ’20 was an honors-track senior during the filming in 2015-16 and was one of the students the film crew followed everywhere.

McCoy is studying secondary education and creative writing at Cornell. He’s also on Cornell’s wrestling team. He said he chose Cornell for the block plan.

“It has really helped me stay organized and focused in my classes,” he said.

In the docuseries, McCoy is seen as an overscheduled high school student on the wrestling team and in the marching band. Sophie Gilbert in The Atlantic wrote that McCoy “is one of the most compelling characters. Code-switching effortlessly between the mostly black athletes and the mostly white musicians, Kendale is gregarious and popular, but in spoken-word classes, he reveals some of the turmoil he feels inside.”

When asked how he felt about being filmed and wearing a microphone all the time, McCoy said, “It was very weird at first. My first day of school, I was followed by a cameraman, a sound guy, and a producer. They all surrounded me every step I took for most of the day, but eventually, it got to the point where I forgot they were even there.”

The film crew also followed McCoy on his campus visit to Cornell. (The footage made the final cut.) 

Photo of photographer taking picture of people involved in the documentary
Pictured from the left: Kendale McCoy ’20, Jessica Stovall (OPRF teacher), Grant Lee (OPRF student), and Steve James (director)

McCoy wants students at Cornell to watch the docuseries even if it is sometimes hard to watch.

“I think the series will really shed some light and inform people that there are students struggling to do well in school and race plays a factor in that,” McCoy said.

Although it makes McCoy a little uncomfortable having people he doesn’t know see his life play out, he still believes films like “America to Me” are vital for a society that needs to better understand what’s happening and encourages everyone to check it out.