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  • Vive Griffith

Meet Reckoning's Carl Chandler

On Martin Luther King Day, January 17, A Reckoning in Boston will air nationwide on PBS. As we get ready for the premiere, we're sharing a March 2020 profile of one the film's subjects and producers, Clemente graduate Carl Chandler.

Carl Chandler is profiled in the new documentary film, A Reckoning in Boston, which focuses on the Boston Clemente Course. We meet him in two moments.

In one, he is pushing his young grandson Yadiel in a stroller around Boston. In the other, he is engaged in deep discussion after class with Tim McCarthy, Clemente’s history professor. These glimpses into his life encapsulate what makes Carl tick: his commitment to learning and his commitment to family. And this fall [2019] he carried both of those commitments into his first semester as a student at Harvard. While Harvard was literally down the road for this native Bostonian, Carl says that Tim and the Clemente experience made him realize attending the university was possible. “Once you eliminate doubt you realize ‘I’m capable.’ That’s the gift Clemente gives you,” he said. “Once you realize you’re capable, you want to be as capable as you can be.” Carl discovered Clemente after his youngest daughter headed to college and he was faced with an empty nest. He knew he needed to stay active physically and mentally, but he wanted a wider context for his reading and study. When he spotted a flyer for Clemente at the library, he thought it was too good to be true. What he found was a place where his intellectual curiosity was honored and fed. “It was beyond what I expected. Our professors are extremely competent, but they’re also good people,” he said. “They were really respectful of everybody’s input and most of all, they wanted people to succeed.”

Carl in a still from A Reckoning in Boston

In an early Clemente class, students were asked what they wanted to do when they finished the course. While students had a range of answers, one said she wanted to go to Harvard. Jack Cheng, Boston academic director, told the students that in fact a Clemente graduate had gone to Harvard. And graduated. This made Carl curious. He’d taken community college classes many years earlier and excelled. But was Harvard an option for him? And at this stage of his life, as a grandfather of seven? Later in the semester he asked his Clemente history professor, Tim McCarthy, who is also Professor of American History at Harvard, if he thought he was Harvard material. For Tim, the answer was simple. “From the very first day of class, it was clear to me that Carl was going to be one of our most exceptional students. He has a brilliant mind, a tenacious work ethic, and he loves learning for its sake,” he said. “It's the perfect combination. When Clemente was over, I encouraged Carl to think about finishing his degree at Harvard. He's now doing that and I know he's going to flourish. As someone who teaches both in Clemente and at Harvard, I couldn't be more thrilled!"

"I hope when they see me and see me with my grandson and daughters they’ll think, ‘That man is curious and interested in things and has an imagination. If he can do it, I can too.’”

Any conversation with Carl is wide-ranging, covering everything from the first English translations of Homer to the class system in the United States. He has found his rapport with his professors to be particularly rewarding, and he wants to take full advantage of his time at Harvard. But he knows that in the end, going to Harvard isn’t what will define him. “I’m just an older person who saw an opportunity and wanted to explore it,” he said. “If I walked away from it tomorrow, it would have been valuable. I’ve got a lot of stuff to do before I check out.” One of those things in seeing the Reckoning film into the world in his role as a producer. The documentary traces Carl’s journey through Clemente alongside the journey of his classmate, Kafi Dixon. Carl admits that it’s uncomfortable to watch himself on film. He prefers to fly under the radar. But he sees a larger purpose to letting his story be told: “My part in the film is to encourage people who think they might like to try something but don’t know if they’ll be accepted or capable. I hope when they see me and see me with my grandson and daughters they’ll think, ‘That man is curious and interested in things and has an imagination. If he can do it, I can too.’”


You can watch A Reckoning in Boston on PBS on January 17th. Check your local PBS listings for details.

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