Inspirational documentary film donated to Michigan high schools for Black History Month

Gerald Ford (48) and Willis Ward (61) as teammates at the University of Michigan in 1934.
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Three Michigan-based business leaders are donating the Emmy-nominated documentary, “Black and Blue – The Story of Gerald Ford, Willis Ward, and the 1934 Michigan-Georgia Tech Football Game,” to every public high school in the state of Michigan in honor of Black History Month and President’s Day Weekend.

The film, written by Buddy Moorehouse and directed by Brian Kruger, tells the 1934 story of the University of Michigan’s decision to bench its only African American football player, Willis Ward, a world-class athlete from Detroit Northwestern High School, at the insistence of Georgia Tech, which (according to Jim Crow Southern tradition at the time) refused to play against black players.

The decision infuriated the Michigan football team, and in particular, Willis Ward’s best friend on the team and roommate on the road, a kid from Grand Rapids by the name of Gerald Ford.

Ford, who went on to become the 38th President of the United States, threatened to quit the team if Ward didn’t play, but was talked into playing by Ward himself. The film tells the story of Ward and Ford’s friendship during that time, and for the rest of their lives.

The Helppie Charitable Foundation of Richard and Leslie Helppie, as well as Charles Bracken, the CEO of Getixhealth, LLC, and Michigan Football great Jarrett Irons, together are sponsoring the donation of the film, which is accompanied by study guides and lesson plans for teachers as well as other bonus material for the classroom.

“This is an amazing story of character and friendship, during a very difficult time,” said Richard Helppie. “The lessons learned from this story are timeless, and Leslie and I are very proud to be part of this effort.”

The film will be shipped in DVD form and electronic download format to all 57 Intermediate School Districts in Michigan by Presidents Day Weekend on February 18th. The ISDs will distribute the film to their district high schools.

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