5 questions with…documentary star, dual-degree student Imani Scruggs

headshot of Imani Scruggs, CWRU student
Imani Scruggs

Senior Imani Scruggs is a product of alchemy. No, not the medieval chemical science. Rather Alchemy Inc., a mentoring program for adolescent black males in Akron.

The program, founded by Scruggs’ father, Kwame, provides positive role models for young men and uses mythological storytelling in combination with African drumming to create a welcoming environment for objective thought and conversation.

“When you get caught in a rut, you think about the hero’s roles in the myths,” Scruggs said. “It helps put you in a different mindset, taking you out of situations and putting yourself into a more holistic mind frame.”

Scruggs and 27 other young men made up the first group to go through the program, with 26 out of the 28 attending college.

Subjects of Finding the Gold Within at CIFF
Imani Scruggs (second from left) with his fellow documentary subjects and the film’s director, Karina Epperlein, at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

The journey of six of the young men—from adolescence to adulthood—is the subject of the documentary Finding the Gold Within, which was screened last weekend at the 39th annual Cleveland International Film Festival.

The film follows them through their first years of college as they work toward degrees and attempt to disprove society’s stereotypes of young black males. Each attended a different university or college: Case Western Reserve, Eastern Michigan, Akron–Wayne College, Akron, Kent State and Tiffin.

The documentary was shown several times over the last week as part of the film festival and has garnered positive responses, especially from the hometown crowd at a special viewing at Akron-Summit Country Public Library last Friday.

“The Akron audience was familiar with Alchemy Inc., so I think they enjoyed seeing the program put into that kind of light,” Scruggs said. “The African-American audience could identify with the intricacies in the film.”

Scruggs also was pleased with how film portrayed each of the protagonists.

“I think the film captured us all so realistically, “ he said. “It showed us as we actually were: our insecurities, weaknesses, strengths, creativity and beauty.”

Along with Alchemy, Scruggs credits much of his success at Case Western Reserve to Sue Nickel-Schindewolf, the associate vice president of student engagement and learning—and also Scruggs’ neighbor growing up.

“I’ve known her since I was very young and she sparked my interest in Case Western Reserve,” Scruggs said. “She is truly one of the most influential people for me. I would not be here without her.”

Scruggs is finishing his undergraduate work in psychology while simultaneously pursuing his Master of Science in Social Administration. On top of his schoolwork, he serves as social event chair for the Black Student Association and vice president for The Brotherhood, a black male initiative whose aim is to constructively address the issues in the community through service, mutual support and collaboration.

After graduating in spring 2016, Scruggs plans to transition from student to teacher, mentoring young black males at Alchemy and getting more involved in community organizing.

“I just want to help people,” Scruggs said. “I am definitely on the right path.”

Read more about Scruggs in this week’s five questions.

1. What is your favorite city? Why?

Barcelona, Spain. I studied abroad there last year. The city has everything: great people, architecture, food and nightlife.

2. In all of your education, who of your teachers had the greatest impact on you?

This isn’t a teacher, but while in high school my friend Brandyn and I used to sit down and talk with a school security guard named Kimani. The fact that he was removed from the academic classroom made for more open conversation. We had some life-changing talks. His messages were powerful and I learned so much about life from him.

3. When it comes to music, what artist is one of your “guilty pleasures?” Why?

Migos. I think their lyrics are terrible and they don’t rap about anything of value, but the beats are great and it’s fun music to listen to when out on the weekend.

4. What one word would you use to describe yourself, and what one word would your friends would use to describe you?

I would describe myself as “laid back” and my friends would describe me as “loud.”

5. What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

The people. After taking some time to get to know people, I’ve formed close relationships. It took me awhile to find the faculty members and students I related to most, but I finally did and have formed deep bonds with many of them. I appreciate these relationships and I feel like I’ve found some lifelong friends.